#733: “I’m a Part-Time Vegetarian. How do I get people to stop commenting on my food choices?”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am part-time vegetarian. I feel like I get a lot of flak: ”well are you
are a vegetarian or not?” and ”we saw you eat meat; so why should you get
the special vegetarian food?” But I’m not waffling or being weak in my
convictions. I have good reasons to eat meat sometimes and require
vegetarian food at other times.

1) For various health reasons, I limit my consumption of meat to way less
than the typical North American diet. Which means that if you saw me eat
meat at lunch, then it doesn’t mean I’m eating meat now; in means I HAD

2) I’m concerned about the environmental impact of meat production. The
solution to this, I believe, is to eat less meat. A lot less meat, but not
no meat whatsoever. Eating meat once a day rather than 3 times a day is
like driving a Prius instead of a Humvee. We don’t question the
environmental ethics of the Prius driver for consuming some gasoline.

3) My daughter, age 10, is aware of factory farming, and horrified. But
she loves meat. I don’t want to squash her empathy and compassion just
because it’s inconvenient. So, we talked this over, and decided that what
we can try to do is only eat humanely raised meat; which, in effect, means
that we limit meat to when I get to the froofy grocery store that has the
grass-fed beef and the cage-free chickens. I think this means we will have
to present as vegetarians when we go out. Otherwise we will come across as
total snobs: “yes we eat meat… but your meat isn’t good enough.”

4) I just plain like vegetarian food and vegetables and get bored with
meat, and disgusted by sausage in my food.

It would be simpler if I could just be a vegetarian, but I like some meat,
and my daughter would rebel; and, (due to reactive hypoglycemia)
occasionally I desperately need a high-protein meal, and in many
situations meat is the only option.

So… I am very interested in vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly
restaurants, what my vegetarian friends are cooking, and the vegetarian
options in the cafeteria. I eagerly discuss these topics with the
vegetarians, but then they act betrayed when they see me eating meat
later. The omnivores are just confused.

Is this all that confusing? Am I allowed some middle ground between
standard American “all meat all the time” and “don’t let any meat touch my
food”? How do I explain my food preferences so that I get the food I want
but not the flak?

— vegetable eater

Dear Vegetable Eater,

I’m a big fan of eating whatever you want and however you want when you want without a lot of friction from others, so your letter gives me an opportunity for a general manners review for adults breaking bread with other adults. These are very general and I’m sure people can think of a jillion exceptions depending on the closeness of a relationship or the nature of the food or the nature of the restriction, but I know a lot of people with wildly different food needs and preferences (including many of your fellow vegetarians-except-for-that-one-circumstance) who eat together regularly without friction, and my experience says that these principles work pretty well as a starting point.

  • What is on your plate is interesting to you. It should be boring to other people.
  • What is on other people’s plates should be pretty boring to you.
  • If you are going to comment on someone else’s food, stick to positive stuff like “That looks delicious!” “Where did you find it?
  • No telling people something that they are eating is “gross.” No pontificating on the health benefits (or drawbacks) of a certain food while you or someone else at your table is eating that food.
  • Stop talking about food as “sinful” or “bad.” “I’m being soooooo baaaaaaad by eating this cupcake.” Ok, whatever, Yogurt Commercial Lady.
  • Stop commenting on the amount of something someone is eating. “You sure were hungry!” “You eat like a bird!”
  • Telling people you plan to eat with about your food allergies or dietary restrictions helps them accommodate you. “I’m allergic to peanuts, so no Thai restaurant please. The air alone in there will kill me.” “Can we choose a place with several vegetarian and vegan options?” 
  • If you tell a restaurant “No onions, please, I hate them” they will not put onions in your dish. If you tell them you are allergic, they are obligated to find pans/knives/plates/utensils, etc. that have never touched an onion so they don’t risk making you sick. Respect the difference between “preference” and “allergy.”
  • If you have a very restricted diet and you are going to an event where food will be served, help the hosts accommodate you by letting them know ahead of time and consider bringing something you know you can eat to share.
  • If you’re an omnivore, you host a lot of dinner parties (or put together menus for indie film crews), and you have lots of vegetarians in your social circle, think about making vegan or vegetarian main courses and making meat an optional side-addition. Too many times vegetarians and vegans end up feeling like an afterthought as they piece together a “meal” of lettuce and bread.
  • Good pot luck or buffet-serving practice: A little card listing ingredients next to each dish that allows people to discreetly make good decisions.
  • If you’re planning a restaurant outing, linking to online menus ahead of time can help alleviate anxiety and help people make good decisions about what to order and whether they can or want to go.
  • If people tell you they can’t eat something or don’t like something, believe them the first time.
  • Remember that food preferences, like sex preferences, evolve. Just because you liked one thing a certain way last week doesn’t obligate you to want it now.
  • No convincing people to eat a certain dish or a certain way. Offer, if you want, but don’t evangelize and accept refusals politely.
  • Don’t eat “at” other people, don’t assume others are eating the way they do “at” you.
  • Respect the agency and autonomy of others in choosing what and how they eat. Assume they have their reasons for eating as they do that are just as valid as yours. Even if you don’t think that’s true or you hotly disagree with their choices, if you are breaking bread with someone, treat them with respect.
  • Recognize that there are enormous class, access, and economic issues at play in terms of who gets to choose exactly what and how they eat at all times.

Readers, what are we missing?

Vegetable Eater, my read on your letter is that you try to be very thoughtful and deliberate about your consumption, that you identify with vegetarianism culinarily and ethically (especially in contrast to the “standard American diet,”) that you want to be or wish you could be a vegetarian all the time, but for now you are an omnivore who eats meat only when it can be sourced as ethically as possible and/or only when you really need the protein and/or only once/day or every couple of days.

I also think you and the people you eat with regularly are blurring lots of lines in how you talk about food. No one should be commenting on your food choices as much as you describe them doing. However, if you are commenting on their food choices, and/or spending a lot of time discussing yours, people will feel more comfortable offering you commentary.

If you live in a part of the country where meat is ubiquitous and vegetarians really have to work to defend and carve out some menu space for themselves, you probably had to really speak up to get any veggie options, and after speaking up so strongly, people don’t understand why today you just really need a little bit of chicken so you don’t pass out at your desk. I also think how much friction you get depends on how much “work” other people feel they’ve had to do to accommodate your food preferences. If I’m the office manager, and you made a big stink about the catering I order for meetings because of the lack of vegetarian options, or if when we eat together we always have to go to your favorite place and never mine, if I see you eat meat I am going to at least wonder what’s up. I wouldn’t necessarily wonder *out loud*, and that wondering doesn’t mean others should police your food choices (and people in charge of figuring out catering should just get veggie options without treating it as weird), but a question along the lines of “Is having a vegetarian option still a priority or is chicken ok?” can be more about checking in about your needs than about judging you.

Going forward, you could try describing your eating habits as “I prefer to eat meatless food about 90% of the time, with rare exceptions when I cook at home or when I know the meat was humanely sourced” without mention of the “typical American diet.” You’re absolutely right to note that this will come across condescendingly, as “you know, that inferior crap that YOU probably eat” or “My meat (and need to eat meat) is good and conscious, but yours is gross”, especially if you live one of the Midwestern Meat Meccas and especially if someone’s hospitality is involved. When hanging with vegetarians, share recipes and talk farm policy with enthusiasm, but maybe lay off any “UGH, OMNIVORES. I KNOW, RIGHT?” talk (since you are one). And, when eating in mixed vegetarian/omnivore company, you could try expressing a preference rather than an identity, i.e. “Can we get Indian or Persian food instead of BBQ? Daughter and I like places with lots of veggie options” vs. “Come on, you know I’m a vegetarian.” See if that buys you a little less friction, and remember that people who harp on your food choices are acting like jerks and that you don’t have to eat or perform in a way that pleases them.

Finally, since you and your daughter are passionate about sustainable agriculture and the environment, I suggest that you look into volunteer and activism opportunities where you can meet like-minded folks who will understand and have your back and work to change policies through collective action.

468 thoughts on “#733: “I’m a Part-Time Vegetarian. How do I get people to stop commenting on my food choices?”

  1. Yeah, I feel like a lot of these weird things could be removed simply by not calling yourself a vegetarian. (I like to have options with lots of vegetables, or I sometimes like to eat meatless seem like good options.)

    I feel like the term “vegetarian” is already so freaking meaningless. The questions that follow – do you eat fish? Do you eat eggs? Do you eat cheese? No one knows what it really means anymore without further discussion. So the term “part-time vegetarian” to ME means, oh, you’re just an eater. Or I guess it just means you’re not one of those people who cannot fathom a meal that doesn’t include meat.

    1. I call myself “mostly vegetarian” or “not a big meat fan” or “vegetarian, but sometimes I treat myself when I go out.” I know a lot of folks hear “I’m vegetarian” and take it to mean “I think you’re wrong to eat meat.” Which is not LW’s fault, obviously, but something they have to work with if they want to manage others’ reactions to their diet. At least in my experience, using language that conveys a preference vs. a lifestyle gets less pushback.

      1. Yes, I think this works well. something like “I don’t eat very much meat” or “I find it’s better for my system to eat less meat,” rather than saying you’re a vegetarian, which creates a label in others’ minds when they hear it, that leads to their confusion.
        LW – Good news, this is definitely becoming way more common! Maybe not where you live, yet? but it’s definitely getting there.

        1. Yeah, I tend to use “I don’t usually eat meat”. Luckily this isn’t hard in my area, but I also try to be really enthusiastic about the veggie option, so that it’s more about the delicious black bean burgers than the fact that I’m not eating the meat burgers (which I honestly just don’t really like anyway).

        2. Or “I like meat, but it doesn’t always like me back, so I have to be really careful about the meat I eat.” Like, I know somebody who is horribly affected by something that is ubiquitous in meat animals raised on large lots and affects so few people that it is regarded as harmless. But if he scrapes together the money for the organic free-range whatever, he’s OK.

          1. I’d be tempted to put people off discussing/criticising my food choices by saying “I like meat but it really makes me fart.” See who wants to pursue the conversation after that.

        3. Yeah, I’ve had good success/less push back describing my eating habits rather than myself–“I eat mostly vegetarian” rather than “I *am* mostly vegetarian”.

          People seem more likely to want to fight the label…”How can you call yourself a vegetarian when I saw you eat a prawn wrapped in bacon at a special holiday dinner?!”

          But how do you fight a bland description of my eating habits? “No, you don’t!” Doesn’t really work.

          Sometimes I get “Why?” or “How does that work?” or “What does that mean in practice?” but they tend to be more curiosity, general conversation, or questions about whether I need accommodations than hostile pushback.

          I grew up in the Midwest in America, and this is part of the reason I could never be a full vegetarian. No values or preferences that I have that make me prefer eating vegetarian will ever trump my cultural upbringing that it is rude to have preferences about food or to refuse to eat food someone else has prepared for any reason. (This is super fucked up and I work hard not to perpetuating it to others, but that doesn’t stop it from running super deeply within me.)

          1. I think Michael Pollan can be a useful way to sum up how it works: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

          2. @ReanaZ: Yeahhhh that about Pollan.

            “Live near a farmer’s market or have enough money to travel to one regularly, plus extra money if it’s one of those yuppified markets with ‘stalls’ set up by premium grocery chains.”

            “In any case, don’t live in a food desert!”

            “Don’t have work hours, responsibilities at home, or health issues that impair your ability to cook from scratch.”

            “Have the kind of work schedule that allows for mealtimes.”

            “Don’t be eating out of a food bank or otherwise faced with the problem of having enough food in the house period; always have the luxury of reading the labels.”

            “Have wine money.”

        4. Yes, I was thinking something like, “I am really picky about meat so I don’t eat a lot of it,” or “I feel better when I don’t eat much meat” would work well.

          I think the key is keeping it about your preferences and keeping it vague. You aren’t obligated to explain anything beyond what I suggested above. I would recommend not bringing ethical issues into the discussion at all, because they can make other people feel judged and they will get defensive. It’s poor manners to criticize other people’s food choices, and if you say “I only eat humanely sourced meat” to someone who enjoys bacon-wrapped hot dogs, they ARE going to feel criticized.

          Further, using terminology like “vegetarian,” o “humanely sourced” you are inviting arguments. Unlike your own personal preferences, these are terms that have definitions outside of you that can be debated. if you don’t want people to say, “well you aren’t REALLY a vegetarian,” then simply avoid that term entirely. “I can’t tolerate much meat” leaves the door open for you to eat it sometimes, while still asking for vegetarian-friendly options.

          And when I said it’s rude to criticize other people’s food choices, that works both ways. If you politely ask for a vegetarian meal and get flak for it, that’s rudeness on the part of the other person, not you. You aren’t obligated to explain or justify your food choices, and nobody should make you feel like you have to.

      2. EarlGrey’s phrasing is what works for me, too. I’ve been vegetarian for about 20 years. As I’ve gotten older, I seem to need a meat-protein fix every once in a while, so I’ll have some meat or fish. And when I travel, I try to pick vegetarian options but am perfectly happy to try a non-vegetarian local specialty (I joke that I’m “flexitarian” as soon as I leave the U.S.).

        So my go-to language is, “I’m mostly vegetarian, so if there’s a non-meat option that would be great.” If it comes up, which is rarely because most of the people I interact with are polite adults, I’ll add something like, “Oh, doctor’s orders since we have a family history of heart disease and stuff.” If we’re trying to pick a place to eat out, I’ll add, “The only restaurants I kind of can’t really do are Korean BBQ, Brazilian steakhouse, or Vietnamese pho. How would folks feel about [insert 2 or 3 options here]?”

        Blaming “my doctor” for being vegetarian goes a long way toward removing any perceived criticism of other diners out of the equation. I’ve used it for years, and it’s got a grain of truth to it, so I can say it without awkwardness.

        1. I tend to say “my body doesn’t like it when I eat a lot of meat” and then choose a veggie option.

          1. I like that one, too. A number of people feel that I’m being a vegetarian “at” them, that is, that my food choices are some kind of criticism of them or that I’m being holier-than-thou. Now, to be clear, I have some opinions about the American meat industry and American consumption. But they’re just my stupid opinions, and I’ll talk about them only if that’s what people want to talk about. And it’s not what people want to talk about when we’re picking a restaurant or planning a get-together. If I can throw “my doctor” or my digestive system under the bus, it just terminates that boring, boring conversation.

          2. Yeah, I’m a big fan of “it just doesn’t agree with me”, partially because, Miss Manners-style, it insinuates that the results are both digestive and unspeakable. (Someone in my family has the FODMAP intolerances, and communicating “I can have a little onion in the broth without terrible consequences, so you don’t need to make me a whole new thing, but if there are onions on top of the sandwich and I can’t pick them out of the cheese the next three days of my life are going to be horrifying, p.s. are there grapes on that salad? No grapes.” is tricky. “Doesn’t agree with me” or “my mouth loves it but the rest of me does not” have to come into play sometimes.)

        2. Brazilian mostly-veg*n here to say, you can definitely do Brazilian steakhouse if it’s one of the proper ones with a gigantic “side dish” buffet. The plethora of veg options (because all the meat you could ever want is on the main menu) is mind-boggling.

          1. Thanks for the info! Next time it comes up I’ll try to find a menu ahead of time — should be good for a laugh, conspicuously being the only person eating vegetarian side dishes while everybody else at the table puts away plate after plate of meat.

          2. It shouldn’t be that odd – the last time I was at a steakhouse, they had a different price for the “salad bar/sides only” option. So you’re not even paying for the meat you’re not eating!

          3. My open source team went to one last conference; we had two out of our 10 who don’t eat meat, and I didn’t feel they were conspicuous at all for that. (The multicolored hair that one of them was rocking did stand out most delightfully, so I can’t entirely say they blended in!) Also the “side” dishes were delicious, and I would have happily made a meal out of them if I hadn’t been feeling the meat thing that evening, and not felt deprived in the slightest. I wanted to try everything.

          4. Yeah, my husband and I went to one of those (for the first time in our lives) while on our honeymoon. The side dish buffet was amazing, and were I not a meat-eater I still probably could have happily eaten a full meal+dessert there.

          5. Bonus: Some places have a “salad bar” option, where you pay less, and just don’t get any meat.

            Also, yeah, just thinking of all the side-dishes at the one we went to…aaaaand now I’m hungry.

        3. I had a friend who described himself as vegan. For years. And wondered why no one ever offered him fish or eggs.

          He understood vegetarian eats only vegetables (well, yes, that’s commonly true); and vegan to mean doesn’t eat red meat.

          My point here is not to laugh at my friend, but to bring out how likely a person is to encounter misunderstanding

          1. I’d say that vegetarian generally translates to just eats meat, not only vegetables. Fruits and grains are very much on the list for a lot of people, and while I’m one of those people who’s cooking style involves taking some vegetables, adding more vegetables, spicing it a bit (or a lot), then tossing on more vegetables I know a lot of vegetarians who mostly eat grains or absolutely love fruit.

            On the main topic, a phrase like “I don’t eat much meat” could work fairly well. There’s a decent chunk of heavy meat eaters who will still get upset about it, but that’s a group that is going to get upset regardless, and it does help remove confusion over terms. Depending on cultural mores, you might also get some traction by alluding to gastrointestinal distress or gut flora adaptation.

