My carnivore friends often struggle with what to serve when Hubby and I come for dinner. When they fill me in on the menu and let me bring vegan fare to share, it’s less stressful for everyone. Here are ten tips to help you prepare if you’re not used to feeding vegans – and if you are a vegan, please share these tips, as well as your ideas on the subject. I’d love to hear what you think.
1. Vegans enjoy grilled food too. Veggie Kabobs – onions, tomatoes, zucchinis, peppers, yellow squash, etc, Portobello Mushrooms, Veggie Burgers (for us gluten-free folks, the pre-purchased ones usually aren’t a good option), Corn on the Cob and Eggplant are all great on the grill. If you are also grilling meat, please wrap the veggies in foil before tossing them on the grill so they don’t end up coated in meat drippings. Also, if you are basting them – please don’t use butter or margarine (usually contains animal products). Olive, Avocado, Peanut, Sesame and other vegetable oils are a good choice. Or just roast them without oil and add a small amount of water or lemon juice to them before wrapping so they stay moist.
2. Not all salads are vegan. Ask your vegan friend to bring the salad. Chances are they make a really good one. If you’re making the salad remember salads with a mayonnaise base – potato salads, macaroni salads, etc… are NOT vegan. Putting pepperoni, bacon bits, cheese or chicken in a green salads means vegans and vegetarians can’t eat it. If you want these items with your salad, create a salad bar style serving area and keep them in separate dishes. Please don’t expect us to “pick out the meat or cheese.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one. Also, serving the dressing on the side helps us vegans too. Mayonnaise based dressings and those that include dairy are not on our diet. We’re happy to bring vegan dressing if you’re not sure what qualifies.
3. We like appetizers and chips. We like chips that don’t have nacho cheese, sour cream and onion, parmesan etc… Have a bag of plain potato chips or corn chips for your vegan and gluten free friends. Consider putting out some fresh veggies. It’s OK to put out dips to go with them as long as they’re not spilled onto the fresh veggies. If you make salsa or guacamole, please leave out the cheese, sour cream or mayonnaise. Vegans can eat avocados, tomatoes, peppers and onions. Vegetarian bean dip is good too. So are nuts – not the ones with honey or sugar coatings though. Appetizers are another good thing to request vegan friends to bring to the party.
4. Make the baked beans vegan. Make a batch without the bacon, butter, lard, ham, honey (honey is not vegan)… if it comes from an animal, leave it out. There are canned vegetarian baked beans available and they’re pretty tasty. Another easy option would be mixing some vegan black beans with a vegan salsa and slowly heating in the crock pot. I brought this dish over to a friend’s house and didn’t bring home any leftovers.
5. Side dishes are a good way to feed your friends on plant based diets. What else do people serve at Bar-B-Ques? Good old-fashioned baked or sweet potatoes topped with some salsa or a little Bar-B-Que sauce are filling. (Again, make a few plain ones- without butter, cheese, bacon and sour cream.) Steamed asparagus, green beans, lima beans, corn… all these are great so long as they’re not buttered, cheesed, bacon-ed, you get the idea. A good rule for any party with vegans – sauces on the side.
6. What can I serve for dessert? Fresh fruit is a terrific dessert for vegans and those on a gluten free diet. Because most typical Bar-B-Que desserts – cake, ice cream, brownies and cookies are made with butter, flour, eggs, milk, etc… they don’t work for vegans or those on a gluten free diet. Fruit is not only tasty and perfect for a summer treat, it’s also healthy. A big, juicy slice of watermelon or a bowl of plain, mixed seasonal fruit, strawberries with the leaves left on – all good party options. Again, please serve the marshmallow cream, sour cream, ice cream, whipped cream on the side. Party hosts are surprised sometimes to see more guests go for the fruit than the baked goods due to all kinds of diets.
7. Can vegans drink? There are many vegan beers, wines and drinks. Most alcohol contains no animal products. Some products are made using animal byproducts and I hope to learn more on this soon. Every vegan is different. Those of us avoiding gluten will stay far, far away from beer. For me, that’s one of the biggest catalysts to set off my gluten issues. But most people bring along a drink to share. We can certainly do the same.
8. Its O.K. when we don’t eat something. Don’t be offended. It’s not you. Sometimes it seems people place their self-value on whether or not others enjoy and consume their cooking. People refuse to eat certain things for a variety of reasons – allergies, dietary restrictions, religious requirements and personal preferences. Hubby’s family rarely eats my veggie dishes, but I don’t get all bent about it. I know they are not my target audience. If your specialty is baked cookies and grilled steaks, vegans are not your target audience either, but it doesn’t mean we don’t like you just because we don’t eat these items.
9. Let’s all be nice. Please don’t pester us incessantly about our diet. We like to answer sincere questions. But what I’m talking about here is bringing every conversation around to our diet in a negative way – making fun of what’s on our plate, our lifestyle choice, etc. A perfect example is a woman I know who loves to make screaming noises when she eats vegetable near a vegan or vegetarian – saying the veggie is being killed – and then chides the person, saying they can’t possibly be making their diet choice for animal rights reasons. This is really rude. Vegans make their choices for many reasons, and many I know are driven passionately by the humane treatment of animals, not only by health. We all have our own reasons for being vegan. Also, a reminder for my vegan friends: Don’t pester the other guests incessantly about their diet either. You need to be nice too. I meet lots of curious people with great questions. If the conversation leads to one of genuine interest about the vegan lifestyle, I find it’s great to discuss the general green, compassionate and health virtues while avoiding the graphic descriptions of slaughter houses, open heart surgery, dairy farm conditions… especially while the guest is chowing down on a burger. If they’re genuinely interested in learning more, share resources where they can learn more. Or better yet, invite them to see Forks Over Knives or to come with you to a vegan potluck or restaurant. T. Colin Campbell says the vegan movement must grow from the grassroots efforts of all of us. When opportunities arise to share information about our wonderful lifestyle, take the ball and run. But run nicely.
10. We’re not just here for the food. Don’t stress about it. We don’t. Vegans like to socialize, play games, hug, laugh, share stories…we’re people too. We enjoy the company of friends and family and often, for us, we’re so used to our dietary limits in pubic settings, we don’t even pay much attention to the food we can’t have. We bring some plant-based things to share and focus on the social aspects of the event. Even though our culture seems to revolve around eating specific types of food on certain holidays, when we get right down to the heart of it – people like to spend time with each other. So enjoy the special people in your life this summer, regardless of their diets.