Vegan Challenge: The Dreaded Dinner Party

For me, being invited to a dinner party is a chance to catch a glimpse into other people’s idea of good food (and their medicine cabinets – don’t judge, we all do it.) For the new boyfriend or girlfriend, it’s a nail-biting date; for in-laws, it’s untimely; for grandkids, it’s “What’s in the jello?”; for co-workers, it’s just more work…you get my drift. There’s usually a love-hate thing going on with dinner parties where we kind of hate being invited, but we love free food. However, for a vegan, it’s a nightmare.

Fortunately for me, I have really amazing friends. Both times I attended dinner at a friend’s, my hosts more than compensated for my dietary restrictions. At each dinner, the bulk of the recipe was 100% vegan with just a few moderations, like omitting the cheese in a quinoa-stuffed pepper, or substituting tofu for beef in Vietnamese pho, in only my portions.

My block of tofu next to delicious, thinly sliced beef.

I did turn down a couple pizza parties and one chicken wing extravaganza, but I definitely lucked out in being able to attend dinners AND eat with everyone. I’m not sure exactly what it’d be like to be invited to dinner and not be able to eat. Oh wait, yes I do: horrible! I wonder if vegans just bring along their own meal, or eat before they go, or just stay home, just in case there’s nothing they can eat. The whole point of a dinner party is to create a sense of community by breaking bread at the table together, no? I imagine there’d be a sense of ostracism when it comes to being vegan, or having any limiting diet, at a dinner party. For the few times I turned down party invitations, or couldn’t share some plates at a restaurant, or when closing at work and my boss has made everyone cheesy fries or pulled pork nachos, I felt very frustrated. Not just because I couldn’t eat the food, but because I couldn’t join in with everyone. My extroverted personality is part of the reason I need to belong, but when it comes to food, I even more feel that desire to be a part of something special. When you can and will eat anything, the world is your oyster (mmm, oysters), and you can find a place almost anywhere.

This challenge has really opened my eyes to the idea that food really does create a common ground among our differences. When a group of people are eating together, it doesn’t make us all the same or share similar beliefs, but it does mimic a feeling of a family, or less extreme, a club or society. Even just eating at a restaurant, everyone is sitting at different tables and eating different food, but they’re still all sharing the same experience of eating out.

So if a group of people all eating different food at a restaurant can find a common ground, why as a vegan am I always feeling on the outside? I think it’s because I often feel singled out. I’m constantly explaining – once people hear what I order at a restaurant or when I say no to something – that I’m eating a vegan diet to which most people’s incredulous response is, “Why?” I then go further into detail about my 30-day vegan challenge and most people’s incredulity turns to acceptance and sometimes admiration. I’m not really sure if it’s because the diet is temporary or they really are impressed by veganism. A vegan couple I met immediately responded to my choice with, “Good for you!” At the time it made me really proud and glad they hadn’t responded like most people did, but later when I thought about it more, I decided it was kind of weird. I mean, if someone told me they were gluten-free, I wouldn’t congratulate them for their choice, or in some cases, their allergy. I then came to the conclusion that the question of “why” doesn’t really bother me. In fact, I enjoy explaining the challenge and talking about all I’ve learned. It’s actually inspired me to ask people more why they’re choosing what to eat. We choose our beliefs and we talk about those all the time, so why not ask and talk about our food choices more? We might learn something about each other,or, better yet, discover something new and delicious to eat!

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