      3. I like to say I’m ‘mostly vegetarian’.
        If pressed I will say something simple but slightly more specific like ‘I try to eat meat less than once a day.’

      4. What I call myself when tends to be very context-dependent: with friends I’ll say I’m “on the vegetarian spectrum.” (If they’re good friends, and they’re interested to hear what that means, we can talk more about it.)

        When I’m back in Missouri with my bio-family, I pretty much just stay quiet and eat at a little meat whenever we dine in to keep folks from worrying about me.

        It may be that you’ll want to have a couple of different labels or explanations at the ready, depending on who you’re talking with.

    2. Agreed — sometimes labels are handy shorthand and other times they unfortunately act as a flashpoint for confusion/conflict. “I try to minimize the amount of meat I eat” is a simple script for starters, with “and I stick to humanely raised meat when I do eat it” as a simple follow-up.

      Also, as the Captain notes, it depends on where you live (and I recognize it’s not the same everywhere as in my neck of the woods, a farming state where organic local etcetera is a big deal) — but more and more I feel like restaurants are catering to people who want to eat humanely raised meat. So you may not have as much trouble as you think finding meat-based things to eat when you go out. But I think again here, the thing about being too wedded to a label is that it can wind up making you and others feel unnecessarily defensive. Say if you’re ordering in a restaurant, just politely ask “Is this local chicken?” and if not say “OK, thanks for the info!” and order the eggplant parm instead. Right?

    3. I was a pescatarian for about ten years. I always described myself as a vegetarian who also ate fish to other people because either I’d have to explain what pescatarian meant anyway or they’d snootily inform me that I was actually a pescatarian and I’d be able to mentally file them under ‘No Fun to Hang Out With’.

      I stopped being any sort of vegetarian several years ago when I was too poor to be able to afford to get a varied enough diet without meat. I still occasionally tell people I’m vegetarian because I genuinely don’t like beef or chicken and would rather not be served something I won’t eat and I still always get the vegetarian/fish option when I’m at restaurants. I eat pepperoni pizza at home sometimes but in public I might as well still be vegetarian. The LW might find that if they can be consistent in public people won’t comment as much and it’s really none of their business what they eat at home. Obviously that’s harder if the LW has a medical condition and honestly? People shouldn’t be commenting anyway.

      1. I understand where you’re coming from, but I really hope you didn’t do that in continental Europe, as vegetarians have enough difficulty getting fed here as it is, and confusing public perception so that you don’t have to explain pescatarianism is rotten.

        1. PSA: it is not the responsibility of any individual to educate society on their lifestyle, nor is it their fault if society refuses to accommodate or understand others with similar lifestyles.

        2. That’s a fair argument for allergies etc, but… not so much vegetarianism. Saying “I’m a vegetarian who also eats fish” is not going to do any damage whatsoever to the cause of vegetarians.

          1. It doesn’t do damage to the cause of vegetarianism. It does do (can do) damage to vegetarians. Many vegetarians lose the ability to digest meat. I remember having dinner with my spouse, who is a vegetarian (I am not); we questioned the waiter about the soup, and were assured it was vegetarian. Nope. No fish in it, but the broth was a fish stock. He was sick with nasty digestive issues for two days. Waiter figured “fish is not meat”.

          2. Saying “I’m a vegetarian who also eats fish” is not going to do any damage whatsoever to the cause of vegetarians.

            Well … Maybe this is a european-specific thing? Back when I was still a vegegatian, I had to argue over and over with people (in restaurants, school cantinas, hospitals, youth hostels etc.) about how that lovely fish dish I’m refusing to eat really is a vegetarian dish, because “vegetarians do eat fish”. They know, other vegetarians told them, so I must be wrong.

            So yeah, this definitely is a problem that had me go hungry in vulnurable circumstances, and I know other vegetarians face(d) the same issue.

          3. I sometimes joke about this idea of “fish is not meat so we can get away with serving only one kind of dish on Fridays, amirite?”
            as “canteen-chef vegetarianism”.

    4. +1 I’ve been fully vegetarian for more than 20 years, and I almost always say “I don’t eat meat” rather than “I’m vegetarian,” just because the word provokes weird responses from a lot of people.

    5. Honestly, I am a vegetarian – not a vegan: I do eat dairy and eggs – and I still usually say “I don’t eat meat” (LW could say “I limit my meat intake” or “I rarely eat meat”) rather than “I am a vegetarian” because I find people tend to respond much better. I still get some bad reactions, even if I haven’t said anything and someone just *noticed* that I am not eating meat at a particular meal, but some people are going to react badly no matter what.

    6. Often just ordering “the vegetarian option” (because in so many places there is exactly one; or you even have to ask *if* there is one) causes people to assume you “are” vegetarian even if you never say that you are. Especially if you ever ask to not eat at a place because you know they don’t do veggy options/all the veggy options suck, and double-especially if they really really like eating there.

      I happen to like a lot of vegetarian foods, and not like a lot of meat-based meals, so I order a lot of vegetarian food; and some people get really weird about it.

      1. When I travelled a lot I typically ordered the vegetarian meal. Ordering the vegetarian meal usually got me something like pasta or egg plant parm. For me, a person with no allergies or sensitivities, this was ideal. But I understand that airline food is much harder to navigate if you have a gluten or lactose intolerance.

        1. Try getting gluten-free and vegetarian hospital food…

          Actual meal they offered me when I had just given birth: the overcooked green beans that were supposed to accompany chicken, along with a piece of gluten-free toast. Apparently you could chose one or the other, but not GF and veg. My younger sister, who is absolutely lovely, went to my house, took some GF lasagna out of my freezer, baked it, and brought it to me, still warm and cheese-y and delicious. She is the best.

          For the record: the wheat intolerance (which leads to a host of serious skin issues and also twice-a-week debilitating migraines…) is a big part of why I don’t do full vegetarian. There’s just a point where the hassle needed conflicts with the time and effort available.

          1. Ugh, hospital food. When I had appendicitis a few years back, they brought me the regular breakfast on my last morning there. The only thing on the entire tray I could consume without setting off hella acid reflux was the water. Huzzah! Bless your sister for her general awesomeness.

    7. Please don’t call yourself a vegetarian. If you call yourself a vegetarian and eat meat, it confuses things A LOT. Current usage is a vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat, but will eat some animal products – such as cheese, milk, honey, and eggs. (This is what we called an ovo-lacto vegetarian 40 years ago.) Vegan is the term used for people who do not eat any animal products, or what was called a vegetarian 40 years ago.

      Eat what you want, eat what you need, do not judge the people you are eating with, and do not let them judge you.

      1. Where I’m from, it’s considered completely normal for a vegetarian to sometimes eat certain kinds of meat, especially fish.

        I don’t really think there’s a consensus.

        1. The reason there is no “consensus” is because people keep misusing the words. Words have meaning, and different words have different meanings. (But words certainly evolve over time, as Margo pointed out.)

          Using “vegetarian” means that you do not eat meat. If you do eat some meat but only fish, then you can use the word “pescetarian” to best describe yourself. If you eat any other kind of meat, then “vegetarian” is not the best word to describe yourself because it is a contradiction, and it is unsurprising that people are confused. It would be better to say that you prefer to eat less meat rather than label yourself as something you are not.

          Like the LW, I need to eat some meat or I will get sick (I was a vegetarian for 4 years and I was constantly sick). I will choose a paleo vegetarian option over meat if I don’t like the meat in question (such as sausage or ham) or if I am concerned about where the meat came from (I try to buy only local, grass-fed, organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free meat because I know how harmful meat that is not these things can be, especially in the long-term). No one gives me a hard time about it if I tell them that I just do not like the meat in question. I imagine they would give me a hard time if I said I was a vegetarian then turned around and sprinkled bacon on my salad.

          1. rhythla said: “Like the LW, I need to eat some meat or I will get sick (I was a vegetarian for 4 years and I was constantly sick).”

            This was my experience as well, and since my intention when I made the choice to try to be vegetarian was to be healthier, rather than out of any dislike for meat specifically, I am no longer a vegetarian. Getting sick constantly was no fun. I had added difficulty due to a previously unknown difficulty with digesting raw vegetables. That was the opposite of fun.

            I have friends who are, and I have dated, vegetarians. None of them have been jerks about me eating meat. I returned the favor, and refrained from telling them how delicious bacon was, because: rude.

  2. And don’t forget, for those of you in those Midwestern Meat Meccas: they’re Meccas because they have lots of open space for animals outside the cities, including humanely and organically raised animals! Check your local co-op (hippie grocery store) or farmers markets. As a single person, I went through a period where I only ate meat from the Farmers Market. As a married person, we can’t afford that with my husband’s “conventional” (said lovingly) meat-eating ways. I applaud your choices. They’re probably more normal than you feel.

    1. Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised at how many farm-to-table restaurants there are in Chicago, for example, that provide humane, local meat.

    2. We have a big freezer, and every now and then we buy half a pig from a local farmer and fill it up. I was surprised at how nice that was.

      One of my younger kids’ classmate’s mother just recently told me about a place an hour away where you can get half a pastured beefalo. I’d need a bigger freezer, though….

      1. Call the farm maybe and ask if there are other families that want to go in on one? My mother used to work at a farm school that only sold beef by the side, but they’d help you get in touch with five other households and someone who could subdivide it for you.

  3. I once had an omnivore at a shared-foodening event ask “You’re not vegan nor gluten-free, why do you always make sure you bring vegan and gluten free food?”

    I replied, “It stretches my foodening skills and it’s just a nice thing to do for those who are vegan and gluten-free.”

    Fast forward five years, I get a celiac diagnosis. I am now gluten free on pain of– well, pain. I never expected this. But I have lots of practice cooking gluten free foods. I have lots of omnivores I go to shared-food events who habitually provide gluten-free foods without my prompting because that’s just the culture I helped foster in these shared-foodening events. Yay Past-Me for fostering inclusion!

    1. I appreciate people bringing vegan food to pot lucks. Gluten isn’t an issue for me (so far) but I can’t eat dairy or processed meat (sausage, bacon, etc) and just think how much standard pot luck food is full of one or both of those!

    2. Having at least one vegan dish at a public event is so helpful. It provides an option for vegans, vegetarians, lactose intolerant/dairy allergic folks. In my circles (many of my friends work in interreligious organizations), meat-free cooking is also an important interreligious gesture of hospitality. You don’t have to worry about whether meat & dairy are mixing, or whether the meat on the table is halal, if you just have a veggie/vegan option to begin with.

      1. Yeah, at least one of the people on my work team who requests vegan dishes has severe reactions to milk products, and he finds it’s easier to specify vegan to avoid getting the milk poisoning. I keep doing this matrix on who on my team can eat what and what has to get actively warned for and put on the side in addition to the straight up ingredients labeling. So much of it I can just solve by ordering 30% vegetarian when my team’s actually only about 20% vegetarian.

        1. My brother was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity about a year ago, and a one of my coworkers is Celiac. I only realized by talking to both of them that apparently the combo of gluten and dairy issues is not uncommon at all. It’s really helpful to keep that in mind for any type of food-sharing event or for going out.

      2. This is such a good point, being able to know there’s no pork/beef or seafoods & dairy opens up food for people who follow major religions or people who grew up in cultures where those foods are not commonly served.

        My vegetarianism becomes a bit more flexible depending on how hungry I am [especially if working a physical job] & has always been a bit dependent on hospitality customs [ie at least trying a hosts food, if it’s a culture sharing thing & especially if home cooked.] I can probably do OK with most foods, but I’ve never really had pork. Not for religious reasons, it’s just not a food that was part of my growing up diet, then I became semi-vege. I feel like my system goes… what IS this?? It’s not an allergy & I have no scientific basis for it, but I feel like it would take a bit of time & effort to acclimatise myself to digesting it, which I don’t want to do. So many words to say… a vege/vegan option makes food sharing possible & so much less fraught for all kinds of people who aren’t vege/vegan too.

        A bit like having non alcoholic drinks available. Is someone a Muslim who practices abstinence? Are they on medication? Are they in recovery? Are they strait edge? Do they have a condition to do with metabolising alcohol? Are they driving? Are they pregnant? Is it a cost thing & non-alchoholic drinks are much cheaper? Do they just not like it? Do they like it fine but just not want a drink that day? Some of these things are hard to explain, but having that option with no questions asked can make socialising so much less stressful.

    3. I make sure I bring vegan and gluten free foods bc I know there are vegans and people with celiac disease in my circle of friends and I want to be inclusive. As a kid, I was riddled with food allergies, and as an adult I ate vegetarian for close to 20 years. I know what it is like to be cuisinilarily excluded. It’s sad how grateful the vegans and gluten-free people are – sad bc evidently I am the only person who likes to be inclusive.

      1. My husband does this also. (He goes to way more potlucks than I do, because reasons; also he does more of the cooking.)

    4. I used to cook for friend gatherings and made sure there were things that my gluten intolerant friend could eat, too.
      And then I was diagnosed with Celiac, and I already had rice flour, and all these baking recipes that I had adjusted to not have gluten! It helped. Enormously.

      The more food restrictions you end up with, the harder it is to find food that is safe to eat, sometimes. I do eat meat in restaurants, partly because I need more protein than some people, and partly because things like eggplant Parmesan have wheat flour and gluten in them(unless made at home specifically to be gluten free, that is). I occasionally consider what eating in restaurants would be like if I were celiac, allergic to nuts, and lactose and/or egg intolerant. Then I hide under my pillows and hope that that combination of dietary needs never happens to me.

    5. My go-to pot luck dish is gluten-free and vegan. It’s easy, colorful, has a multitude of toppings that one can add, and avoids most common allergens. It’s also a lot safer (although still not preferable) in terms of food-safety to leave a pot of lima beans and rice sitting a room temperature than it is to leave out a ham or whatever, and I can’t always control what happens in terms of pot-lucks for that. It has also, sometimes, been the only thing that friends of mine can eat.

      So yay for foodening skills!

      1. “It’s also a lot safer (although still not preferable) in terms of food-safety to leave a pot of lima beans and rice sitting a room temperature than it is to leave out a ham or whatever”

        Actually not! Rice causes a lot of food poisoning because it can contain bacillus cereus which doesn’t get killed by cooking and then can regrow at room temperature. http://www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/bcereus/ Ham is smoked and salted and keeps for ages. It’s obviously not that common or we would all be sick all the time but fried rice is a fairly frequent source of food poisoning for this reason.

  4. I would also be a vegetarian if it weren’t for getting sick every time I tried it post-childhood (my mother was a vegetarian when I was very small, so we were, too), and now I have a combo of food restrictions that mean I just can’t. What I quite often say to people who question me is simply that I really like vegetarian food/dishes. Usually in a “this is really obvious” tone of voice, but that’s not something that I planned (the tone of voice, I mean), because to me it always has been really obvious that vegetarian food is yummy — that’s how I was raised.

    Sometimes (back when that was more true), I’d say “I just don’t eat meat very often” or “I usually prefer the vegetarian options” or something along those lines.

    Most of these are for the omnivore side of the equation, because I’ve gotten more push-back from that side, myself.

    If I get flack from vegetarians who won’t accept my first answer, I have been known to go the TMI route and list exactly what I can’t eat and why. Because if they’re insistent on hearing more, I will sometimes feel ornery enough to make sure they hear way more than they want to (and let them own the awkward). But I don’t recommend that route, really.

    1. Severe gluten intolerance but not Celiac seems to confuse (sometimes outrage) people the same way as LW’s low-meat choice. And giving anyone who questions my need to have gluten-free the full detailed list of how little I can have before BAD THINGS happen, and what those things are, always works for me! Especially when I start detailing all the other diet restrictions.

      1. I think TMI is always the best way to go when people get snooty.

        Sure, I can eat that thing with wheat, but the next three days I’m going to be chained to the toilet and garbage can with…[insert disgusting details including color, consistency, scent, etc…]

        It’s almost a guarantee that they’ll never question again. 😀

  5. I think it’s okay to describe yourself as semi-vegetarian if you really need a label. “I do eat meat, but I don’t care for any today, thanks.” Even people who really love any given food, don’t have it all the time. Plenty of meat eaters happily dine on grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup without even considering that there is no meat on their plate. I can understand your sensitivities here, but I think your life will be easier if you don’t lead with them. Bon appetit!

  6. Okay, you almost exactly described me. I read somewhere, years ago, that to sustain our lifestyle we needed half of Americans to become vegetarians or all Americans to eat half their meals meat-free. I was a full vegetarian for 5 years and now sometimes refer to myself as a joking “recovering vegetarian”. Vegetarian dishes are so much more interesting than meat ones to me. When I do eat meat, I don’t want a steak or a big piece of meat, but a small amount mixed into a dish (like a stir fry). Also I don’t like sausage, bacon, or pepperoni at all. Eventually I want us to transition to “Alaska-tarian” which is only meat we eat is that which is fished/hunted by us. (I promise we are ethical hunters/fisher, mostly we fish. No trophies, only in season, what we need, eat everything we can, donate what we can, etc.)

    I do most of the cooking at home so I mostly cook vegetarian. A little bit of meat occasionally, but not much. When we go out, I tend to choose vegetarian options. Fortunately the places i tend to go, tend to follow the captain’s rules of lots of options for vegetarians, lots of meatless stuff at potlucks, etc. At potlucks, I bring the meatless dish if necessary. We have several extended family members who eat basically the same way.

