I read a piece a week ago that reminded me a heck of a lot of a story about which I'd written back in February. It was half about basic communication and half about sucking it up and behaving like a grown-up when that communication fails. In a nutshell: Vegan plays guest to non-vegan host, vegan stays consistent about his or her veganism, non-vegan rants about said veganism after the fact. The more recent story I read was published on BC's Times-Colonist's website on July 28 ("Visiting vegan leaves carnivore cook wondering"). In her article, Pam Freir writes about a recent week-long visit with a vegan and of how although her guest seemed polite and non-confrontational, Freir still walked away from the visit with heaps of resentment for her guest, which she promptly transformed into resentment for her guest's being vegan.
Freir establishes off the bat that she's no vegan or vegetarian and then spends the rest of the article focusing on food. She dives into discussing the various dishes she ended up preparing during her guest's stay, ranging from a mushroom-pecan burger she found in a Rebar Modern Food cookbook (which was a success), to a cake made from a 12-year-old's recipe which she... ah... stumbled upon somewhere online (and which ended up being merely OK). Then there was the failed risotto whose failure she decided to blame on its lack of animal products, and it's from this point on that the anti-vegan rant begins, apparently revolving around her conclusion that it's unreasonable for her to be expected to risk ruining a recipe for everyone by making it vegan:
Bottom line: Cooking for vegetarians is a relatively simple undertaking. Cooking for a vegan narrows one's options significantly. I found vegan cookery to be an ongoing exercise in compromise. A risotto without butter and cheese proved to be a pale shadow of its dairy-drenched counterpart.And because one pot of risotto per meal is my personal limit, I chose not to repeat the process to satisfy the tastes of others at the table. We all ate the vegan risotto. Not all of us applauded the experience. Vegan rules. Like it or lump it.
How is it that despite there being only one vegan present at a meal for four, three out of those four acquiesce, without comment or complaint, to the preferences of one?Had Freir done a bit of research, or had her guest perhaps been a bit more experienced with staying with non-vegan hosts for extended visits, they could have resolved this so incredibly easily. Not all meals have to be one-pot meals, for instance. A variety of different things ordinarily viewed as "sides" could have been served (vegetables, grains, salads of all kinds, et al.) that would have easily left everybody happy. Wraps and sandwiches are unbelievable easy to prepare and would have left diners able to shuffle various ingredients in or out. Certain types of ethnic cuisine (think Asian or Middle Eastern) traditionally offer up vegan-friendly fare, as well.
(The risotto is just one example. The eggless cake is another. Coleslaw minus mayo was a vegan-dictated compromise as well).I was struck by the deference vegans demand -- not overtly, not in so many words but defer we did because it was just too much hassle to do otherwise.
Perhaps her guest should have been proactive and offered up suggestions or volunteered to cook for the family for a few of their meals. It's quite possible that her guest did so, but Freir doesn't mention anything along those lines. Instead she focuses on what an inconvenience cooking for a vegan ended up being, and on how this inconvenience left her stewing. One can only assume from Freir's article that communication was minimal both leading up to and during her guest's stay.
So what's a vegan to do or say, then, when planning an extended stay at the home of a non-vegan? What steps can be taken to make life easier for host and guest and to facilitate things running smoothly? I asked some vegan friends on Twitter, and here were the suggestions they had to offer:
"If they'll be cooking their own food during their stay, then that's pretty simple. If not, tell them to explain their requirements to the person cooking so there won't (hopefully) be any unpleasant surprises in their food/drink."
"What I had to do: pack a cooler with my food essentials. No one felt put-out/inconvenienced and I still had food to eat."
"Bring money for food, go shopping as soon as you get there and make sure you know where your top 3 veg friendly restaurants are.""Take some great recipe books and offer to do most of the cooking!"
"Last visit I had like that I came armed with favorite recipes and took a trip to the grocery story when I got there. I made it about sharing great recipes and cooking together, and the side effect was that I had plenty to eat!"
"Explain your lifestyle & buy your own groceries."
"Assume the worst, plan to shop, cook, pack food, fave recipes if possible and share. Smile, maintain ethics w/dignity and clarity if baited."
"Pack plenty of vegan treats, plan to hit the grocery store & help cook, find vegan-friendly restaurants in area on HappyCow.net."
"Go shopping as soon as possible, make food to share, explain your reasons for being vegan away from the table. Be firm but polite turning down food. Offer to bake- cookies win people over."
"Remember to be nice, but firm. It's very important to set clear boundaries."Are you picking up on a few reoccurring themes here? Bring/buy your own food. Offer to prepare your own food and to share it. Find a vegan-friendly place to eat outside your host's home once or twice while you're there. Be clear and firm about your needs and be nice when doing so. At most, you and your host will find yourselves enjoying a wonderful stress-free visit.
At the very least, you won't find yourself surprised when you stumble across a rude rant online from someone who, rather than try to make the most of an awkward situation, opted to let her frustration fester to the point of publicly taking an unwarranted and irrational swipe at veganism, complaining that in finding herself struggling to meet the simple needs of her vegan guest, her guest's "personal choices become expectations foisted, unthinkingly, on others".