06 May 2011

A vegan or vegetarian at a family barbeque, what do you do?

After months of heavy snowstorms, heavy coats and the ever-tedious shoveling, I think it's safe for us to say goodbye to winter. The sun is rising earlier, birds are chirping, and flowers are blooming; spring is here! With summer just around the corner, friends and families will soon be setting up patio furniture, cleaning pools, and firing up the grills for a season of long awaited get togethers. This season also brings up what I feel is one of the most dreaded questions as a vegetarian: "Hamburger or hot dog?"

If you're a vegan or vegetarian, I'm sure you've talked about it with your family members, even if it wasn't received well. Nevertheless, they might still forget to have vegan/veggie-friendly options at their events (or maybe they think you will literally eat grass). Have you ever gone to a get together, only to discover that every dish has animal products? What do you do? On the one hand you don't want to offend the host, but on the other you might feel offended!

Your non-vegan/veggie family or friends might suggest taking a day off, enjoy a burger and that they won't tell anyone. I don't think I even need to tell anyone here to not go for this option. We made a lifestyle choice, a commitment to compassionate living. Of course it would be 'easy' to cheat here and there, but that defeats the whole purpose. In my eyes, vegetarianism isn't a job that I can call in sick to; it's my life.

It may be annoying, but obviously you can just head to a store and pick something up for yourself. You'll probably want to explain to the host why you're not eating anything that is being served and they'll know for next time. I see this as the easiest method to smooth over the situation, and could possibly be an opportunity to share a vegan/veggie dish with the other guests.

Maybe this can be a bigger opportunity for you to share your thoughts and experiences as a vegan/vegetarian and the concept of compassionate living. Whether your reasons are for health, animal rights, or the environment, you're bound to start up some conversation when you're not eating what others deem to be delicious. When someone asks you, "Why aren't you in line for a burger?" tell them! It can be your own mini-hunger strike; use it to bring attention to the issues you're passionate about.

Last fall I attended a family event while I was visiting home, only a week after making the definite switch to vegetarianism. I had talked about it with my mum, but I guess it had slipped her mind to explain it to the rest of the family. When we arrived, every dish was seafood based. Even though I was a little bummed out, when I opened the conversation with my uncle he was actually excited that next time he'd have a chance to show me his vegetarian culinary skills. It wasn't that no one wanted to make a veggie-friendly dish, they just simply didn't know. Now, everyone is much more comfortable with vegetarian meals and they'll enjoy them with me when I'm home.

It's not the ideal situation to walk into, so there are ways to avoid it:

Communicate & Educate - Tell your hosts that you are vegan/vegetarian and explain how it affects what you eat. Don't make the assumption that everyone has the same idea of what a vegan/veggie diet is. I often hear the common misconception that vegetarians eat fish and seafood.

Offer Help - You can send them links to vegan/veggie recipe sites or lend them a cookbook so the host can have comprehensive ideas of what to make. Offer to bring a dish to share with the party if they're having trouble. Arrive early and help out in the kitchen.

Recently I accompanied my boyfriend to his parents' home for a barbecue.I was slightly apprehensive since no one in their family is vegetarian, but his mother was an excellent host. She put in more effort than I expected; making a couscous salad and preparing a veggie burger before putting any meat on the grill. More often than not, people will try to accommodate your vegan/veggie lifestyle once you explain it. Sometimes it might be more challenging if it's a larger event or if you're going as someone else's "plus one," but don't be too discouraged. Step by step, the world will become more and more vegan/veggie friendly!

Tanya Ayala | @tanya_lua
Tanya is a full-time student at Concordia University, pursuing a BA in Political Science & Professional Writing. She was initially inspired to become vegetarian because of the health benefits, but after watching Food, Inc. and Earthlings, and reading Eating Animals, she realized that her lifestyle had the potential of improving the environment and animal rights.  Follow Tanya on Twitter and on Tumblr.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/keithwj