What were you thinking? No worries, you can get through this. If having a vegan over to eat at your place is one of your top 100 fears in life, just remember this: a vegan’s #1 fear in life is going over to someone’s house for dinner. Yep, biggest fear we have. It’s a completely unknown meal made in an unknown kitchen. We have no idea how to mention to you that, while we are flattered at your invitation, we’re also… vegan. I hope that’s ok… Ah, you don’t know what to cook for us? Don’t worry. Just make what you normally eat except leave out the cheese, butter, meat, chicken broth, fish, fish sauce, mayonnaise, honey, gelatin, and sugar unless it’s unrefined sugar… then it’s ok. Oh, and can you look up any alcohol you’re serving on Barnivore.com just to make sure it’s vegan, too? Yeah, wine sometimes isn’t vegan. You didn’t know that? Again, it’s ok. We can get through this by following a few simple suggestions:
One: Don’t panic. Let me reiterate that vegans probably worry a lot more about eating at a meat-eater’s house than you do about having one of us over. It’s awkward for us too. As a result, our expectations of dinner are almost always low. No offense – I’m sure you’re a fabulous cook. We’ve attended weddings before and eaten one piece of bread (without butter) and one side of soggy broccoli and survived just fine. We’d be content with just a bowl of strawberries so you can wow us much more easily than you think.
Two: Understand the basics of what we choose not to eat but don’t worry about anything else. Here are the big items we don’t eat: meat (fish included), dairy, and eggs. Pretty simple. Sure there are other things we don’t eat but don’t let this freak you out. Too often, dinner hosts get hung up on the details like how some wines are processed using fish bladders. Don’t worry about these details. Most vegans won’t end their friendship with you if you slip up.
Three: Vegans, by nature, can’t be picky eaters. We have to eat a wide-variety of foods and we typically love eating lots of different fruits, grains, and vegetables. We pride ourselves on eating millet, amaranth and quinoa instead of simply spaghetti. This is a benefit for you if you like to get creative in the kitchen. If you can cook up some kale chips and make a seaweed salad, we’re ecstatic. We’re very receptive to trying new things so take advantage of this fact.
Four: Forget about a five course meal. Vegans typically eat one big plate of stuff. We might have a grain on the bottom and some veggies piled on top. We normally obsess a lot over that one dish when we cook so we are left with zero minutes to focus on details that normal people appreciate like “appetizers” and “side dishes.” If we have a salad, it’s not our appetizer, it’s our meal. We sometimes eat a traditional “side dish” as a meal. The idea of a meal gets flipped upside down when you go vegan so don’t worry about constructing a meal. If the entree you really want to make has meat and cheese in it, go for it as long as you are ok making one or two side dishes that we can eat. For us, if we can eat a side of grilled veggies AND some salad that’s like… Christmas!
Five: We get plenty of protein, really. We love that you want to ensure we have a “complete protein” at dinner but we’ll still be alive tomorrow if you feed us straight-up carbs because, let’s face it, we love carbs.
Six: Vegan food doesn’t have to be weird. We like spaghetti with marinara sauce. We’re all for veggie skewers. Guacamole is the greatest thing ever. When you think of meal ideas, just remember that you don’t have to make seitan crumbles over eggplant patties with fake cheese and a side of twigs. We actually don’t eat “weird” stuff as often as you might think.
Seven: Build-your-own dinners are great for us. We love a good taco, burrito or salad bar. Buffet-style meals also work well for us. Just don’t be weirded-out when we fill half our plate with carrots and the other half with broccoli. Sometimes hosts think this is a sign that we don’t have enough options. Keep in mind what I mentioned earlier about vegan meals being structured differently. A plate of vegetables IS a meal for us regardless of everything we ever learned about meals growing up.
Eight: When in doubt, go ethnic. The great thing about almost every cuisine except American, is the willingness to forgo meat at a meal. I listed tacos and burritos above as Mexican examples but Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Israeli, Thai, Ethiopian, Greek and Kyrgyzstani meals work well. Ok, I have no idea what food is eaten in Kyrgyzstan but it’s probably more vegan-friendly than American cuisine.
Eight: Vegans apparently can’t count. In other news, I just looked up Kyrgyzstani cuisine in Wikipedia and I quote: “Meat in various forms has always been an essential part of Kyrgyz cuisine. Among the most popular meat dishes are horse-meat sausages, roasted sheep’s liver, beshbarmak (a dish containing boiled meat with thin noodles), and various other delicacies made from horse meat.” Ok, fine, America can win the vegan-friendly award when matched up with Kyrgyzstan.
Nine: Dessert is hard. Most desserts have eggs and/or milk so honestly don’t worry too much about this part. We can survive without a “vegan dessert option.” Having said that, fruit salad is your easiest option or find a pint of vegan ice cream. Most grocery stores sell at least one type of vegan ice cream and you will get serious “vegan brownie points” by providing some. So Delicious is my favorite brand and they offer all sorts of varieties.
Ten: Realize how much we appreciate the favor. We know we are inconveniencing you but it’s truly a super-important part of our life. Thank you for respecting this and, please, pass those delicious roasted carrots you made!