    When I talk to people, I make my “recovering vegetarian” joke. I used to live in the South in one of those ALL MEAT ALL THE TIME places and I still survived with salads, etc. My few vegetarian friends were usually just happy that I was adding another vegetarian dish to the potluck.

    Just keep your answer simple and don’t add unnecessary details. “I’m a recovering vegetarian, I only eat meat a couple of times a week and I don’t feel like it today.” We have the need to justify and defend before people even challenge us (point in case my two paragraphs that I started with about my lifestyle and the parenthetical defense of hunting). You don’t need to. You’ve made the statement and that is that. If people press you, laugh it off. If they keep pressing you, put the awkwardness back on them. “I don’t eat meat much, but I am/am not today. Why do you care so much?”

    Good luck!!

    1. to sustain our lifestyle we needed half of Americans to become vegetarians or all Americans to eat half their meals meat-free

      Those of us who do eat meat thank you. 🙂

      PS Among my favorite meats is the venison bratwurst my uncle makes from free-range, organic, grass-fed deer.

    2. Alaska-tarian, yes! A full-on vegetarian lifestyle would be impossible in most of the state without imported food, but a plate that is mostly potatoes and greens with a little meat or fish is, basically, traditional food south of the Alaska Range, at least since Europeans first landed here.

      1. To be honest, unless you live in places like California or the Mediterranean, or other fertile temperate zones, it’s difficult for most people to have a healthy, sustaining purely-vego lifestyle. Imagine being a pure vegetarian in places like Scotland and Ireland 200 years ago. No-one can be very healthy on a diet of cabbage, turnips and potatoes!

        That being said, I’m a “I don’t eat red meat” person. I too prefer to buy ethically sourced meats, but if chicken’s on offer at the work lunch, so be it. Also, I don’t think going meatless half the week is a big ask in first world countries.

        1. Actually, the traditional diet in Ireland 200 years ago was potatoes and milk, with perhaps a bit of fish at most once a week depending on budget. In England at the same time, it was bread and cheese with a little meat once in awhile, which was less healthy (potatoes having many more vitamins than bread, such as Vitamin A).

        2. You can make healthy vegetarian food with local ingredients in Scotland (That’s where I live) 🙂 For protein sources you have beans, lentils, complete cereals (like brown bread, or barley, or oats…). And there’s a lot more fruit and veg than cabbage, turnips and potatoes, just check a seasonal veg calendar.

          I cook almost exclusively veggie food, and I do admit that I probably eat a lot of imported ingredients, although I try to use seasonal products. But when you factor in the cost in resources to raise meat, imported veg is still a lot less destructive for the environment.

    3. “Alaska-tarian”! Fantastic!

      We, as a family, eat… semi-vegetarian? We eat tofu- and bean-based meals about half the week, and a lot of eggs (I was That Parent who would bring my 6-month-old to the restaurant and she’d gobble down bean curry by the handful…). We TRY to do organic, ethically-raised, local meat when we do eat mean, but it’s $$$ and we can’t always swing it. However, we do live in the country. As of now, I’m reading up on aquaponic systems (yay fish!), we have a few lambs in the back field, and we have a chicken coop and rabbit hutch being built. Hopefully being able to raise our own meat will help with my personal feelings about factory farming, as well as helping the overall food budget…

      For the OP: if you don’t label your eating habits as a personal identity (“I find I prefer to eat mostly non-meat based meals” vs “I AM a vegetarian”), and don’t make a big deal out of it, most people won’t care (and those who do are asses). If you make a big deal about a vegetarian identity and then have steak, that’s just gonna raise eyebrows.

  7. As an ova-lacto vegetarian (and to add on to some of the earlier comments), I strongly encourage everyone to describe their eating habits and/or dietary identity as accurately as possible. When you say to waitstaff that you’re “vegetarian” and then order the chicken, there’s a good chance that the next time someone who actually doesn’t eat meat asks if a dish is “vegetarian”, they’ll be told “yes” even though it has chicken. I have personally had this happen to me and almost ate it before the server added as an afterthought, “It just has chicken.” Newsflash: that is not a vegetarian dish.

    To sum up, one to add to the list of food niceties: please describe yourself and your eating habits accurately, to avoid creating confusion that endangers others.

      1. In much of Catholic Europe, “meat” and “fish” are two distinctly different things. When I studied in Italy with a US-based program in college, several no-meat-of-any-kind people told their host families that they didn’t eat meat, only to be served fish.

        This was 15 years ago, so things might have changed by now, but it was so hard to avoid both meat AND fish that every single one of them gave up and started eating fish by about 6 weeks in.

        Totally agree with Rowan in asking people to be specific about their dietary preferences. Also agree with the Captain: PLEASE do not conflate dietary preferences, no matter how strong, with allergies and other medical contraindications. I have friends whose “this will cause me to vomit uncontrollably/stop breathing/break out in a gnarly, weeping rash” – level allergies aren’t taken seriously by servers because of people calling dietary preferences “allergies.” I’m also a medical professional who is trained to (among other things) jab people with epi-pens. So when people say “I’m a [vegetarian/vegan/marshmallowarian]. Is any of this food safe for me to eat?” My mental answer: “Safe? Yes. All of it.”

        1. I have the opposite problem: I have real, legitimate food allergies (Oral Allergy Syndrome: almost all fresh fruit and veggies look like pollen to my body; and it thinks pollen is THE SKY TRYING TO KILL US. Cooking or muddling with strong alcohol fix it. It’s the weirdest.) but apart from tree nuts, they aren’t fatal (yet. Might escalate if I react often enough) — and even my tree nut allergies look mild next to the peanut people who can get a reaction from airborne particulates. I won’t die from biting into a nut, and trace amounts will just make my mouth itch.

          So I’ve had waiters take food away from me instantly when I ask if there are nuts in the recipe, because they can’t guarantee a nut-free kitchen — before I can explain that’s not necessary and I just need the question answered. When traveling in Canada this was such a pattern I started lying the other way and saying “I’m not allergic, I just loathe the things!” in my most cheerful voice when asking, because if another chocolate dessert (from a set menu) got taken away from under my actual nose I would cry. Let alone if it was replaced, with the best intentions, with yet another cup of fruit salad. *big ironic sobs*

          Basically, I second your specificness edict, and wish everyone would listen and not jump to conclusions about other’s needs (or preferences.) We weird-eaters will tell ’em, if they’ll listen.

          1. Oh, I have the same combination of allergies like you! (Also eczema, and a skin allergy to peeling/touching raw potatoes – yay!) For so many years I believed I was just “picky” when I refused to eat raw fruit and assumed it was normal that it makes your mouth burn. Well.

            Now I’m trying to go vegan, at the exact time when the vegan community started considered the Raw Vegan (all raw veggies, fruit & nuts) diet some kind of a holy grail, and with veggie cafés catching up on this, it’s getting difficult to get a goddamn nut-free cake, or some good ol’ soy-mayo instead of cashew mayo for my burgers. I’ve never had the problem of people being too careful about nuts, more like getting peanuts sprinkled on my Thai curry after I specifically asked if there were any peanuts *in the sauce*. *shucks*

            But I believe people will learn how to handle diverse dietary needs, it’s certainly a good thing to be able to eat out at least most of the time (unlike a friend of mine who is allergic to pepper, among many other things).

        2. Yeah, I do think this may be a Catholic thing or a language thing. For me it wasn’t until I was an adult that I started calling fish ‘meat’, and even now it sounds very strange to my ear. I would still tend to say ‘fish or meat’. Not that I somehow thought fish wasn’t animal flesh, it was more that the word ‘meat’ had a more specific meaning than literally ‘animal flesh’. More like ‘the flesh of a warm blooded animal’, I guess.

          In some Catholic cultures where partial fasting is common during lent or on Fridays or for some other occasions, fish is the most common main dish on the ‘no meat’ days. So their go-to ‘no meat’ dish is often a fish dish, and it will be literally the first thing that comes to mind if you ask them for a meal ‘without meat’. So to avoid confusion in some countries/families it might be clearer to spell it out and say ‘I don’t eat any meat or fish or seafood’.

      2. This! As a vegan with a serious allergy to fish and shellfish it’s really annoying to not be able to be sure if the veggie option might sercretely contain something that would kill me. Recently asked a waitress if a dish on the vegitarian menu contained milk or egg only to find out that it contained fishsauce…

    1. +1. For some reason, vegetarians-who-eat-fish have become prevalent enough in my area that a not-insignificant portion of servers will point to fish dishes when asked if there are any dishes on the menu without meat. It is confusing and un-fun for all involved.

      For the LW: Give some thought to what your “margin for error,” so to speak, is in your food, and that may help you have more constructive/targeted conversations when you’re out and about in the world. Example time: Sister-in-law eats vegan, and takes it extremely seriously – I have separate pans that I use for cooking for her, to avoid potential cross-contamination. She asks really specific, detailed questions and gives really detailed information about what she can/can’t eat when we’re eating out or going to a function or similar, because it’s really, really important to her that none of her food even comes into contact with animal products. Me personally, even though I’m vegan-ish (that is, I’m vegan at home, mostly vegetarian when out in the world), I don’t have the mental energy for the types of conversations she constantly finds herself in, so I tend to opt for taking food at face-value – if it appears obviously vegetarian, I’ll order the dish as is without further inquiry, even though I know there’s a not-insignificant probability that an animal product I wouldn’t otherwise eat (looking at you, chicken-broth-that-winds-up-in-every-dang-thing) may be lurking, because I just don’t have enough spoons for the type of intensive conversations my SIL opts for. “Can I have Fancy Veggie Pasta Dish without the cheese, please?” is a lot easier (for me, anyway) than “Hi Server, I’m vegetarian and kind of vegan-ish, and so I really don’t want to eat any animal products, but I eat cheese sometimes, but I ate cheese at lunch so I’d rather not eat cheese right now, so can you please hold the cheese?” and tends to provoke less of a “let’s talk about your eating habits” response.

      I guess my advice basically boils down to, if you don’t have the energy for the “but what ARE you?!” conversation, you don’t need to have it. Order on a meal-by-meal basis, deflect inquiries about your choices with “I just really like X” or “I don’t really like Y,” and don’t feel obligated to present to others some Grand Unified Theory of How You Eat. You eat what you want to eat when you want to eat it, and you don’t eat what you don’t want to eat when you don’t want to eat it, and anyone who wants to spend any further time dissecting that is just being rude, and isn’t entitled to further information.

      1. Thank you for cooking so carefully for your sister-in-law! I’m vegan (hence the ‘nym) and one set of my in-laws make a point of adding non-vegan things to everything at family events, eg cheese in the garden salad, butter on any vegetable, to make a point about how “difficult” I am. They did not do this before I went vegan, but only started adding animal products after I mentioned it. Others just don’t get it and will want to cook the vege option in butter or bacon fat.

        I always bring mains and cakes to share, any time it’s appropriate. I also always make GF options if GF family are coming or make allergen-free options for those with allergies.

        1. My SILs’ in-laws do the same thing (even though they had no problem accommodating her when she was vegetarian). Something about “vegan” makes certain people just go haywire around food, I swear.

          (Also, side note, cooking for SIL is actually what convinced me to go vegan at home – it’s a lot easier than I expected it to be, and since I really like to cook, it’s actually been fun to spend time playing around with “vegan-izing” recipes.)

      2. Until I was well into adulthood I actually very rarely met a ‘vegetarian’ who didn’t eat fish. It was so much the standard usage around me that on the rare occasions when one came along they would have had to specify ‘I’m a vegetarian and I don’t eat fish either’. Even though people always saw that the name didn’t make sense and frequently joked about what a funny word it was, that it sounded like it should mean someone who only ate vegetables, when of course it didn’t mean that.

        I don’t know what that really means, though. Other than maybe labels are often less useful than simple but accurate descriptions, when possible.

    1. Yes. I get the impression from other comments that USians use flexitarian to mean approximately the same thing, but for me reducetarian makes it much more explicit what the aims are.

  8. Maybe call yourself a “flexitarian”? That’s a label I could apply to myself, for similar-ish reasons. I also eat gluten-free ~ 80% of the time, which does confuse ppl too. Sympathies.

  9. There’s actually a word for that dietary choice: flexitarian. You’ll still have to explain what it means (“I mostly eat vegetarian, but a couple of times a week I have a small amount of meat” or whatever, and then you can easily tack on “and I’ve already had meat today/enough meat this week/etc”), but just having a label to put on things really communicates to people that this is an actual thing that people do, rather than just your personal whim. Specific terms are useful!

    1. This doesn’t work if you’re trying to avoid Aunt Betty’s green beans (cooked with ham) for ethical reasons, though. “Just eat around it.”

      1. Why not? If Aunt Betty has already cooked the green beans then I don’t see what ethical implication eating around it has compared to not eating it.

      2. Is anything likely to work on Aunt Betty? No one thing is going to work in every situation. On the other hand, “No, thank you” is always a reasonable thing to say, no matter what Aunt Betty thinks. You could also say “I find ham, and things cooked with ham, no longer agree with me” with a small grimace and a vague gesture at your midsection, if you feel you need something stronger.

  10. I would avoid using the *noun* “vegetarian” about yourself (regardless of modifiers), since you do eat meat. I have a similar diet, so I try to say “I eat mostly vegetarian,” not “I AM mostly…”

    I am lactose intolerant but can take enzymes when I remember to bring them, so my behavior can be pretty inconsistent too. I try to say something like “my system is a bit delicate, I’m afraid,” which discourages follow-up questions.

    1. “My system is a bit finicky” has gotten me out of so many awkward food situations. My deal is I was raised with religious dietary restrictions, very vocally no longer adhere to that religion, but some foods just smell and look revolting to me because they were forbidden to me for so long. Sometimes I’ll eat the forbidden food because the presentation is really nice, or I’m curious, or I like one very particular type of cured italian sausage but no other form of charcuterie thankyouverymuch, but usually I avoid it. And that is all waaaaaay too much to explain to the person ordering sandwiches for the office.

    2. One of the things about lactose intolerance that has come off awkwardly for me is at big events like banquets or weddings, do I bother my hostess in advance to bug her caterer about where all the hidden dairy might be, or do I just ask the server on the spot? Sometimes, I ask a server if there is any cream in an ambiguous pureed soup, and then later they “helpfully” omit the cheese from my salad, and it will be like, “oh, you’re sweet to try to anticipate my needs, but I love cheese, and I can eat it, I just need to take a pill.” (other ambiguities: is this creamy looking salad dressing made of buttermilk/yogurt/sourcream, or eggs/mayo?)

      Those pills cost money, I don’t like to guess wrong and waste them.

      1. With catered events or anything you think might be catered I’d pass on your dietary restrictions when you reply to the invitation. Even if the invitation doesn’t say anything about it.

        Also anyone holding a catered event, I recommend asking about requirements when people say they’re coming – even though we put a note in with our wedding invitations a lot of people forgot to say anything. Including one person who I thought would know better so I didn’t ask them and then found out one day before the wedding that they are veggie. Fortunately the kitchen had extra veggie portions. Phew!

        1. I agree to some extent, but depending on my relationship with the host/ess, I feel hesitation about the lactose. Because it’s not that I can’t eat it, it’s that just I want to know if it’s there. I don’t want to be misunderstood and had someone do extra work to modify my meal when that isn’t what I meant, but I suppose I’m running into the same misunderstanding on the spot.

          Now that I have other medical dietary requirements that involve things I actually need to avoid, not just be prepared for, absolutely, I’m being proactive and discussing it well in advance.

          1. I guess you might do best with what you’ve just said here – that you need info rather than modification.

        2. I’m lactose, sucrose, glucose and protein intolerant. Some days, I really want to eat the ice cream, which I can do with pills. If I tell them all my food issues, I don’t get served ice cream. It’s a catch-22 sometimes 🙂

          Oh yes, if anyone is ever in Adelaide (south Australia), I highly recommend the dessert cafe called Eggless. It’s basically designed for people with various food issues who still like tasty things! I can go there with my gluten free dairy free egg free friends and everyone can eat something awesome.

  11. I bet the casual use of a shrug and a “Just not in the mood for [foodthing] today/right now” would work for a lot of these interactions. Very few people will demand justification for a craving or lack thereof. The few that do can get a side eye.

    Of course you can go into more detail with some people, but the average foodening (thanks for that new word I’m stealing, @ Mary Sue!)? Nobody needs an Oath of Office.

    1. Ehhh… this actually isn’t my experience at all. “Just not in the mood” works once you’re actually at a restaurant and choosing from a decent list of options, but people don’t usually challenge you on that in the first place. IME, the problem is far more likely to arise if you’re trying to arrange catering or find a restaurant with enough options for everyone in the first place. “Just not in the mood” isn’t going to get accommodated if it’s super inconvenient (which is often is), in part because it’s a pain and in part because people who do articulate a clear reason rather than just a preference will get prioritized for fairly obvious reasons.

      If, for example, I tell people that I’m just not in the mood for pizza after we’ve been back and forth for fifteen minutes about where to order lunch from, I’m going to look like a bit of a jerk. Similarly, if I tell people that I’m just not in the mood for Chinese food and that’s the restaurant that’s convenient, works well for the person with the peanut allergy, and is within everyone’s budget, I’m going to look really self-focused. I know this, because that’s how I’d feel if I genuinely just wasn’t in the mood for something and raised a fuss when a lot of options had been tossed back and forth.

