Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Worried about offending the host?

Originally posted on:


"Ask Alana"

I became a vegetarian three years ago. This holiday season, I have been invited to spend a holiday dinner with a friend and her family. While I would very much like to participate in the festivities, I am concerned that my dietary restrictions will be a problem. I don't want to inconvenience my hosts by requiring them to cook a special meal for me, but I also dread the thought of loading my plate with salad at the dinner table whilst having to answer why I'm not partaking in the rest of the bounty (in my experience, people take offense when one does not eat what is offered). Can I accept the invitation without offending?

-- Jenny Carleton, Montclair, N.J.


So the thought of eating meat makes you want to jump into the burning fires of Mordor? Poor you. It must not be fun to be a vegetarian in a season where many holidays revolve around eating assorted birds. I hope your friend's family isn't Maori, because their holiday meal includes burying meats in hot stones and then digging them up a little later to chow down.

You can accept the invitation without offending, as long as you're not going to use the meal as a platform to talk about the evils of meat and how eating a turkey is as immoral as eating a baby. After all, the Indians probably came to the Pilgrims' dinner and saw the lobster that was allegedly served for the first Thanksgiving and thought "Eeeww, don't they know it's a bottom feeder?" But they still sat down at the table and ate together and probably didn't even make cracks about the buckles on the Pilgrims' hats.

However. There are two schools of thought as to how you should approach the meal. Advice columnist Amy Alcon says "it's unpolite to have all these special dietary needs." She recommends bringing a vegan salami in your purse and eating it when no one's looking so you won't get hungry. But Collen Patrick-Goudreau, a vegan and the founder of Compassionate Cooks, says that's baloney. She recommends contacting the host and, after profusely thanking her for the invite, telling her that you're vegetarian. You could then offer to bring a vegetarian main dish such as stuffed pumpkins, or ask the host to set aside a small bowl of stuffing and other side dishes so you can add your own non-meat ingredients. If you know the host well, you might even advise her as to how to prepare a vegetarian side dish. "I encourage people to live their own values and stop worrying what the truth will do," she said.

I think both ideas are a little preposterous, to tell you the truth, Jenny. Putting salami in your purse is just plain gross, even if it's vegan. And asking your host if she wouldn't mind cooking you a vegan turkey is kind of like asking your friend if you look fat in those jeans. What is she supposed to say?

I recommend reminding your friend that you're a vegetarian, just so her family isn't surprised, and bringing a side dish that you can eat. You're supposed to contribute something as a guest anyway. Then you can fill up on side dishes, or at least put some other ones on your plate. I have found that if you move your food around your plate just so, people won't even notice if you're eating a lot of the same thing -- or nothing at all. Although if you really want to make sure you'll get enough to eat, you can take after the Maori and bury an extra dish in your friend's backyard a few days before the big meal. Dig it up only in the case of emergency.

-- Alana

My comment:

Alana says that "I think both ideas are a little preposterous." I really think her advice is based on a following the same Standard American Diet, and thinking that there is no other way. This is preposterous. The host can have her meal like she wants it and also include new friends--or in general those following a plant based-diet. There were some wise words within this article however, says Collen Patrick-Goudreau, a vegan and the founder of Compassionate Cooks:

"I encourage people to live their own values and stop worrying what the truth will do."

Stop worrying, just put it right out there! Why be sneaky about who you are? Hiding food in your purse? That nuts. It is best if you are truthful and communicate your personal choice to this host or to anyone inviting you to eat with them. And it is your choice, if they can't respect your lifestyle then that really say much about them being understanding and supportive.
There is a rule about following a plant-based aka vegan diet: don't leave home without it. If you know you'll be gone for several hours or the whole day, pack some food! In this case depending on time constraints the visitor could contact the host and speak to them about her concern and offer to a) bring one or more foods to share b) if your host has kitchen space for you: bring some ingredients and come early to help make and modify something into a vegan food. You just don't want to make extra work for the host. This can easily be done by letting people get to know you and staying true to your personal decisions.

Everyone enjoy this holiday, if you don't celebrate it maybe just find something to be thankful for. If this appreciation relates to someone, let them know!


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