VWPA Advice #010: A Vegan’s Coming to Dinner!?
What is the Etiquette for Having a Vegan Dinner Guest?
My sister-in-law is dating a hardcore vegan. She wants him to come to the next big family dinner. What are the rules around having a vegan at the table? My family will never go for an all vegan meal, and we don’t know him that well. He’s very strict – he won’t drink alcohol or eat anything out at bars/restaurants unless he can confirm it’s vegan – so I’m nervous about messing up. I want to make him comfortable but also keep the peace with the family, and I’m not that familiar with vegan food. What do I do?
This is one of those scenarios that makes Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell veganism enticing. However, everyone’s veganism is different and you are now entangled with someone who is very strict about even trace amounts of animal products in their food and that should be respected.
So, there’s no set rule on having a vegan over for dinner, however. I think standard dinner party etiquette applies. You don’t have to have everything be vegan but it would be rude to have him over and not have any food for him, just like that would be rude for any guest with dietary restrictions (think allergies or medically ordered diets).
Here’s what I suggest:
- 1-2 Appetizers: if you are setting out appetizers, have one or two be vegan so your guest can snack along with everyone else and not have to wait until dinner to eat anything. Some easy ideas: veggies/pita/crackers with hummus or white bean dip, chips with salsa and guacamole, bruschetta on crostini, olives and marinated mushrooms, fresh fruit, fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce, edamame with sea salt, just to name a few.
- Salad: if you are having salad, create it out of vegetables and have a vegan dressing available (oil and vinegar work just fine) for your guest. If you want to offer meat and cheese for the salad, put it on the side and let your guests add it as they please.
- Main dish + side OR 2-3 sides: you can count the salad as a side, although if you do it would be nice for your guest if you have something substantial on the salad, like nuts or edamame or avocado, to make it a bit more filling. Then, have the main dish be vegan or veganizable (which sounds like a possible no-go for your family).Otherwise, just make sure to have one or two more sides that they can eat. A good formula is veggie + starch, with protein and/or fat. So, a salad that has some beans or nuts, plus a side of potatoes and maybe a steamed veggie, can be a great meal (in fact, that’s what I eat most nights!). Try these smashed potatoes, I guarantee ALL of your guests will flip over them!Be careful to avoid adding cheese, butter or milk to the sides. Roasted veggies, potatoes, beans all make nice filling sides that don’t need any animal products to be tasty. A good main dish that everyone can eat is spaghetti with red sauce. It’s easy, and you can even have meatballs on the side, just make sure the sauce is vegan.
- Cocktails are totally optional!: …but it’s always nice to provide something safe for your guest so they can join in. If you are already buying beer, wine or liquor, check with your sister-in-law or look up brands on the Barnivore website or app. Hard liquor (whiskey, bourbon, vodka, tequila, gin, rum) is always a safe bet, ciders and locally crafted beers (that aren’t a milk or cream stout) are generally safe as well.
Ingredients to avoid: milk (casein, whey), cream, butter, eggs, fish sauce, gelatin, mayonnaise, white sugar, honey. Those aren’t everything to avoid, but the most common ones people forget while they’re cooking or buying.
I know depending on your ethnicity and your traditions, what I outlined above may be a tall order, so just do your best. A lot of what I listed here is American food; a traditional Filipino family, for instance, might have zero interest in hummus or spaghetti; they may insist instead on lola’s (grandma’s) lumpia and your famous pork adobo. I would recommend getting the sister-in-law involved to help find recipes or develop dishes – since she is from your family and culture, she should be able to provide guidance on what dishes could be veganized that won’t set your family on a rampage, and also help you avoid brands that are not vegan for any ingredients or foods you are buying pre-made.
At the end of the day, you should aim to have your guest feel considered, included, and not starving to death. Take this as an opportunity to be a welcoming host. If your guest is rude about your efforts, that’s on them, not you. Being vegan can be frustrating, but we should also be empathetic to the fact that it’s a new and confusing thing to most people and that the effort is what really counts. Do not break the bank accommodating your guest, and do not spend a ton of extra time cooking for them. Work vegan foods into your planned menu, and then breathe easy knowing you tried.
I really empathize here! Planning huge family get-togethers can be difficult enough without adding in the challenge of blending a vegan diet with the family traditions! I think Nichole gave some really awesome and very practical advice! I would just add that sometimes it’s easiest to just go right to the source and work with the vegan guest and/or the person bringing them to come up with the plan. I think a lot of times when people are hosting events and a vegan is attending the host/hostess feels like they need to do all of the research and come up with all of the options themselves; and while it is a very sweet and thoughtful gesture to go to all of the trouble yourself, most vegans don’t expect you to! It actually can be nerve-wracking for us to attend events and not know what to expect. How many dishes are we going to be able to eat, should we bring something, should we not bring something, should I eat before I go just to be safe etc. (trust me- us vegans have all had these thoughts before attending non-vegan events!)… And it can be really stressful! So save yourself, and the vegan some unnecessary stress and try to work with them on the plan and what to serve. Working together can also make sure there are no ‘awkward’ moments where they start questioning all of the ingredients you used when everyone is sitting down to eat. They will know what is safe and what isn’t which will hopefully put them (and everyone else) at ease. And isn’t being in a safe and fun space what get-togethers are all about??