      If, on the other hand, I say that I can’t do pizza or Chinese food because I’m gluten-free, that becomes a very different conversation, and one that people are more likely to understand.

      1. Yeah. I am generally willing to make every reasonable effort to accommodate someone’s medical need or lifestyle choice when it comes to food, but pretty much unwilling to expend any effort for people I perceive to be fussy about food.

        If we’re planning to order pizza and you tell me “I’m lactose-intolerant” or “I’m vegan” or “I have a food aversion”, I’ll be immediately scrambling to find you something suitable. But if you wait until we’ve already decided what to order and then tell me “I just can’t abide melted cheese” and then pout because no one ordered anything you’ll eat, well, sorry, SOL. (A true story.)

        I try not to be the arbitrator of whose reasons are ‘good enough’ but giving a basic reason + clear guidelines of what I can do to help find/serve food you can eat goes a long way towards making sure you get fed, whereas “I don’t feeeeeel like that food” will get a “Well, I guess you’re going to be hungry or need to go find your own food without us.”

        1. I mean, to be clear, it’s your body, put what you want in it, and no need to offer any justification to anyone else. But if your food needs and/or preference affect what other people get to eat or need to do, you aren’t obligated to give your reasons but a polite and short explanation helps.

  12. Captatin’s advice is spot on.
    I think the language is a big piece of the rub/confusion for people. I think you could just say you often prefer veggie fare or having a vegetarian option. I don’t even know that sharing that you only eat it when you know it’s been humanely sourced is even necessary, honestly, and could cause friction.
    Also, I think people really feel the need to justify decisions they are not totally comfortable with. You say “It would be simpler if I could just be a vegetarian” but cannot be for your own set of reasons (and you get to have whatever reasons you want for this!). I wonder if you’re perceiving some judgement from these people or it feels worse because you don’t seem to be 100% on board with what you’re doing? There was a lot of explanation at the beginning of the letter that would suggest this. Like, you reaaaaally wish you could do it, but there are a lot of reasons why not. You are entitled to your reasons, LW. It might be helpful to try to own your eating habits. You are allowed to eat in the way that works best for your body, mind, and spirit. You do not have to explain yourself to people and I wonder if the explanation results in some of the exact conversation you do not want to invite.

  13. I strongly support the Captain’s language here about avoiding labels for yourself and focus more on food options or ‘bounty’.

    My mother has adopted a personal definition of what kosher means to her, which adds a lot of spiritual meaning to her life and I’m glad works for her. However, I bristle when she uses it as an excuse to avoid food she’s not interested in eating because it gets into territory of misinformation and sometimes being quite rude.

    For my mom saying “I don’t eat meat in restaurants because I’m kosher” sounds convenient for her – but it’s also does not accurately define any part of kashrut. But she thinks it’s easier to say than “I eat pescatarian in restaurants” or “I’m craving a fish/veggie main”. She lives in a part of the U.S. where the ins and outs of kosher eating aren’t widely known, and she ends up spreading misinformation about what she eats and draws huge attention to it. When it gets rude is when she’s offered pescatarian food by colleague or neighbor but will deny it due to her “being kosher, and unable to eat food not cooked in a kosher kitchen”. To her this is more polite than saying, “no thank you” despite her then going and eating food from another neighbor/colleague who also doesn’t have a kosher kitchen.

    All of this leads to my mother’s food choices having an aura of mystery because they’re not consistent and hyper focus on easy outs that aren’t quite honest. For work situations where issues of catering are an issue, sticking with pescatarian/vegetarian labels would largely work as she’s rarely going to be in a situation where there’s a kosher meat option. Perhaps on some level my mother prefers the kosher label as its a way of announcing her Jewishness, but as a food descriptor, it just makes her a point of focus, confusion and fascination.

    I was a vegetarian for 9 years before switching to omnivore, and similarly eat less meat than many Americans and try to only buy more ethical meat. So I get the overarching interest to seek out a diet with a more moderate meat presence, but like the Captain mentioned – focusing on places with diverse menus and doing research ahead of time are your friends. Because coming up with a quick out often becomes a teaser to more conversation and inviting people into a debate about your food choices.

    1. Eating only dairy/pareve meals in non-kosher restaurants is a fairly common practice among Conservative Jews, including Conservative rabbis. You’re right that it’s not really halachically ok’d, but that part of her observance at least is definitely not just your mom’s own personal standard.

      1. I’m not saying that it’s not a common tradition – but it’s also not typically referred to by Jews who practice that as “keeping kosher”. And the way she uses it invariably breeds a lot of inquiry – from Jews and nonJews. That being said, from my experience – it is more common for Jews of a Conservative background to be happy referring to that as kosher whereas Jews of different backgrounds who pick and choose their own aspects of kashrut in their daily lives will rarely define what they do/don’t eat as “being kosher”.

        As it pertains to faith, I’m happy that people find traditions that are meaningful. But when “I keep kosher” or “I’m a vegetarian” is the blanket excuse for what is/is not eaten and it doesn’t truly adhere to the definitions, it breeds inquiry and discussion. If my mother’s intention is to engage others in conversation about her faith and eating practices, then she has successfully achieved that (which in her case may very well be the point). But if the intention of someone who keeps “kosher like” or “vegetarian like” is to not engage in discussion and debate, then relying on such labels to shut down conversation, in my experience, has the exact opposite effect.

        1. OK,this puzzles me. What do Jews who aren’t Conservative and aren’t totally in-tune with their respective movements in terms of kashrut say when someone asks them why they don’t eat pork (or whatever)? I’ve said both “I keep kosher” and “I’m Jewish” and I’ve gotten pretty similar responses. I have no idea how else I would answer these types of questions in order to (politely and honestly) shut down conversation. If there’s a way, I’d like to know.

          1. I was raised in the Conservative movement and now do the aggressively-outside-of-movements Jewish thing that is only possible in cities like NYC, and I keep kosher in a similar manner to eightysixed’s mom, in that I only eat kosher meat cooked in a kosher kitchen but eat dairy and fish from non-kosher kitchens, with the addendum that I’m hoping to also switch to only ethically-raised kosher meat soon (new job and more money makes it more possible!). I actually don’t tell folks that my dietary restrictions are about kashrut unless they ask me for details: I’ll say something like “For most purposes I’m pescatarian” or something of the like. If they ask for more info, I’ll add “I don’t eat non-kosher meat, but as long as there are veggie options or fish, don’t worry about me!”

            Work friends will see me bring in meat for lunch maybe once or twice a month, if that, because I can’t afford a lot of meat. Often they don’t even notice.

          2. For friends of mine who were raised Orthodox and now keep their version of kosher-style for foods they don’t eat for those reasons, they will typically say I don’t eat pork/I’ll eat bacon sometimes, but in general no pork for me/I don’t eat dairy/I don’t eat dairy with meat.

            I lived in Israel for a while where I guess the reason of “being Jewish” didn’t quite work, and with many people being at various points of the kosher spectrum – the language for what you do/don’t eat was more food focused. That being said, my issue with my mother is not necessarily about defining eating decisions based on her expression of Judaism (I.e. I don’t eat pork because of being raised Jewish, but please pass the shrimp!) – but rather using the term kosher.

            To me, saying you keep kosher is similar to saying that you have celiac. It’s a dietary distinction that impacts just about every aspect of your culinary life and highly dictates who can and can not cook for you or serve you food. If I’m invited to the home of someone who keeps kosher (or has celiac) and I’m asked to bring “a dish” – that means I have to find a deli/restaurant/caterer to do so. There’s absolutely nothing I can make at home. However, if you keep kosher-style and tell me “we’re eating meat tonight, so if you can bring a vegetable side with no dairy in it, that would be great” – then that’s far different.

            I do think that saying “I’m kosher” is a very effective way to shut down conversations with many non-Jews as it’s such a foreign topic to many. But to me it is more akin to saying that you have celiac when you’re avoiding gluten for other dietary choices. Both are entirely valid reasons to not eat what you don’t want to eat, but relying on kosher or celiac as a way to simply shut down conversation runs the risk of later confusing people on what kosher/celiac is and also for those close to you – you do open the invitation for greater comments on your choices when it becomes more apparent.

          3. I understand needing to clarify what someone’s dietary issues are before you bring food to their house, and how if in your world “kosher” means one thing most of the time it would be frustrating when people use it to mean something different.

            I think for many Conservative Jews (but perhaps much less so for people who were raised Orthodox but now have different dietary practices), their kosher standards are different in degree but not really different in kind from what practicing Orthodox Jews do. That is, they have different standards, but those standards correspond similarly to their community norm and they are just as consistent about keeping them. They very much see themselves as keeping kosher, not kosher-style.

          4. I would say that in the Conservative community I grew up in, that was not the case. All food brought into the synagogue was kosher as per Orthodox standards and there were a number of families in our Conservative congregation that kept kosher according to Orthodox standards that were adamant about ‘kosher style’ congregants not bringing prepared food into their homes.

            I agree that eating practices within the Conservative Jewish community are on a spectrum, but it’s a spectrum that in my experience holds the Orthodox standards of kashrut as the definition of keeping kosher.

            I was raised in a Conservative community in the U.S. and lived as a secular adult in Jerusalem for years and I’ve seen a wide variety of Jewish lived choices regarding food. But for the most part, when meeting new people, saying that you “keep kosher” when you keep kosher style is a road bound for miscommunication. For many Conservative Jews, kosher meat is a priority – for some it’s just the separation of milk and meat. I know others who’ve defined chicken as pareve. And when you compare those decisions with how involved kashrut actually is – to me it really is a difference between “I avoid gluten when possible” to “I have celiac”.

  14. By coming up with a creative or non-standard label for yourself, you’re going to invite conversation from people who care–people who want to get it right! But it means that they are going to comment on your food choices, because you’ve made it a piece of the conversation.

    Also, it’s incredibly easy to create subcultures based on food, even if you don’t necessarily mean to. There are intra-family food cultures, cultural food cultures, diet restriction food cultures, food habit food cultures…etc. if an omnivore is outside of a kind of restricted diet subculture that you belong to, they may not know the terminology and they may have weird feelings around your food choices, because it’s your food culture clashing with their food culture. I mean, this should be treated in a way similar to other cultural clashes, and respected and accommodated on both sides of the equation; that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a thorny and primal area of interaction.

    As the person who’s more socially aware of the thorniness (instead of just having weird feelings you can’t identify) you can do what the Captain and other commenters have recommended–decentralize the culture aspect of it, and foreground your specific, casual preferences. Be specific about what you request to eat: “ooh, that looks good, but would you mind switching to X restaurant? It looks like Y restaurant doesn’t have much I’m interested in,” or “is anyone bringing a veggie entree to the potluck? I should be able to if not!” etc.

    1. The unintentional food subculture – I definitely relate to that!

      Where I work, most people eat at their desks but there is a kitchen that’s occasionally used. I bring my lunch 4 days a week, and due to a lack of creativity it’s usually some kind of rice dish with tofu. The fifth day, I’ll eat out. For some in my office, just because I usually bring tofu for lunch I must be a vegetarian. The idea of a non-vegetarian eating tofu regularly is just entirely beyond their experience and then they’re shocked if they catch me on my “eating out” day with meat.

      The reality of food is that for many people it’s connected to a huge number of different aspects in our lives which likely makes us more sensitive to something we perceive as strange. I remember meeting a woman who told me she ate whole raw onions like apples and being completely floored by someone who appeared utterly alien to me in that instant. Combine that with general realities of people pushing/stepping over boundaries, and it’s a topic where just about anyone can have unwanted opinions.

      1. One of my friends in elementary school ate potatoes like apples! It was so weird to me! (But my dad ate onions like that so it wouldn’t have bothered me at all to see someone do that…)

        Food is definitely a thing, though, and it can get tiring to listen to people comment. I’ve just perfected the look of “And why are you commenting on this?” It can be a little rude, but it’s to the point and generally effective.

      2. Food is such an intensely personal thing that it rapidly veers into “is my blue your blue” territory. Even peripheral activity can be unbelievably fraught. A recent Thanksgiving at my place devolved into a shouting match because one person involved viewed cooking as a chore, and a failure to help with a chore made you a bad and lazy person, while the other party saw cooking as a fun project that buzzkills should stay out of if they were just going to get in the way.

      3. I had a friend growing up who would mix salt and sugar together, sprinkle it on a big tomato, and eat that like an apple. I like tomatoes, but that one was pretty odd to me!

        1. Yikes………..

          Admittedly, I rip bananas in half as a party trick sometimes (often) so I can’t talk that much about how people treat their fruit.

      4. I have a friend who gets really puzzled/amazed by my constant eating of raw and unpeeled fruit and vegetables (specially carrots and endives) because he grew up in a big city and I’m used to just pick whatever from the plant and eat it, since my family doesn’t use chemicals on the vegetable garden. In our case, it has led to really interesting conversations, but it wouldn’t have been the case if he hadn’t been polite about it or if I hadn’t been open to discuss it.

      5. I am an omnivore, and sometimes wind up saying things like “I’m not a vegetarian, I just like vegetables.” Tofu, for me, isn’t about avoiding meat: it’s giving myself another cooking/food option.

        That line isn’t going to work for people who want to ensure that there’s a non-meat entree available, but it’s useful if someone sees/hears me ordering pasta primavera and is worrying that they need to be sure to have a vegetarian option, or thinks I might not want them to eat ham in front of me.

  15. It might be best to phrase it as a preference without using the word “vegetarian” specifically. I’ll admit, I’d be a bit confused if someone referred to themselves as vegetarian, and then ate some meat (Although I wouldn’t comment on it, unless it was a dish where they could conceivably have missed having meat in it, and then only to make sure they knew about it.) Something like “I just don’t like to eat meat that much” is a lot easier to explain.

    I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a “Texas vegetarian”, because I really only eat fish and poultry. I just don’t like other meats. I’ve had people ask if I’m a vegetarian, but accept it as a preference when I explain. So you might eliminate the “are you a vegetarian” question by phrasing it differently. Even as an omnivore, it’s about 50/50 that i’ll get a vegetarian option, just due to personal preference. People are also a lot less likely to get defensive, and therefore resistant, when its about your personal preference rather than an implied judgement. If I get any comments, it’s typically polite bafflement.

    For the “why do you need special vegetarian food? You eat meat!”, one thing that might help in a friends context is inviting people over and cooking them meatless meals. I honestly thought I hated vegetables until I started regularly going to a vegetarian friend’s house where he cooked excellent vegetarian food. You might be able to change the conversation from “Oh, right, you need the special vegetarian food” to “oh! You should definitely bring that delicious bean chilli/roasted brussel sprouts/tofu stir fry!” (Side note: I bought a vegetarian cookbook as a result, and have vastly increased my own cooking repetoire.) Something similar might work for any sort of work pot-luck.

    1. Oh, LOL forever! I didn’t know that “Texas Vegetarian” was an actual phrase, but I’ve used it to refer to people who eat poultry and fish, based on an experience I had on a work trip with a Hindu colleague who was on the vegan side of vegetarian. We went to a random restaurant for dinner and it turned out to be somewhat of a steakhouse (I think the default setting for Texas restaurants is “steakhouse”). He asked the server whether there were any vegetarian entrees, and she replied, with a straight face, “Oh, y’all mean like chicken”?

      1. *giggling madly, running off with the phrase*

        Here’s why I’m laughing: people who haven’t seen me in years will say “But we’ve SEEN you eat a hamburger as big as your head, what do you mean you don’t want this steak?” “Yes, I did when I was a child; now I don’t. I’d love some chicken, though!”

        And then I will explain that while visiting family in Texas not too long ago, I was bitten by a Lone Star tick. Sadly, I did not receive superpowers. I am, however, now allergic to alpha-gal sugars: 4-8 hours after consuming ANY mammalian meat, I will be in an emergency room with my trachea swelling shut. There’s an epi pen in my bag and I have a Medic-Alert bracelet that tells first responders “Don’t give this person these types of IV fluid, it will lead to badness”.

  16. There is a TED Talk titled “Part Time Veg” that the asker could send to their friends as a quick link that talks about the idea in terms that largely align with his analogy about Priuses.

  17. I’m a hardcore carnivore, like meat-for-every-meal, no greens, etc., so I guess I’m speaking from there. My vegetarian friends and I have worked out basically the unspoken rules of our social group’s voluntary* food interactions that just kind of evolved, and they seem to go something like this.

    1) The majority rules. If you’re the only vegetarian there, we’re going to a place that serves lots of meat, and you’ll have to deal. On the other hand, if there are like five people going to the local Clover or Veggie Galaxy, I just don’t buy anything and don’t complain. Worst case I can grab something when I get home. The point is the company, and nobody likes That One Dude. Don’t be That One Dude who demands the whole group go somewhere they don’t like or shaft their original plans so you can get your portabella burger. If the party is sponsored by meat-eaters, tailor your schedule around that, and save your every-so-often meat plans for then. Or, go potluck; after all, everyone loves it when someone brings a dish so that they don’t have to do more cooking! “Hey Tammy, can I bring along my awesome pasta alfredo?” is like never something people turn down. Vegans are especially hard to accommodate at parties for carnivores, because stuff like cake and ice cream and dip and all that often is made with butter or milk or eggs, so that means you have to buy a whole new version that only one person is going to bother with and you’ll probably throw out in the end if the vegan doesn’t want to take it home. We still have that weird coconut-based ice cream from that one party that nobody in our house wants to eat.

