After polishing off a delicious plate of soba noodles with tons of veggies and a creamy Asian peanut sauce (recipe here), I thought it was the perfect moment to write our second post in the Vegan Social 101 series. A delicious meal like this is always a possibility at home, but when we venture out into the mostly non vegan world, we can all use a little bit of guidance in the beginning. In our first post we talked about dining in restaurants, and today I wanted to focus on dinner parties, weddings and other events. When I went vegan I had to learn the tips I’m about to share with you through some trial and error. I know dining out in the beginning can be a little nerve-wracking, but I can tell you now after lots of dinners out that it really doesn’t have to be. I’m a firm believer that being vegan doesn’t have to mean being a recluse or moving into your local vegan restaurant. You can absolutely be the amazing social creature that you are and be vegan, in fact, the more I eat with my non vegan friends the more I enjoy the discussions that come up around veganism and the happier I am to venture out.
Restaurants are usually very easy places to find vegan meals, since you have total control over what you choose and order. Going to a dinner party or a wedding is a little bit different though, which is why I’m so excited to share with you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Come out of the vegan closet already!
I know the feeling of wanting to keep your new dietary habits to yourself, after all, it’s nobody’s business what you do or do not eat right? Well, I have to tell you that even though the second part is definitely true, you’ll make it a lot easier on yourself if you step out of the vegan closet my friend! Tell your friends and family you’re vegan, tell them how happy it has made you and the amazing changes you’ve noticed (we’ll go over how to navigate people’s reactions soon). Why is telling people so important? It will simply help them and you make plans together a lot easier. Not that they have to change all their plans for you or you for them, but your friends and family will know what you can eat and will usually include some delicious veggie dishes or check out menus at restaurants if they’re the ones making the plans. Having said that, don’t make your friends do all the work! Keep reading…
What can I bring?!: Sit down dinners
When you’re invited to a dinner party (this goes for breakfast, brunch or lunch as well), and your hosts aren’t vegan or vegetarian, offer to bring a dish! If they’re close friends who know you’re vegan (which is where tip number 1 comes in handy), chances are they’ve already included some veggie dishes or they know you’ll bring some vegan delights. If the person inviting you doesn’t know about your dietary needs, or is a relative who wanted to think ‘it was just a phase’ and needs a little reminder (hey! This happens a lot more frequently than you might think!), you might need to explain and then offer to bring something. That conversation could go something like this: “It’s so sweet of you to invite me! Of course I would like to come! I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before but I’m vegan, and I don’t want to put you out or have you work overtime! Is there something I can bring that might complement what you’re making? I’d be more than happy to help!”. Most of the time they will say yes, so take the opportunity to include them. Ask them if there’s anything they don’t particularly like and make enough of your dish for everyone invited. Any opportunity to share vegan food with non vegan friends is a Godsend, so make an absolutely amazing dish. If you’re like me, your palate has changed so much your mouth waters over a simple bowl of brown rice and steamed collard greens, but don’t go hardcore vegan on non vegan guests. Try making a dish that will make them go “Wow! I can’t believe it’s vegan!”. If the host and hostess insists that you not bring anything, by having that little chat they already know what you can and can’t eat and will probably plan some amazing food for you! Keep in mind that many people aren’t sure what it means to be vegan, but if that’s the case, you’ll get the classic “you’re a what now?” response and it will give you a chance to explain. I often also ask if I can help in any other way, and I’ve found that many times the host is really happy when I offer to make a delicious home cooked dessert! So I make my famous vegan chocolate cake or my ‘die on the spot’ red velvet cupcakes with vegan cream cheese frosting. Everyone goes crazy and loves veganism after some cake!
Vegan cosmo please: Cocktail parties
There are those occasions where a conversation like the one mentioned above isn’t really appropriate because it’s a larger party or business event. Don’t fret, and do go and enjoy yourself. Remember, no vegan hermits please! Simply go to the party and choose from what’s available. We usually have a way of sensing if appetizers will include anything remotely veggie or not. If you sense nothing but beef carpaccio and tuna tartare in the horizon, have a little snack before you go just in case. That way you’ll be able to focus on the conversations and of course, the wine, and make better choices without having a tummy rumble that overpowers the music.
Watch the bears!: Potlucks and picnics
My favorite kind of socializing! I love a meet up where everyone contributes a little something, and there’s nothing I like more than eating on the grass in a lovely Spring day! These kinds of social events are as easy as pie! Bring as many vegan treats as you’d like and of course make enough for everyone. I love making traditional favorites but in their vegan version, like my picnic potato salad or my on the run pesto pasta salad. Remember to bring a finger licking good vegan dessert!
A grill is just a grill: Barbecues
Who said grills are only for cooking cow?! Offer to take some vegan treats like vegan sausages or veggie burgers, or my favorite thing ever: contribute some awesome side dishes steakhouse style! That means a big bowl of guacamole (feel free to steal our recipe here), some baked potatoes, grilled veggies, potato salad, take your pick and enjoy your family barbecue (for more ideas on great vegan dishes for a barbecue check out our Lazy Sunday and Barbecue post!).
Here comes the bride
I don’t know about you, but I love weddings! Not because of the big hoopla and strange one size fits all traditions (not a fan of those), and definitely not the wearing heels all night part, but because I love having a whole day with a ‘can’t miss it’ event next to my friends and family. Plus I’m a sucker for great love stories! Weddings can come in many shapes and sizes when it comes to food. If the wedding you’re attending offers a buffet, you’ll be a completely happy camper! The same goes for cocktail party style weddings, simply choose what you can eat and pile lots of vegan goodies on your plate. If it’s a sit down dinner service and there isn’t a vegetarian option (many weddings now offer you a choice when you RSVP), I quietly approach the waiter and ask him to serve me the same plate but without the piece of meat or fish, and tell them it’s because I’m vegetarian. Not only do they always oblige, but the last time I did this the waiter came back saying the chef had offered to make some more vegetables for me! I still asked him for the regular plate because the sides in my friends’ dishes looked amazing, but the waiter was a sweetheart and gave me extra servings as he piled on the grilled mushrooms, smoky onions and roasted potatoes like there was no tomorrow. How sweet was he?! Of course you can choose to only eat the sides if the complete dish is served to you, but I prefer not to be wasteful. Another thing I love about this way of doing it is that you never inconvenience or bother the bride or groom with special requests! They’re probably dealing with enough already right?
Let’s get down to business: Business dinners and other possibly awkward events
Business sit down dinners can be a bit more challenging. You probably won’t feel comfortable offering to bring vegan fair to a large dinner with the boss and the boss’ boss at the end of the table. Simply relax, go, and do the best you can. Remember, once a plate of food is in front of you, it’s all yours, and you decide what happens to it. Eat what you can and take part in the great conversation and good company. Offer to share with your coworker next door and enjoy yourself! Most business events happen in restaurants nowadays so these will probably be a rare occasion. The same goes for any event you’re attending where people don’t know about your lifestyle and it’s not appropriate to follow the tips mentioned above. Be social, be joyful and remember that food is simply food. It’s nourishment, you don’t have to gobble up things that are harmful for you just to be polite, and you don’t have to beat yourself up either if you made a choice you wouldn’t consider the best.
With some practice and a little experimentation of your own, you’ll be sailing through social waters in no time. Remember that being vegan is one of the most joyful and special things you can do for your body, the planet and the animals. This includes being kind to yourself, and what a better way to be kind to yourself than to be surrounded by the people you care about and still be able to be yourself.
Do you have any questions or any social tips of your own you’d like to share? Please share them in the comment section below!