Guest post: Hosting vegans: tips and etiquette for the holidays »
It’s that time of the year, where people start pretending to be social: family get-togethers, work potlucks, dinner parties, and holiday festivities. This can also be a pretty uncomfortable time for vegans, too. Unless you’ve been blessed with a cohort of family and friends who are also vegan, you’re usually the odd one out. So here are a few tips for omnis on how to be the best host when serving a mixed crowd.
1. Avoid conditional invitations
I recently endured the most uncomfortable birthday party invite of my life, and I suddenly realized that my vegan diet literally scares some people. Instead of “Hey, my mom is throwing a birthday dinner for me and I’d like you to come,” my friend said, “My mom is having a birthday dinner for me and there won’t be any vegan food.” …OK? My friend tiptoed around my dietary restrictions and ended up uninviting me to his party before I was officially invited! All directly to my face! SO AWKWARD! Don’t do this!
The point of sharing this mildly embarrassing exchange is to remind you that you are inviting your friend to your party, not their dietary restrictions. Vegans are still people, so invite us as you would anyone else!
2. Be a good host
This is a direct tip from my mom, the hostess of all hostesses. My mom is a red-blooded Italian woman who loves to host dinners and serve lots of different types of meats to her guests. It broke her heart when I came out to her as vegan, but she eventually stopped trying to sneak cottage cheese into every meal (for “protein”) and supported my decision.
When I told my mom I was writing this article, she said, “Well, it’s not so much about being vegan as it is being a good host. When you invite people into your home to eat, it’s your job to ask if they have any dietary restrictions, allergies or preferences.” With that, she told me that she always asks ahead of time, and does her research. If you don’t understand what vegans eat, find out before planning your menu. Either ask your guest directly, or if you’re too shy, a simple Google search can help you with definitions and such.
Stick with the guidelines, too. Vegans have different levels of gastrointolerance to certain foods (such as dairy or meat), because your body adjusts to the diet it’s actively fed. With that being said, you may think we won’t notice a dab of butter or a splash of chicken stock, but we will. Oh, we will.
3. Look at it as an opportunity, not a challenge
You’ve made it through the first step and officially invited a few vegan buddies to your mostly omni party. Good for you! Here’s the next step: planning your menu. In this task, you have to accommodate your guests. Come up with something that everyone can enjoy, and get excited about trying a new recipe or two. This is an opportunity for you to learn a new skill, and to put a proverbial feather in your chef hat for future dinner parties. If you’re really intimidated by the prospect of cooking a vegan-friendly meal, ask your guests to help you. Ask for advice, ask for recipe suggestions, or ask them to bring something, such as an appetizer or dessert (but if you do this, make sure you offer other things for them to eat. As good as eating cake for dinner sounds, we need more than that).
4. Make it easy on yourself and your guests
Don’t worry about what you’re going to feed those damn vegans that you invited. Instead, remember that you’re inviting people over to eat, so it’s important to make sure that everyone can eat. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been to a dinner party where I could only eat the bread, because even the salad had cheese on it (seriously, Caesar salad? Why do you need to put cheese on lettuce?). Avoid making a big meaty dinner, because that will alienate your non-meaty guests. If you’re stuck on serving meat, try making a vegan entrée with omni sides. It will be less awkward for your guests, and less work for you in the long run.
If you’re worried that your omni guests will complain about having a vegan entrée, well screw them, it’s your house. Kidding! Avoid that situation altogether by providing a “make it yourself” meal. Try having everyone add their choice of toppings to individual pizzas, or have a pasta bar with different mix-ins. Or tacos! Everyone loves tacos! This eliminates any uncomfortable feelings from both your vegan guests and your omni pals, and minimizes your work as the chef. Win-win-win!
5. Avoid awkward situations
Sometimes, people are so intrigued by the vegan lifestyle that they ask endless amounts of questions. That’s totally fine, but it’s not the only thing we want to talk about. It can be alienating, or really intrusive, neither of which you want to experience when at a party. As the host, it’s your job to make sure your vegan guests aren’t the entertainment for the evening.
Set the stage by treating your vegan buddies like all the other guests. We don’t want to be a spectacle, and we don’t want special treatment. Avoid saying things like “Here’s your super-special, one-of-a-kind VEGAN DISH that I made just for you and no one else!” If you do this, I guarantee that someone will comment on how “My cousin used to be vegetarian but gave it up for health reasons” or “I eat vegetarian most of the time, but oh heck, I just love me some cheese!” I’m pretty sure I can speak for most vegans when I say that we hate these conversations. Your guests didn’t come to your party to defend themselves, they came to eat the delicious food you prepared.
If you’re hosting a self-service meal like I suggested previously (yay, take my suggestion!), label everything, but be discreet. Use a universal sign, like a little “v” in the corner of your label. This will prevent embarrassment when you walk your vegan guests past each dish and proclaim loudly “This is VEGAN, oh and this is VEGAN TOO! Oh, that has cheese in it, but you can eat this hummus” (OH THANKS, MOM)!
Whether it’s your first or 50th time hosting a semi-vegan crowd, remember that you’re throwing this party to have fun, and if your guests are anything like me, they will not be fun with an empty stomach.
Elysse Grossi is a scientist, a health educator, a vegan food fanatic and a co-owner of Sweet Cups, based in the East Bay. She grosses people out with her other blog, Under the Microscope. Laugh at her boring life on Twitter.
[Pics by Megan Rascal]