    2) If you’re at someone’s house casually, you live by their rules or you bring/order your own stuff. Any vegetarian going to my house for a party is going to expect to have to bring their own food or be stuck eating side dishes and desserts, because I haven’t a single clue how to make vegetarian food, because I actually don’t eat 90% of veggies because I think they’re nasty. On the other hand, if I’m going to my vegan buddy’s place, I sure as hell don’t expect him to make me a burger. Some people may demand that others learn how to make food for that one person; we just kind of wing it and don’t make a big deal out of it.

    3) Don’t be a dick. Don’t go all Meat Is Murder on your friends, and your friends shouldn’t call you a wuss for not eating meat. Live and let live. If your friends are dickwads about your personal eating habits, you might consider either having a serious chat with them or being less of friends.

    Also, if you’re willing to eat meat once in a while, why not just say “I really wanted the Four Cheese Ravioli” or whatever, when someone asks you where the meat is? There’s nothing *wrong* with picking a non meat option. You don’t have to go with the exclusive-sounding “vegetarian” because that implies to most people that you never eat meat, and they will get confused. (Pescatarian folks get snorted at a lot, for example, because they’re sort of perceived as not “knowing” that fish is meat, or looking for a way to “cheat” on a vegetarian diet or whatever.)

    *Voluntary meaning “I choose to eat this way” not “I have to eat this way for medical reasons.” The exception to much of this is allergies, because if someone can’t be near peanuts, suddenly going to Gary’s Peanut Shack is not just “Bob doesn’t get a meal,” but “Bob can’t even attend this even when he was invited because he could actually die.” Which isn’t cool. It’s like that letter someone wrote way back when about family members inviting someone to a strenuous trip knowing they had a disability and wouldn’t actually accept. Or something.

    1. Vegans are especially hard to accommodate at parties for carnivores, because stuff like cake and ice cream and dip and all that often is made with butter or milk or eggs, so that means you have to buy a whole new version that only one person is going to bother with and you’ll probably throw out in the end if the vegan doesn’t want to take it home.

      What? Look, I party with hard core all-meat paleo crossfit types, and we still manage to have vegan options without a whole lot of sturm und drang. It’s not that hard, especially if you live in Cambridge (which I’m assuming you do based on “Clover and Veggie Galaxy”). Seriously, if you have a vegetarian in your group, you would still decide to go to Midwest Grill when there are literally eight zillion other options on the same block in the same price range that will also happily serve you a giant slab of animal?

      1. I could be wrong, but as for restaurants, if you know x, y, and z people are coming to a thing, hanging with those particular people is the point of the outing, and you know x loves meat and z is a vegetarian, pick a place with many options. But if the *place* is the central facet of the outing, like, “Hey, anyone want to go to Meaty BBQ Place (+ link to menu) with me this Friday?” the vegetarian can go or not go, and eat or not eat, but it’s not cool to go and then be like “Ugh why is there only meaty bbq here.” If *every* trip is to Meaty BBQ Palace, then there is probably an issue, but sometimes people want to see a certain group of friends, sometimes people are craving a certain place, and the two can be balanced if everyone can make an informed decision.

        1. We get this in my circle of friends. Once in a while we get an e-mail blasto that says, “Yo, A and B are meeting at That Favorite Awesome Pho Shop tomorrow, RSVP if you like and we’ll save you a seat.” And I’ll have to answer, “Yo, I’m a little too vegetarian for pho [*] but it’s been donkey years since I’ve seen ya, so I’m totally crashing your pho party and nursing a coffee TOTALLY NON-JUDGMENTALLY AT ALL at the other end of the table.”

          We tend to be a bunch of jokers in my circle of friends.

          [*] Calling myself “a little to vegetarian for X” is another face-saving phrase. It throws myself under the bus and assures the other party that I’m not being vegetarian “at” them.

        2. Agreed. If someone is planning a trip to a specific restaurant they want to go Meaty BBQ, Veggies Are Us, Gluten Palace of Sugary Goodnes, whatever, then sure, anyone who chooses to go shouldn’t complain about not being accommodated. But if the situation is a bunch of friends hanging out and it’s time to eat or a group of friends is planning excursion + some kind of meal, then I have a BIG problem with Aurora’s first rule. It wouldn’t take too many instances of “Sorry, you’re outvoted, so we’re going to a place where there is nothing for you to eat” for me to decide it was time for a new friends group. If the point is the company, not the specific food, then you need to find a place where everyone* can have something to eat.

          *The exception being people with such extreme (or so many) food restrictions who generally don’t expect to be able to eat in a restaurant at all.

          1. Agreed. I work so hard at sticking to my principles and dealing with the social downsides of being a vegan – there’s nothing worse than ending up in a place where everyone else is passionately enjoying the food and you’re forced to maintain an upbeat attitude while eating chips/fries that taste like cardboard. I find it a bit humiliating.

          2. Yeah, I feel like there’s a pretty big difference between asking someone who likes to eat a lot of meat to go to a vegetarian/vegan-friendly place (omnivores *can* eat vegetarian/vegan food, even if they might prefer a steak) and asking a vegetarian or vegan to sit around hungry while they watch everyone else eat. The first is a bit inconvenient, but the second comes across as a deliberate exclusion, and the times where it’s happened to me, I definitely didn’t feel like having another meal with those people (unfortunately, the worst offenders are family members, so I don’t always get much choice).

        3. Yeah. Plus, sometimes given a big enough circle of friends with a complicated enough set of dietary requirements, trying to pick a place every time where everyone can eat means you are stuck at the one restaurant in town that offers at least one dish that each person can theoretically consume … and it’s a place no one really likes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with rotating through choices that most people are happy with but that don’t work for everyone, as long as everyone’s cool with sitting out some meals in exchange for another time getting to go to that one place they love but where Ted can’t get anything onion-free.

    2. Vegans are especially hard to accommodate at parties for carnivores, because stuff like cake and ice cream and dip and all that often is made with butter or milk or eggs, so that means you have to buy a whole new version that only one person is going to bother with and you’ll probably throw out in the end if the vegan doesn’t want to take it home.

      Or just make one vegan cake and not have a non-vegan cake.

      Listen, I had steak for BREAKFAST today. I am not a vegan by any stretch. But cakes are so easy to make vegan. Margarine and bananas and applesauce are the secret and vegans and carnivores all get cake! EVERYONE LOVES CAKE!

      Bonus points if you make it gluten free so I, too, can have the cake. Because I love cake.

      1. Yeah, but that gets expensive and time consuming. Vegan food can be expensive; making two versions of things can be expensive; buying gluten free is *always* expensive, especially if you have to buy gf and regular (because the regular is generally superior in taste).

        Look, I have crazy dietary restrictions and I love, love, love my friends for graciously accommodating them so many times (they buy me special chips, for goodness’ sakes) but I’m never offended when they’re like “this is the menu/place and I don’t know if you can eat this food, but this is what’s set.” I can bring my own food or chose not to go. (And I’ve done both without ever offending anyone.) And when I’m planning something and I’m like, “everything on the menu is gluten free; if you want real cake, bring it yourself, but you can’t prep anything gluten-y in my kitchen” they are cool with it too.

        If we’re setting up an outing that’s special (my birthday/person in town visiting we all want to see/whatever) then, yes, I would get upset if they didn’t ask me for my place input, but if it’s just a normal outing/get together, I’m okay with it sometimes being too much trouble to accommodate me, or them wanting to be able to go somewhere awesome that I’m realistically not going to be able to eat at. They’re okay with me always picking the same place for get-togethers I suggest, because I know I can eat there. It evens out. (And if it didn’t, that’s not okay!)

        1. oh, I think that came off way more harsh then intended! Sorry! That was not intended to be so vehement – I should’ve edited for tone clarity.

          My point was, sometimes it’s not practical to accommodate everyone, but the balance should be so everyone feels included most of the time and it’s not always the same people/food excluded.

          1. I make a wicked vegan chocolate cake that just uses ingredients you’re likely to have in your cupboard (flour, cocoa powder, vegetable oil, vinegar, sugar, bicarb, vanilla essence) and is way cheaper than making a regular cake and is deliciously moist and surprisingly tasty. It can be done.

          2. @amberxebi (out of replies, hmf.)

            We call that “cockeyed cake,” and it’s a recipe I grew up with. Very moist and tasty, and even better it’s the cake you make when you’re dirt poor and don’t have the ingredients for “normal people”* cake (eggs and butter). I have taken it to many carnivore cookouts. I don’t necessarily tell people it’s vegan, though it is, and people descend on it like freaking locusts. There are never leftovers.

            * “Normal people” being people who have two pennies to rub together.

          3. Wacky cakes! Search for recipes for them. They were the war and Depression recipes used when eggs, milk and butter were scarce. They are usually awesome, inexpensive and vegan.

          4. If the gluteny anything tastes far superior to the GF version, you’re doing it wrong. Please don’t judge GF food by Flying Apron standards.

          5. …I eat gluten free (all the time). Some of it’s decent, a few things are pretty good, but for the most part, if it originally had flour, the gluten-y version is better, at least for me.

      2. Yep. When I do my baking to share with people, the baseline is vegan (and quite often gluten-free as well). It means that more people get to eat the food I make, which makes me happy, because the baked goods mean love. I hate excluding people, to the point where during the chili cook-off I usually make TWO pots, one vegan and the other not, and label them as such. Because everyone deserves a chance to participate in the cook-off, and pumpkin chili is freaking fantastic.

        I learned how to bake a cake, and it took some trial and error. I learned how to bake a cake to be G-F or vegan, which also took some trial and error. I don’t generally offer both — and I have never had someone pass on like, cupcakes, specifically because they were vegan.

        I can taste the difference, same as I can taste the difference between stevia and sugar (and there’s some texture issues I’m still trying to fix there) but that doesn’t mean they’re not both YUM.

        (PS: My absolute easiest treat that is all things to all people? Rice Krispie squares with vegan marshmallows. I tend to add ingredients as allergies allow, so there may be some peanut butter in there or cashews or caramel bits or vegan chocolate and mint extract or in one infamous case banana extract, but in a pinch, it’s fast and easy. I am also privileged by living in a city with a HUGE vegetarian and vegan culture for religious and other reasons so these things are available to me, so I know that’s not always an option).

          1. For SURE! It’s something I tend to alter to taste (there are things I hate, like onions, that I will include smaller quantities of, and I don’t like my chili super spicy) AND I slow-cook my chili because I am laaaaazy and love slow cookers, so I just throw everything in and set it on low for 6 hours. I think I originally stole it from Thug Kitchen (before it was revealed to be like, super problematic) but there have been some modifications:

            1 white onion, chopped (red or yellow will likely give it more flavour, I use white because I can’t taste it)
            1 carrot, peeled and chopped
            1 stalk celery, chopped
            1 bell pepper of your favourite colour or 1tbsp red pepper paste
            2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
            2 tsp soy sauce or tamari (GF tamari for GF noms)
            2 1/2 tbsp mild chili powder
            1 tsp ground cumin
            1 can (14.5 ounces) low-salt diced tomatoes (or 1.5 cups, undrained) (I don’t like tomatoes so I don’t usually keep fresh on-hand)
            2 cups cubed pumpkin (can be substituted with canned paste, but I love the mouthfteel and texture of the punkin, so during October I tend to cube and freeze a LOT of pumpkin so I have it year-round, it freezes really well)
            2 cups vegetable broth or water
            3 cups cooked beans (I like kidney beans but you can use whatever you like)
            1-2 tbsp lime juice (half a lime)
            1 tbsp of sriracha (rooster) sauce because I freakin love this stuff

            Add toppings to taste, this is where you can have sour creme and cheese and such for the dairy-friendly folks or alternatives, tortilla chips or alternatives for the gluten-friendlies, but it’s pretty darned great on its own. I love cooked pumpkin seeds so I tend to bake some up and toss them on top.

            I will also add that the pumpkin you use makes an interesting difference… I’d been going with store-bought pumpkins until my sister got FOUR DIFFERENT heirloom pumpkins through her CSA, at which point we had to make ALL THE PUMPKIN THINGS and I made a different chili each night with each different pumpkin and there was definitely a difference in taste. I think it would also work with butternut squash for a creamier taste, but I will admit when I’m just cooking for myself I do meat chili because my mom’s recipe is better than anything I’ve managed to cook up, so I haven’t experimented with gourds really.

          2. trundlebear, thank you for sharing! I’ve been looking for a good vegan chili recipe for AGES.

        1. Trundlebear, thanks for being so inclusive with your vooking and baking! I just wanted to give you a heads up that Rice Krispies aren’t gluten-free since they contain malt. There are gluten-free puffed rice cereals that make excellent alternatives though, which I was happy to discover when I found out I couldn’t eat gluten anymore and I was seriously bummed about having to give up Rice Krispie bars since they’re a favorite treat of mine.

          1. Hmm. I have see Rice Krispies (branded ones) explicitly advertised as gluten-free. (I don’t live in the US though.) Perhaps they’ve changed their recipe?

          2. Recipes do change. It’s one of the problems of being celiac that you ALWAYS have to read the ingredients.* Some crisped rice contains malt. Some does not. If it is specifically labeled gluten free, then it should be safe.

            *always, always reading ingredients. I need a magnifying glass. Soy sauce and broth and sauces of all sorts are tricky with long lists of ingredients in tiny print, and often include wheat or barley or modified food starch. Modified food starch is my nemesis, as, it is in nearly everything processed, and is, essentially, roulette. Modified food starch does not generally specify which starch because they used whatever was cheapest that manufacturing cycle, and it could be potato starch, or tapioca, or corn, or wheat! No way to know! So I avoid it all, because it is just not worth the potential downside.

          3. Thank you for letting me know! The brand I use is off-brand and specially marked as gluten free, but I only knew what to use because a friend with celiac told me what to get. It definitely wouldn’t have been common knowledge for me! I’m fortunate that it works for folks, but I mean, if it didn’t, I’d figure something else out. I like to feed people, so figuring out ways to do so that makes everyone happy is important to me.

        2. At my previous job, we’d have coffee together with the whole department every Friday, and we’d take turns bringing some buns or cake or something. There were about 40 people in the department. One of them was gluten intolerant.

          Most people would just go to the nearest bakery and get something. I enjoy baking, so when it was my turn, I’d bake cakes, and I’d get a batch of gluten-free mix just to be sure this one guy could have something too. The first time I did this, he cried – because he’d been in the department for several years and this was the first time someone had brought something he could eat!

          Such a very little thing, for me, which meant so very much for him… (I also gave him the rest of of the gluten-free muffins to put in the office freezer so he’d be able to nuke one for when there was nothing edible for him. But the rest of the office started to take notice, once I’d started the trend, so there’d be something gluten free something at least a couple of times per month instead of once per year. )

          1. That’s such a great story, and it’s so true! I think it was when I had a copy of “Don’t Kill The Birthday Girl” and realized what a minefield everyday food (especially social eating) for people with severe allergies and dietary requirements can be, it shifted my perspective on cooking for a group. It’s no fun to be shifted to the sidelines, and if it’s something you’ve grown up with, it doesn’t necessarily take the sting out of it.

            I mean I can’t do everything, I can’t make the perfect cake that everyone can enjoy, but I can do as much as I can, and I can keep trying.

        3. ….I can’t eat Rice Krispies or marshmallows, vegan or no. (and probably not the chili, though it would depend.)
          Not that you’re required to provide for me, just that accommodating for food can get extremely tricky.

          1. And if you were a friend or a co-worker, I’d be asking you what you COULD eat so that I could make something that’d be accessible to you. I’m not saying the stuff I make is universally perfect, it’s just working really well for a group of people with extremely mixed dietary requirements, and was partly in response to people saying that it’s too difficult/expensive/etc to make something that’s accessible to more than just agnostic omnivores, y’know?

          2. It’s not that it’s too difficult or expensive to cater to anything but omnivores; it’s that it gets either time-consuming or expensive to cater to multiple special dietary needs. (And – gf is expensive if you’re trying to recreate a gluten-filled dish.)
            My feeling is that it’s okay not to do that all the time – sometimes it’s not realistic. And it’s okay if I go to a big potluck/party where the outlay for food was considerable and can’t eat anything there, as long as they’re okay with me bringing my own food or eating beforehand.
            It’s also not okay to never make an effort or to constantly exclude someone who is close to you. I think the balance above – “sometimes we go to a meat place where vegans can’t eat but sometimes we go to a veggie place where I can’t eat” – but presumably, mostly they go to places where everyone can eat – is a good balance.
            My coworkers rarely bring food I can eat and I’m okay with that. My friends mostly try to exclude me – and when they can’t, they let me know it’s not me-friendly and invite me anyways.

          3. (out of replies!)

            I think it’d be different if I were having to do it every day, but if I’m baking once every two weeks explicitly for other people, then I don’t find it a hardship — but that’s just me, and I can see other people fretting over it or not wanting to do it and such. If we had a peanut allergy in the office (thank goodness we don’t) a lot of my favourite things to make would be a no-go, or at least not something that could be shared anywhere in the vicinity.

            The balance above is fine, especially if folks are careful to mention things, but if I CAN do this, then it’s what I want to do. Other people may not have that amount of privilege going in, or money or spoons or anything, and that’s totally fine. But I mean, I’m cooking FOR people, and I don’t want to say “Everyone can have this, except you Waukeen, but you’re used to it so no big deal” because for me that defeats the purpose of cooking for my team in the first place. That’s my feelings on it, and that’s all.

          4. @trundlebear: Yeah, that’s fine! I have some friends like you and I love them for it. (And they truly do get pleasure from preparing food and feeding people – I don’t and it took me a while to figure out they didn’t see it as a chore. I totally would!)
            But I also have some friends who are not like that, or who don’t have time or money, and that’s okay too! I’d hate to make someone feel like they could host less often because they have to include me in the dietary offerings – I’d much rather they just give me a head’s up on the food and have more going on.

      3. Quick request when choosing margarine for vegans – make sure it doesn’t have milk solids in it! Here in Australia, there is ONE dairy-free margarine, and most dairy-eaters think Nuttelex tastes funny.

        This message brought to you by my having to tell my doctors that half the things they were suggesting as a way for me to gain weight would trigger my intolerances and thus be counterproductive…

        1. This, ugh. I had a Baking for Dietary Restrictions class when I was getting my Baking and Pastry Arts Certificate, and I’m pretty sure I ruined a lot of potential menu items for my classmates (and the teacher!) when I actually read the list of ingredients in our margarine and found milk solids. All it took was looking through recipes on a few gluten-free vegan websites* to see a lot of them specifying “vegan margarine” for me to get suspicious and feel the need to check.

          * We had a four week course and a different restriction each week, with different restrictions each day on the last week (plus a final). I figured I’d play it smart and asked for recipe website recommendations, then mostly surfed the GFV ones so I could cover all my bases in one go, lol. Dairy free? Check! Gluten free? Done! Low cholesterol? Cholesterol is specifically an animal product, so I am most certainly covered! Plus the whole thing gave me stuff to use for potlucks and the like.

      4. Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World is my favorite baking cookbook. I am not vegan. A guy I sort-of dated for a while loaned me his copy…and now it’s mine. It’s really not that hard to do vegan baking. (There’s two gluten-free recipes in there, which were the first ones I made for my now-husband…however, I have since adapted many more of the recipes therein to his dietary restrictions.)

    3. I’m not a big fan of the idea of “you can come and just not eat if you don’t want to BLARGH!” I’m glad that this seems to work for your group of friends, but I personally can’t do that. I’m not a vegetarian but I’m autistic and have a very high metabolism and a limited budget. I frequently won’t like anything besides the salad options at some restaurants. And, for me, waiting til I get home to eat really isn’t an option. I need to eat about every 2-4 hours, depending on my level of activity. If I don’t eat within about 30-ish minutes of getting hungry, I begin to feel physically ill. I get headaches that last the entire day, I feel nauseous, lightheaded, and I will start to go through physical pain fairly quickly. Acting as though everyone should use your methods is pretty cruel from my perspective. I would never be able to go out to eat with friends if they were all that insensitive to my food needs. I also have a limited budget, so trying to find items that don’t expire quickly but are actually filling and portable is difficult. I bring my own food when I can, but it’s also far from rude to ask friends if we can eat at a different location because I won’t like any of the food. It’s something we work out together instead of telling each other to just deal with it.

      I think people forget that eating is a necessity and it can be a complicated thing for a lot of people. I try to go out of my way to make it less difficult for those around me, but the thing is? Eating is a high-maintenance thing for me and it probably always will be. I hate that. But I can’t CHANGE it.

      So you acting like your method should be used by everyone is almost offensive to me. Things like high metabolism and texture issues may not be the same thing as allergies, but I have just as little control over them.

      1. I think people forget that eating is a necessity and it can be a complicated thing for a lot of people. I try to go out of my way to make it less difficult for those around me, but the thing is? Eating is a high-maintenance thing for me and it probably always will be. I hate that. But I can’t CHANGE it.

        This is really, really well put.

        1. Right there with you with Celiac/allergic type issues. That’s why it’s so touching when others go out of their way to help me have a workable option. Solidarity.

      2. This. Sensory issues can make fuelling myself a nightmare, especially when combined with (heavily gendered) societal messages about “good” and “bad” foods. If II take too long stressing over what to eat I pass the point of no return, then *BOOM*, welcome to Meltdown City, with a stop at Inability to be Coherent Plaza.

        There are times when I will only buy one food for myself (from the grocery delivery service) because then I won’t have to make a choice. If we have too many options here, in our house, I can end up getting so stressed about making a choice that I don’t bother with a meal, and my wife ends up making her meal, then very kindly brings me some rice pudding, or a yoghurt.

        Sometimes going into “food is just fuel, it is not inherently good or bad” mode works well. Reducing it to a logical function makes it easier.

        1. I totally hear you on the good vs bad food thing. Ugh. My favorite is laying in bed on a Saturday morning with horrible menstrual cramps trying to figure out whether I’d feel worse from getting up and going to the farmer’s market, or beating myself up for the week for not buying the “right” foods.

          Weirdly, I recently was watching a ton of nature documentaries (Netflix recently put up a bunch of BBC docus), and it helped me reinforce in my mind the “food = fuel” narrative and surprisingly eased some of my food anxiety. Totally a weird and unexpected side effect of David Attenborough!

        2. Ugh I know what you mean. I don’t deal with meltdowns myself, fortunately, but I end up feeling physically ill instead. (Not that a meltdown wouldn’t make one feel physically ill as well.) In some ways, for me, only having one option is like another form of torture too? I cannot tell you how sick I am of bagels and soup but that’s basically like 70% of my diet, not even kidding.

      3. Things like high metabolism and texture issues may not be the same thing as allergies, but I have just as little control over them.

        Commenting for solidarity. I’m lucky enough not to have texture issues, but I have multiple food allergies (very mild, thank goodness), and if I don’t eat every 4-6 hours (depending on how filling my last meal was), I get extremely irritable and lose all ability to concentrate. That’s no fun for me and probably even less fun for people around me who end up dealing with the HULK SMASH version of me. I really for really real cannot “just wait until I get home.” Even if I could tolerate waiting I think it would be very cruel to expect someone to just go hungry while they watch everyone else eat.

        it’s also far from rude to ask friends if we can eat at a different location because I won’t like any of the food. It’s something we work out together instead of telling each other to just deal with it.

        Yep. I’m very lucky in that most restaurants in my area have options that won’t set off my allergies, but honestly if someone refuses to go to one of the many places I can safely eat at, they just don’t want to see me that badly. It’s totally cool if friends want to eat at the gluten & corn palace of Things Mel Can’t Eat, but “come watch us eat tasty things you can’t eat without being miserable and itchy for days afterward and feel extremely awkward nursing a cup of tea while everyone else eats” is kind of a terrible invitation and I wish people wouldn’t pretend it isn’t. I have friends with much less tolerant systems than mine and when we get together we eat somewhere we all feel safe because we care about each other and don’t want anyone to feel hugely awkward.

        Eating is a high-maintenance thing for me and it probably always will be. I hate that. But I can’t CHANGE it.

        Thiiiiiis. My allergies weren’t always so bad, I used to be able to eat just about anything and oh god I miss it. Not having to worry about whether a restaurant decided everything needs to be breaded and deep fried was amazing. Being able to eat in airports was amazing. Not having to look menus up online before I make plans was amazing. If I could change my allergies I damn well would, because this SUCKS.

          1. They really must be. I have celiac, so I’m avoiding wheat, but everywhere wheat isn’t, corn is! I just said to my husband yesterday, “Corn allergies must be SO much harder!” I’ve heard a person w/ an incredibly severe peanut allergy say, “Mine is easier than celiac,” but I think celiac must be easier than corn.

        1. “I really for really real cannot ‘just wait until I get home.’ ”

          This is meeeeeeee 100%. I’ve had people complain before and I’m like “do you want to stop and eat now or do you want to deal with me bitching about how awful I feel the rest of the day?”

          “but honestly if someone refuses to go to one of the many places I can safely eat at, they just don’t want to see me that badly.”

          THIS ^^^^^ completely.

          And yeah all the planning that goes into shit for me is a pain in the ass. I’ve gotta figure out what kind of food I can bring that’s portable and filling and won’t expire quickly (so far I literally only have bagels). Trying to figure shit out when food is a high-maintenance thing for oneself is frustrating.

    4. any vegetarian going to my house for a party is going to expect to have to bring their own food or be stuck eating side dishes and desserts, because I haven’t a single clue how to make vegetarian food

      Really? You can’t even boil some pasta and chuck a bit of canned sauce or pesto on it? It sort of sounds like you think vegetarian mains have to involve a tofu steak or something, when you almost certainly eat a ton of meals that just don’t happen to have meat.

      1. I agree with this. I mean, sure I can bring my own food if the host has literally no idea to cook something without meat or fish in it. But you can cook vegetarian without needing to know how to make felafel. Although if anyone does want to know how to cook felafel I have an awesome recipe. 🙂

    5. I’d say YMMV here. I’d be horrified if I invited someone over for dinner and they brought their own food. I’d actually feel kind of insulted. If I invite someone over for food I don’t find it too hard to ask them about any dietary restrictions first. As for not knowing how to cool vegetarian food, come on, surely you can Google? There are literally thousands of recipes on the internets.

      I recently had a big meat eater and a vegan over for dinner at the same time. No problemo there. I cooked a butternut squash and sweet potato Rogan Josh, and for my meat eating friend I put half of it in a different pan and cooked it with lamb. Hardly a massive chore and they both loved it. If my vegan friend had insisted on bringing her own food, I’d have felt that was an insult to my hospitality and culinary skills, like she was saying she didn’t trust me not to sneak a bunch of meat into her food.

      1. I would just stay home. If you’re insulted because I don’t trust you to have perfect, rock-solid knowledge of the contents of every single ingredient in your kitchen (as in, did the garlic powder you bought and repackaged six months ago have a “may contain traces of soy” blurb on the label? That’s literally life and death for me) then that’s unfortunate, but nobody’s feelings are worth risking an ambulance bill.

        1. Yeah, but that’s not quote what I meant. I was replying to someone who wanted/expected vegetarians to bring their own food, not someone who’d literally die if they ate certain stuff. If I invited someone over then I would, as I said, check for dietary requirements. If it was a case of “cannot ever eat even a trace of X or I’ll be very ill or dead” then I’d have the common sense to buy fresh ingredients and carefully check all packaging. If they still weren’t comfortable and if it was a big group meal thing, then cool if you explain in advance what you’re doing so I don’t cook a fuckload of special X-free food that you’re not going to eat.

          1. For some allergies, just checking the packaging isn’t enough. I have a friend who has multiple food allergies, some of which will send her into anaphylactic shock and some that will *only* make her feel incredibly ill (but aren’t life threatening.) Many of these are common ingredients in nearly every kitchen. (She’s the person I was thinking of in my comment above who just doesn’t eat in restaurants because there is just no way she can trust them not to cross-contaminate.) She is so sensitive to certain things that if her husband has eaten them in the last 24 hours, he can’t kiss her.

            She trusts about 6 people in the entire world to cook for her. Two of those people are her father and her husband. I am one of them. When I cook for her, I send her the full list of ingredients in advance to double check that none of them are bad for her. I scrub the hell out of my counter tops and rinse my bowls, pans, and utensils with boiling water before using them on things that will be served to her. If the resulting food is for a group event, I package it separately with the label, “Friendsname-safe: DO NOT TOUCH.” Her own kitchen just doesn’t include any of the ingredients she can’t have. Her father keeps special pans to use for cooking for her when she visits. She’s grateful for the people who are willing to go to these lengths to be able to cook for her in a safe way, and she understands that most people can’t or won’t.

            Her friends understand that when she goes to their house, she will either bring her own food or will have eaten ahead of time. Making her welcome even though she probably isn’t going to eat your food IS being hospitable in her case.

          2. I don’t know anyone in that situation, but if I did, I’d totally do the same thing.

            My original point got totally missed here – which was about someone saying they wouldn’t make allowances for something as simple as a vegetarian guest. I’d be kind of offended if I invited a vegetarian for dinner and they bought their own food rather than eat the nice veggie dish I’d have prepared for them. In my original post I wasn’t talking about allergies or sensitivities at all.

          3. Making her welcome even though she probably isn’t going to eat your food IS being hospitable in her case.

            I totally agree. I appreciate it when people try to accommodate me and I really don’t understand why something as simple as “vegetarian” is being treated as so difficult, but I do think that when you’re dealing with someone with really significant limitations, it’s kindest to ask them what they’re comfortable with. At this point, people fixating on my food situation is really stressful and uncomfortable for me, and sometimes, I just plain don’t have the energy to remember all of the things I need to explain to people. it’s sweet when people want to work with me on it, but I really do need them to take me at my word.

      2. I think this is deeply cultural. I would be internally soul-crushed and wracked with Midwestern Failed Host Guilt if someone brought their own food to a dinner at my house, but that’s my problem to deal with, not theirs. I’d certainly not tell them that or make them feel weird for bringing their own food, although I would make every attempt to accommodate without being weird and pressury though.

        1. +1 If someone showed up to dinner at my house with their own food, I would take a quiet moment to process my dead grandmother’s disappointment and disapproval of me as a host, and then I would bend over backward to make sure that this guest had EVERYTHING THEY COULD EVER NEED OR DESIRE as a guest in my home. Proper dishes, silverware, and napery for the meal they brought, beverages and condiments, everything I could think of. Fingerbowl? Moist towelette? Salt and pepper? Sriracha? Furikake? Hollandaise? I can whip some up, no problem! Would you prefer this seat or that one? Do you have enough ice? Can I get you another drink? Would you like a pillow for your back? What’s your specific dietary restriction? I ran in the kitchen and made you this special dessert–it’s [restricted ingredient]-free. Here, please, take the rest home with you! Enjoy! Thank you so much for coming! I wouldn’t be pushy, of course, but I would make it my personal secret mission to make sure that this person a) had an excellent dinner and b) trusted me next time.

      3. I can kind of understand that, but that also comes off as you making my food needs about YOU, if that makes sense? I mean I’d probably mention it ahead of time, but for me, with my metabolism, I usually have to eat more than once and there’s rarely anything left for me to eat later. So I bring something sometimes to make it easier on myself.

        1. I mean, if you’re eating my my house,the food you’re consuming *is* about me. This is very, very strong in my culture. I mean, I’m more than willing to cop that’s it’s fucked up, but it is also deeply ingrained in my psyche. So as mentioned above, yeah, I would have internal feels about it but also not tell you because that’s my own problem.

          Someone downthread said one of her houserules for food is “No bringing your own food to my house without telling me first” which I think is a good compromise, especially since your ‘safe’ food might be someone else’s DANGER WILL ROBINSON food and because it’s kind of shitty to go to a meal in someone’s home without giving them the heads up that they shouldn’t prepare a meal for you until after the work is already done.

          1. I don’t like the idea of people trying to control what I’m eating because of their feelings though. It’s one thing if it’s a health issue, but someone’s cultural feelings about it frustrate me because what about MY cultural feelings on the issue? Altho I get what you mean about keeping it to yourself, which is a little different. And for me it’s not that I wouldn’t want ANY cooking done for me, it’s that I’d need to bring supplemental food because of how quickly I get hungry. Most people I know don’t have the type of easy junk food sitting around their house that I like, so I bring some of my own.

          2. Yeah, the way that culture and health clash in this can be really fraught. I totally get that for many people, food is a really important aspect of their culture, and I respect that. At the same time, though, I do get really frustrated as someone with serious health issues, because people often don’t understand that food is a very loaded issue for me. It’s exhausting to explain to other people, and I’ve had people try really hard to cook me food I could eat and then use fresh garlic or soy sauce without realizing that it will be a problem – and I’ve often had at least a little because I felt so guilty and then been sick afterward. It’s just uncomfortable and stressful and talking about my food issues with most people leaves me literally wanting to cry. Sometimes, it’s just better to avoid the issue entirely.

        2. I totally see what you mean, and I should have phrased my comment better. I assumed people would realise I was responding to someone who said they wouldn’t bother making extra food for vegetarians but now I see how many damn comments there are…yeah, you’re gonna miss that sort of thing.

          I love hosting and I will bend over backwards to accommodate my guests because I want to make them happy. In a way, that kind of is all about me, I guess 🙂 But I’m thinking of the difference between me inviting you over for dinner/ you turning up on my doorstep with your own meal (which, yes, would freak me out) and me inviting you over for dinner/us having this conversation:
          Me: Come over for dinner on Friday!
          You: Great! I will! Don’t forget I’m vegetarian.
          Me: No problem. I’m thinking of making [dish], is that OK?

          I was not thinking of dietary issues or restrictions other than vegetarian, but…
          Me: Come over for dinner on Friday!
          You: I’d love to, but remember I’m deathly allergic to [foodstuff].
          Me: No problem, I will make sure I avoid that ingredient.
          You: Thanks, but actually [foodstuff] is present in a whole bunch of other ingredients and I could react to it even if it’s been used in your kitchen within the last month or so. I don’t want my death on your conscience… so would you mind me bringing my own food?
          Me: Hmm, I didn’t realise your allergy was that severe. Thanks for telling me and of course I don’t mind you bringing your own stuff so I don’t kill you. I’ll cook myself something that doesn’t contain [ingredient].

          Or something. See, that would make a big difference!

      4. Though in some instances, it might not be wise to trust that you’d be careful enough to avoid cross-contamination, etc.
        You might make gluten-free pasta, sure–but did you use the colander that can’t be cleaned of the gluten stuck inside the holes? Or a wooden spoon that has retained gluten?

        The whole thing is just a PITA for everybody, to be honest.

    6. Personally, I consider it a point of pride to accomodate all my guests’ dietary restrictions, including making sure at potlucks that the thing they bring is not the only thing they can eat. Suitability of 100% of dishes is not required, but I would like everyone to have a variety of choices of the dishes on offer.

      I do agree with you about casually being at someone’s house though. I have friends I spend half my Saturday evenings with by default, and the usual routine has been a shared takeout order, occassionally supplemented with some home cooking. Now that I have a weird medical diet, the routine is to check in early in the day about dinner plans. If it’s just takeout, we pick place where I can order my whole meal, though I get it if things are hairy and they just straight up say, “We’re just ordering from X,” rather than coordinating everyones individual takeout choices. If that’s the case, or it’s going to be predominantly home cooking, I just get clear on what it is, and bring whatever else I need to be well fed, up to bringing my whole meal.

    7. You are definitely assuming a lot here. Others have pointed this out, but if *god forbid!* someone happens to be disabled or mentally ill, a lot of those little solutions of yours aren’t feasible or just downright impossible. I could never have the energy to cook for a potluck, if I go over to someone’s house and they say ‘oh well if you wanted food you should have just brought your own!’ I would feel terrible.

      And this majority rules thing? About that, most people eat meat! So that means by this rule, the vegetarian is constantly going somewhere they can’t eat at. You claim it’s for the company they keep, that wanting to see their friends should be reason enough! But that’s really easy to say when your needs are constantly being met in the situation. Someone else pointed this out, too: meat-eaters can still totally eat vegetarian dishes, but vegetarians cannot eat meat dishes. It is literally what makes them vegetarian.

      And again, you would be surprised at how simple and easy vegetarian and vegan food is to make, even shit without protein. Boil pasta, add a can of sauce. You’re done.

  18. As a person with some oddball food allergies (not anaphalactic, but severe gastro-intestinal distress /minor swelling), I’ve made it a habit when coordinating any plans involving food to ask “Are there any food concerns?” and then follow up with more detailed questions if necessary. This has been beneficial in two ways – 1) it gives people an easy way to tell me what their food concerns are and I’ve heard everything from “I’m severely allergic to YYYYYY, I can’t eat anything prepared in kitchen that contains YYYY” to “I think mushrooms are gross” to “I gave up white foods for Lent” to “During this phase of my pregnancy the sight or smell of green beans makes me projectile vomit” and 2) it’s a handy prompt/reminder for everyone else that I have food issues that I would appreciate being considered when other people are making plans.

    In my friend / social group, it’s now pretty common for everyone to ask “Are there any food concerns?” whenever we are making plans involving food. If you start to ask this question, or something similar, when you are coordinating the plans, it might generate that type of checking in with your friend group as well.

    In your case, I’m guessing that your answer to the question would be something like “We don’t eat a lot of meat (maybe listing the specific kind of meat you never eat) and generally prefer to eat meatless when we’re not at home”.

    1. “I gave up white foods for Lent”

      It took me a while to figure out that this was a sugar/carb-related thing and not just Lenten randomness. “Ok, you can have all the other Jelly Bellies and I’ll eat the white ones. Along with your peeled radishes and canned pear halves.” Voila! Crisis averted.

      I’m glad you mentioned a bunch of different reasons that people might have restrictions (including temporary ones) on what they eat. Having gone through several phases of needing to avoid various types of food, I’ve always felt retroactively guilty for making people accommodate me, even when it was totally doctor’s-note-level justified (I have a severe food intolerance that took a long time to identify). Good to know I probably didn’t need to worry at all and that dietary diversity is normal and acceptable among civilized people.

  19. LW, my kids are omnivores and my second husband (their stepdad) is vegetarian, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time in both worlds. I usually explain my status (to those people who have asked) as “flexitarian,” “veggie-comfortable” or “in an open relationship with being vegetarian.” A reasonably concise term delievered with a little humor may help deflect criticism. Good luck!

    1. I like that, but the trouble with a jokey “open relationship” comment is that it could lead to awkwards if a Food Evangelist is present. So you might need scripts handy in case someone starts with the “You can’t just pick and choose your ethics according to whim” type stuff. Although if someone is that rude, I’d happily be as blunt as “Well, what I eat is really my business.”

      1. So you might need scripts handy in case someone starts with the “You can’t just pick and choose your ethics according to whim” type stuff.

        But…. yes you can? Especially since being a vegetarian isn’t necessarily anything to do with ethics…

        1. Sure you can. But a lot of people think you can’t. I was thinking of avoiding awkwardness. Personally, if someone says something that confrontational to me in a social type situation (especially one involving food), I kind of freak out a bit. I know a lot of other people on here would be uncomfortable with it too.

        2. Sure you can. People say to me “you’re a vegetarian but you wear leather shoes” and I say “well, presumably you’re against killing dolphins for tunafish but that doesn’t mean you’re out on a boat stopping the ships” or nowadays “no, I don’t” but that latter choice was to mess with them.

  20. LW: my first reflexive response to any questions about what I’m eating or why/why not is, “so, how much DO you make a year? After taxes?” because I consider them both equally rude questions. I also use that as the response to “so why don’t you have children” and other such nonsense.

    There is no shame in a good old fashioned “none of your business.” Or a less blunt “and your need to know this information is for what?”

    Also if you call yourself a part time vegetarian, that’s your choice. Don’t let anyone tell you you don’t have the right to call yourself your chosen descriptive because you occasionally require meat protein.

    1. I like you. You should see people’s faces when they come up to me and my infant daughter and demand to know how much she weighs. I’m like, “around 9 pounds; how about you? How much do you weigh?”

      I like to remind them that actually she’s a person too and we don’t have to share her medical data with random strangers.

    2. Heh. I’d probably totally miss that and by like “Uh, about $XX,XXX last year, if you include some tax concessions. Why?”

      But in addition to not thinking that’s a rude question and in fact thinking many problems in the world would be eased if we were all less weird about talking about money, if I was asking questions about what someone was eating it would generally be intended to be a) casual conversation to b) be able to best accommodate them in the future. I wouldn’t be expecting someone to be instantly hostile about it.

      I don’t think asking about what someone’s eating and why is rude. I think refusing to accept their answer is.

    3. I have a lot of issues with the pseudo-scientific information that’s peddled as “nutritional information” in online and offline media. I find a lot of it involves the placebo effect at best, and endangers people at its worst. But at the end of the day? It’s THEIR bodies. Not mine. My first reflexive response if someone asks me what I’m eating is “Why, are you going to steal it from me?” because usually there’s only two answers that person can use as a follow-up to my response, no matter what I answer:

      1) “Oh, that sounds totally delicious!”
      2) “Oh, that sounds totally disgusting!”

      #2 will generally not be openly said if the person wants to stay polite. #1 will make me wonder whether they’re going to take the food off my plate. I understand that this person is trying to make conversation, but honestly any talks about food get so judgmental so quickly that I’d rather just avoid them entirely*. Even if I don’t say anything, there’s often another person in the group that will question other people’s diet, preferences or allergies in a hostile way.

      To ReanaZ – It’s the context. In a small number of contexts (all related to planning food events), it’s perfectly fine to ask someone about their food restrictions. However, it’s a lot simpler to directly ask that person if they have any food restrictions or allergies. You don’t need to question them about what they’re eating *right now*. And just before you’re personally comfortable with questioning others doesn’t mean everyone is interested in being at the receiving end of that conversation in contexts outside of planning for food events.

      *Exception made if this person is choking on their food. At that point, I’ll go into First Aid mode.

  21. This is timely for me as I’ve recently started being a bit vegetarian without actually making a complete switch. The prompt, mainly, was that in order to prep for my second IVF cycle I had to maintain a protein/carb ratio that basically meant eating SO MUCH MEAT (and also ALL THE EGGS) and, now the cycle is over (which, technically it never really got going because apparently my ovaries decided they weren’t playing), I’d just like to redress the balance a bit.

    The height of ridiculousness, while on that high-protein diet, was going to Secret Cinema Star Wars and having to persuade the traders of Mos Eisley spaceport to sell me something I could actually eat. (Lando’s chicken came through!) In hindsight, though, I don’t know whether getting into the reasons for what I wanted actually over-complicated things. I can see why sometimes it’s important and necessary to be very clear about the reasons behind your choices, but at other times – like ‘it’s for IVF’, or being mostly but not entirely vegetarian – I wonder whether it’s more effective to just say you want whatever you want because that’s what you happen to want today?

    1. “I can see why sometimes it’s important and necessary to be very clear about the reasons behind your choices, but at other times – like ‘it’s for IVF’, or being mostly but not entirely vegetarian – I wonder whether it’s more effective to just say you want whatever you want because that’s what you happen to want today?”

      This. To me it sometimes feels like protesting too much (even though it’s often not intended that way, and may even come from nerves/self-consciousness). I consider myself an omnivore and to me the LW’s eating habits sound perfectly standard, and it makes me wonder if they’re maybe just overcomplicating things a bit? Like, if someone asks me to a Korean BBQ/offers me some of their jerky/whatever and I’m not having a meat day, they’re 99% likely only interested in the answer, not in the reasons behind it. In those scenarios, in my experience the best reply is simply a casual ‘no thanks, I’m not really feeling it, how about [insert alternative choices here]?’. Even if you’re actively seeking out veggie options at a restaurant, the person you’re asking probably doesn’t need to know the reason why (unless allergies, like the Captain said), they just need to know that you don’t feel like meat, so what else can they recommend please?

      I think the key is to remember that other people are usually not as interested in you as you think they are (I learned that here, still trying to internalise!), so unless you want to make the reason for your choices known for personal/political reasons, there’s really no reason to do so here.

  22. LW, I just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in your food choices! My position is almost identical — I would prefer to eat all vegetarian (and I do eat mostly vegetarian when I am purchasing my own food), but I get quite sick and exhausted if I don’t occasionally (1-2 a week) get a meal with meat in it. I have other friends who do things similarly. Take heart!

  23. Readers, what are we missing?

    I don’t know if there’s an official term for it, but I’ve always thought of it as the Pizza Problem – generally speaking, omnivores can eat vegetarian, but vegetarians can’t eat omnivorian. (It’s okay, I looked it up, ‘omnivorian’ is a perfectly cromulent word.)
    When bulk-ordering pizzas, the orderer remembers that there are vegetarians out there, so they order one or two veggie pizzas. When the pizzas arrive, the omnivores (myself included) may grab a slice of the veggie pizza (or cheese pizza), along with a slice of the sausage/pepperoni/$MEAT pizza. Yeah, it’s only one slice, but when multiplied by the number of ‘only one slice’s – all of a sudden, there’s nothing left for the vegetarians to eat.

    1. We have developed Vegetarian Rules for this in my crowd: if you can eat from any of the pizzas, you must wait until the people who can only eat from some of the pizzas are served before grazing freely. (It is also open to you to tell me you’d like veggie pizza if you’re around when I’m ordering. But sometimes it’s a large group order and that didn’t happen in which omnivores shall take frm the ones with meat on them for the first round please.)

      So now when serving any meal all I need to do is say “the mac and cheese is Vegetarian Rules, folks”, explaining the general rule (people with diet restrictions have first crack at the food they can eat) if needed, and we’re good.

    2. For this reason, you never place the vegetarian food at the _start_ of the buffet table. Saw this recently at a conference – all the veggie stuff had gone before half the crowd had got their food. It goes at the end! Or on a separate table!

      1. If they find this happens repeatedly, though, then they need to adjust their order. It’s possible some people are just grabbing the first sandwich they see, but very likely they aren’t providing enough vegetables.

        I find that’s a frequent problem at catered lunches, particularly if they involve sanwiches – I don’t know if vegetables are just expensive or something? The ‘meat’ sandwiches sometimes only contain the barest sliver of vegetables. Just because someone eats meat doesn’t mean it’s OK to serve them a meal doesn’t contain adequate vegetables! Unless they have told you otherwise or you have some specific reason to think they are on some kind of no-vegetable diet.

        1. Absolutely, yep. Whst I forgt to say is that this is more of a sketch of a philosophy than a hard-and-fast rule. If I find that the restricte food is super-popular, I will usually – unless it’s extremely expensive and time-consuming, which, say, my not-a-trace-of-gluten-also-vegan standby is – add it to the general rotation.

        2. I have a brief horror story to share. When I arrived at *Camp-Abuse-the-Staff*, a co-worker casually remarked at the first lunch “I hope they feed us this year!” I thought she was joking, but it turns out the year before they epic-ly failed at ordering enough food, to the point that vegetables were declared off-limits to anyone not explicitly labeled as vegetarian on their medical forms. FOR THREE MONTHS.
          A girl actually lied on her form the year I worked there, so she’d be allowed salads, and then rescinded it later when they’d proven capable of providing food.
          So yes, please, if you’re providing a series of meals like at a conference or even a weekend away with friends, veggies for everyone. Maybe even one or two completely non-meat meals, just to shake things up? I used to go to my vegetarian friend’s house a lot as a teen because her mom made us the BEST side dishes and rice mains I’ve ever eaten.

      2. I see why you’d put it there though. More chance of it vanishing, but also less chance of cross contamination! No one using tongs to grab up a big scoop of pulled pork and then reaching with the same meaty tongs to grab some salad rather than picking up the salad tongs. Or someone putting something veggie on their meat covered plate then changing their mind and putting it back down on the buffet.

    3. Totally. In vet school, when we had a club or speaker lunch event, some kind of catering often occurred. Prior to the event, a class list would be sent around for each person to mark whether they needed the vegetation meal option. Actual eating was usually buffet style, so if the veggie option looked tasty, omnivores would often take some, so sometimes there wouldn’t be enough for the vegetarians. One of my friends sought to correct this by indicating the vegetarian option beside multiple folks’ names, so that more veggie food would be provided. One unforeseen outcome was that I was really puzzled for awhile by the fact that most of my classmates thought I was vegetarian (because they’d seen it indicated beside my name on the class list), despite me usually bringing a lunch with meat in it whenever we weren’t being fed by a speaker. Untill I found out she’d been marking me vegetarian all year. She also marked [loud food animal guy] but for some reason nobody thought he was vegetarian because of it.

      1. Heh. I had the academic version of this as a senior in college. A class in my major that was only offered every 2-3 years didn’t have enough enrollees to make, so the dept. secretary threw my name on the list just until the drop deadline. Without telling me. Or the prof. I had the surreal “academic nightmare comes to pass” experience when the prof stopped me in the hall to ask why I wasn’t coming to class.

      2. I used to be a strict vegetarian and had a great chestnut and mushroom red wine casserole for Christmas dinner that I would make in advance and take to whoever’s house was hosting. (It was a great option as you could heat it up really quickly on the stove or in a microwave and it didn’t get in the way of the roast, also it had its own gravy. Much better option than nut roast!)

        I used to have a little serving dish of it beside my plate and all the omnivores would nick it and pass it round and take some and say how fab it was! YES IT’S FAB, GET OFF MY DINNER!! I just made more of it the following year.

        I’ve passed that recipe to so many people as it’s such a great dish to serve if you have only one or two vegetarians at Christmas lunch. It’s actually vegan too so even better.

          1. I actually make it from memory now – you basically make a casserole with sauteed onions, celery, mushrooms and garlic, add herbs and red wine plus some veggie stock, add cooked chestnuts (tinned, or vacuum packed, or fresh ones that you’ve boiled or dried ones which you’ve soaked and cooked). I usually thicken it with cornflour and add soy for extra colour and flavour. I also sometimes flambee it with a slosh of brandy when frying the onions and garlic – it’s for Christmas after all! – and obviously salt and pepper it. It’s not an exotic dish in any way, it has a nice traditional feel and blends well with all the Christmas trimmings. You have to ask to have your roast potatoes done separately in oil though!

            Just realised the nesting might indicate that you’re not asking me! – but hey, hope you like it. I think dried chestnuts are the best for this dish as they have a slightly smokey taste. I guess you could add some smoke flavour if you liked – rather like omnivores use bacon with the turkey.

    4. I have been at so many family-style restaurant dinners where the Pizza Problem came into play, especially back when I was new to the area and was hanging out mostly with people who knew my partner but not me. If there is going to be one vegetarian dish on the table, family style is not a good option for me.

    5. Yes! The Pizza Problem! The orderers think they can get just enough cheese for the people who said they didn’t want pepperoni, and enough pepperoni for the people who said they didn’t like pepperoni. Then the pizza comes and for seom reason (maybe they think they are being healthier? Or being courteous by not taking all the pepperoni? Or just wanted some variety?) most of the pepperoni requesters take one of each, the non-pepperoni eaters get one or no slices, and there is a bunch of pepperoni leftover for the hungrier pepperoni lovers to have another helping or take some home. Once I caught on to that pattern I started speaking up when possible at the ordering phase, trying to be towards the beginning of the line when I could manage it, but mostly just not counting on group orders to have anything I could eat and pre-eating my own food beforehand.

      This would also be a problem at potlucks at my church growing up. My mother would bring a substantial vegetarian dish so that I’d have something to eat, but usually by the time I got to it, her food would be all gone and I’d be stuck with rolls, olives, and dessert while there were still plenty of options for most. It was considered most fair to have the organizer randomly choose which tables got to go up to eat first after saying grace, with the idea that it would all even out in the end. Again, pre-eating before leaving home was key.

      1. my way around the Pizza Problem (great term!) is to make sure there is 2x as much vegetarian pizza as non-veg. so if by raw numbers we have enough people to eat 6 pizzas, we are getting only 2 with meat on them. the Vegetarian Rules option would probably work better in a consistent enough group, but if you’re wrangling, oh, say, your child’s pizza party….

        1. Yes, this seems to work best, so it’s what I suggest if I have some polite influence over the pizza order. I think a lot of people are just unaware of the phenomenon, which is understandable.

      2. My theory is people don’t like pepperoni as much as they think they do. (Of course this may be 100% biased by the fact that I’m in the process of realizing I actually don’t like pepperoni all that much. I need to break it to my husband sometime soon…)

        But I actually think there’s some truth to it, broadly, in spite of my bias. Because I think there’s an American cultural belief that goes “vegetables are gross” when, of course, they aren’t. I mean some vegetables are gross, like frozen-then-overcooked broccoli. And then too vegetables are a Thing Kids Should Eat Because It’s Good For Them, but they’re not expected to like them, in fact they’re expected not to, so there’s a lot of “eat that now” and not a lot of “hm, maybe some olive oil and parmesan on that for extra deliciousness” and wow, what a great way to train someone to hate something!… Anyway, so much cultural weirdness around vegetables to the point where when someone says “veggie pizza” or “vegetarian dish” all the omnivores’ spinal reflex is “ew, don’t want that.”

        But then, when they actually SEE it, somehow they find their hand reaching for it! Because, unbelievable, it doesn’t look gross, in fact it looks quite appealing, and since it was probably made by someone who knows what they are doing (’cause vegetarians generally do because no-one wants to live on overcooked broccoli; overcooked broccoli is something to force down on the side for form’s sake) it probably tastes really good too. And, secretly, their bodies want it. We have an instinct to want variety–and vegetables!–it’s good for us! And unlike the American cultural myth of food says, “good for us” and “tasty” are. not. opposites.

        Ha, sorry! Looks like you triggered my American Food Rant.

        tl, dr: The omnivores don’t like the WORD veggies, but they do like the look of them once they arrive. Oops!

        1. That could be it! I guess it just didn’t occur to me because I’ve always gotten the vegetarian option and love vegetables so I don’t have that negative reaction. When my non-vegetarian husband started trying a lot of the meatless things I eat, he was surprised that he really liked them, and I was surprised that he was surprised! 🙂

          1. Ditto, except it’s my non-vegetarian boyfriend! He’s been really startled that, wow, sometimes non-meat food is actually pretty good!

    6. Oh man, I wish my dad understood this.

      True life example: When we make stroganoff, my parents make the standard beef version and I make a mushroom version because I don’t eat meat. And, inevitably, when I’m not looking, my dad eats a crap ton the mushroom when there’s a ton of the beef left. Even though he can eat beef! And I can’t! And there’s always way less of the mushroom than the beef (because cooking for 1 person vs. 2)! And he should know better because he used to be vegetarian! HE SHOULD BE INTIMATELY FAMILIAR WITH THIS.


    7. oooooooh my god, I hate when that happens! Or when you are out with a group who decide to ‘get a couple of dishes for the table’ and you’re there, stabbing your fork into anyone that eyes up the one veggie option they ordered.

    8. OMG, I hated this with the fire of a thousand suns when I was in school because it ALWAYS happened. ALWAYS.

  24. Adding to the options for scripts, a friend of mine chooses to stick to a vegetarian diet Monday to Friday for environmental reasons. Maybe you can describe it in similar terms? “I choose to reduce how much meat I eat for environmental reasons so it’s important for me that there are vegetarian options.”

    I only eat meat two or three times a week but usually just tell people either “I don’t eat much red meat” or “Just from preference I tend to stick to vegetarian options when it’s available.”

    (My go-to script that would probably not work is actually “I don’t care about the animals, I just don’t like meat.” Inappropriate humour is my solution to many awkward situations.)

  25. LW, I haven’t read all the comments, but you can just go with something along the lines of, “I don’t generally like meat, but I eat it occasionally to keep my iron up/for protein reasons,” among omnivores and among vegetarians, something similar, or, “I try to reduce my eating of meat for health/environmental reasons but I still eat it occasionally. It’s a balance that works for me.”

    But honestly, I would just stop broadcasting your food identity beyond “I really like a place with lots of vegetable options – not a huge meat fan. Can we eat at X instead of the steakhouse?” If they ask, “What’s wrong with meat?”, just say, “Oh, not super fond of the taste. Every so often, there’s a prep that I enjoy, like a really good filet mignon (or whatever) but for the most part, I just don’t like it that much.”

    If someone’s interested, definitely share your views and have a conversation if you’re up for it, but otherwise, a taste preference should be all that’s needed. Generally groups are pretty accommodating of dislikes – you know, that one person who hates spicy food, so you only go to Mexican or Indian restaurants that you know have a good mild option, for instance.

  26. I spend a lot of time cooking for other people, including many people I do not live with. I also have some diet restrictions, so a lot of sympathy.

    As a cook, this is my theory of the best way to give me what I need to give you what you need:

    1) Give me as much notice as humanly possible. Give me three days, I’ll cook for anyone. Give me a week, I’ll cook for multiple anyones. Give me an hour, I’ll give you a veggie dog. Microwaved. I don’t hate you, I’m just committed to a course of action here, and that course of action is lamb shanks.
    2) Be factual not philosophical. I probably do actually want to hear about your food culture, but not while I’m planning a meal for twenty.
    3) Distinguish between “I cannot safely be around this”, “I cannot safely eat this”, “I will not eat this” and “I do not like this.” And unless I cook for you regularly, or you’re staying at my house for more than a day, don’t tell me about 4). I am not a short-order cook.
    4) Do not bring food without discussing it with me. Somebody else may have a life-threatening allergy. Even if they don’t, I planned this damn’ meal. If it’s a potluck, I’ll say it’s a potluck. If you bring your own food because you’re not willing to chance getting food you don’t love for one meal, I’ll probably still like you but you’re not going to get invited to supper again.

    5) At the actual meal, don’t talk about the food. Or any food. I’ve been cooking for hours, or possibly days, and I demand sweet, sweet, non-food-based conversation while you eat the results.

    1. These are really fair rules. I especially like number 4, I have a lot of complicated preferences but it is my personal rule that if someone loves me enough to make me food (and has explained what’s in it and nothing in it will make me sick) I eat the damn food as-is. See: countless times my friend made me sandwiches during exams when I was too sad and stressed to feed myself.

    2. Love these too and will apply them when I’m a guest. (The odds of me ever cooking for a bunch of people are *slim*, but I’m always happy to know how to be a less-awkward recipient of others’ foodly beneficence.) I especially love #5! I’d much rather eat food than talk about it, and I think that tends to show when I try to be polite and compliment the chef…good to know that’s not always obligatory.

    3. I’m 95% in agreement with you, except that if it’s the first time I’m cooking for you, I want to know about 3.4) – I won’t accommodate it if it makes 3.1-3.3 difficult for other people, but generally, I want people to love my food, and 5)hell yes tell me that it’s the best tuna marinade you’ve ever tasted.

      1. I’m okay with brief commentary. I’m burned out on people using the presence of a vegetarian option to spark a half-hour discussion of vegetarianism, or people telling me at length what THEY do with quinoa. I mean, I’ve probably been staring at these ingredients since 9am, if it’s a big festive meal, ypu know? The thrill has passed.

        And I don’t mind being told about strong dislikes, just, you know, if you can pick around the onions and hide them discreetly under your bread crust, maybe do that?

    4. I like these! And as long as people aren’t in “cannot safely be around this” territory, my go-to for crowd-feeding planning works like this:

      I plan dishes in bundles of 5. Within each bundle, there must be:

      – At least one dish that is completely vegan.
      – At least one dish that is vegetarian (but may contain dairy and/or eggs).
      – At least one dish that is free of eggs AND dairy, but may contain meat.
      – At least one dish that can be considered low-carb (may overlap with any of the above).
      – No more than two dishes containing the same Major Allergen (what constitutes a Major Allergen varies by group; I usually default to the “big eight” but, for instance, I was once cooking for a group that had multiple people who were made seriously ill by cinnamon, so cinnamon got added to the Major Allergen list, and conversely if I know everyone can eat, say, wheat or dairy I don’t worry so much about this).
      – No more than three dishes containing the same ingredient, period.

      So, for instance, Thanksgiving dinner at Cheshire’s house if it’s more than just immediate family eating the food will have two food bundles planned. They look something like this:

      Food Bundle #1 is the main dishes and substantial sides.

      First dish: Turkey, prepped with olive oil and salt and stuffed with oranges and cinnamon and/or cloves. (There will be gravy from the drippings that does get added milk and flour but the gravy is totally optional.) No eggs, no dairy, no gluten, low-carb especially if you aren’t eating the oranges (which we don’t, they are just for flavor).
      Second dish: Mashed purple potatoes. Lots of milk and butter and sometimes cheese go into these. No meat unless you put the optional gravy on ’em. No gluten.
      Third dish: Squash casserole. Contains squash, eggs, maple syrup, possibly a bit of cinnamon if we aren’t cooking for people made ill by it. No dairy, no gluten.
      Fourth dish: Cornbread-sausage stuffing. No flour in the cornbread, but lots of eggs, dairy, and meat.
      Fifth dish: We don’t actually make this by default when it’s just us or just us plus my parents, but I would most likely add vegan stuffed peppers or tomatoes customized to the liking of whoever was invited that needed to have this dish.

      Food Bundle #2 is bread, salad, and sweets.

      First dish: Cloverleaf rolls (tradition passed down from my mom). If known issue, the rolls can be made dairy-free, though the original recipe does contain milk. (We also had a tradition in my childhood of shaking cream into butter, obviously contains milk but is optional and alternatives would of course be provided when needed.)
      Second dish: Salad. Particulars determined by who’s going to be there and what they can and can’t eat, but will definitely be vegan in any case.
      Third dish: Cranberry-orange relish. Can be made with or without walnuts.
      Fourth dish: That thing that Spouse calls “Original Sin apple pie” – the original is a butter crust but we’ve made it with various dairy-free methods and it’s just as good done vegan. Contains rum that “should cook off” but as we know from a friend who has a serious alcohol allergy this isn’t always safe to assume, so we make people aware.
      Fifth dish: Pumpkin cheesecake. Has a gingersnap crust. If I know that there are people who need this, I get the gluten-free gingersnaps.

      I do similar planning for when it’s my turn to buy sideboard for a church service, and hope that my example is helping others be more mindful. (I have a couple of minor food issues that aren’t relevant unless you need to feed me, but sometimes the sideboard that goes up doesn’t accommodate them very well.)

      1. I really love your thoughtful, inclusive approach to preparing a meal for many. Also, this menu has me absolutely drooling on my keyboard.

    5. I just wish more people understood the differences in #3. Or believed me when I tell them that the many many things I cannot eat are truly cannot, not don’t like.

      1. Oh, yes. I worry that I sounded a bit harsh, and I don’t WANT to give people what they dislike, just, it’s an order of magnitude more important to me to make sure I’m clear on what’s dangerous or just plain Not Food so I want to know, as a cook, what I’m dealing with.

        Like, in the LW’s case I’d feel okay about saying “I’m out of veggie broth, the recipe calls for a cup overall, is chicken okay?” wheareas I wouldn’t do that to a strict vegetarian, but I wouldn’t necessarily worry about cooking veg on the same stove as non-veg, versus if it’s a serious intolerance or allergy I’ll cook it first and seal the container or just not use the ingredient at all.

  27. I love that list and wish I could send it to my mom who comments endlessly on the grossness of the food I just ordered, the “grotesque” amount of food American’s eat, how I am eating too much/too little, and always finds something to complain about with her meal. She experiences no joy when it comes to food (or really, anything else) and I rarely eat around her to avoid her constant food evangelism.

    Unlike my mother in law who happened to notice that my plate is usually 90% carbs/veggies and 10% meat and given the option I usually choose fruit or veggies for snack. So she started buying more fruit and veggies (shoving a mango in my hand as soon as I walk in the door) and making vegetarian meals when I visit. Food in this family is a huge cultural and family significance and all events revolve around it (food is how they say I love you) yet eating with them is much less stressful and shameful than my own family.

    1. Oh that’s so nice! (Your mother-in-law I mean.) That’s making “food is how they say I love you” mean something. So many people *try* to say I love you with food but only succeed in asking “Do you love me” instead. You know, like if your MIL had just kept sadly asking you why you didn’t want another slice of the pot roast she made just for you. Instead she gives you a mango! That’s love!

      1. “So many people *try* to say I love you with food but only succeed in asking ‘Do you love me’ instead.”

        Brilliant. You just explained a lot of my childhood.

  28. I am mostly vegan (lactose-intolerant, eat eggs only because I get them free from my roommate’s family who raise them in her backyard, eat some yogurt and cheese, eat meat occasionally in restaurants because veg options where I live are extremely limited). The way I deal with what other people say is to discuss it with them as little as possible, and eat whatever they serve me when I’m at their places. Choosing restaurants is easy because all of them around here pretty much suck for veg-*ns. I still think of myself as a vegan, and sometimes people get pissy and contradict me when I accidentally let that slip out loud, but I consider that their problem, not mine.

  29. My personal strategy, developed over 18 years of vegetarianism, is to never, ever use the word vegetarian unless it’s absolutely necessary. Sad but true. It’s just not worth the constant guff.

    I’ve found that 90% of the time, I can navigate a mealtime situation just fine without needing to bring it up at all, by eating around the meat dishes (really easy at buffets or big meals like Thanksgiving where there are a lot of sides), ordering a vegetarian option without further comment, or asking for something “hold the meat”.

    In contrast, trotting out the word “vegetarian” will lead to an awkward exchange that I’d rather not have about 99% of the time.

    A fun tactic I like to use when people insist on forcing a conversation about it is to ask them what they ate that day and then interrupt them mid-sentence by exclaiming “WAIT – I JUST REMEMBERED I DON’T CARE.” But I’m comfortable being that asshole.

    1. Oh my gosh I’ll have to remember that one.

      I usually do the faux-concern. “Is there a reason you’re asking about my dietary habits? Do you ask everyone about their food? Is it because you’re concerned about your food? Because we can talk about your food if you want?”

    2. “A fun tactic I like to use when people insist on forcing a conversation about it is to ask them what they ate that day and then interrupt them mid-sentence by exclaiming “WAIT – I JUST REMEMBERED I DON’T CARE.” But I’m comfortable being that asshole.”

      This made me smile. 😀

    3. It used to go like this for me:

      Them: So, why are you a vegetarian?
      Me: (somewhat diffidently, thinking they want to know) I worry about factory farming… I don’t like to eat living beings… I really like veg…


      Them: So, why are you a vegetarian?
      Me: Oh the usual reasons. So, I hear you’ve just been to France, where did you go?

      1. That happened to me too in college when I was a vegetarian! One day at the cafeteria, one of my “friends” noticed I was not eating my customary chicken fingers and asked why. I simply said, “I decided to go vegetarian.” Later, I found out that she had been complaining about me to everyone she could about how I was “pushing” vegetarianism on everyone. (We literally never talked about it past that one time.)

        It’s simply easier not to say anything about being a vegetarian if you are. Some people get really offended no matter what you say or how you say it.

  30. One more eating rule: Although you are restricting your own food intake, it’s not hospitable to insist that your dinner guests eat the same limited portions you prefer by refusing them the option of second helpings.

    My petite sister is obsessed with the quality, freshness, origin, calories and nutritional value of every bite of food she takes, When she makes dinner for the extended family (who are overweight and do not share her food obsession), she often cooks exactly enough food for everyone to have the same tiny portions that she prefers. If there is any food leftover in the pots and pans after we have finished the small portions she has doled out to us, she tells us no, we may not have more, because it isn’t good for us to eat more than what she gave us. Sometimes she insists that she is counting on the leftovers for lunch, but I have seen her throw them away when we weren’t looking!

    Now that I think about it, why do I continue attending meals at her home where she exhibits these crazy controlling behaviors? I think I’ll decline in the future.

    1. This makes no sense to me! I always run into the problem of over-cooking for company, because I grew up with five younger brothers who could put food away like it was their last meal on earth. Once me and my brothers started to grow up and move out on our own, my mother had to go and un-double and un-triple all of her recipes so that she could cook an appropriate amount of food for herself.

    2. Sweet baby Cthulhu. Never mind the complete failure of hospitality involved in failing to feed people properly (a mortal sin in my eyes). Even if she were a doctor, she cannot possibly be EVERYONE’s doctor, so where exactly does she get off deciding how much is healthy for this particular set of individuals?

    3. This makes my hospitality bone ache. MY MAMA TAUGHT ME DIFFERENT, is all I’m saying. If there isn’t enough food for everyone to make themselves sick while eating fourth and fifth portions, YOU BASICALLY DIDN’T COOK.*

      *sarcasm! joking! . . . . sort of.

      1. Same here, even though my mom barely cooked at all. But when she provided food for guests, there was a lot of it, regardless of who made it.

        I have a funny story about cooking tons of food. My extended family on my mother’s side are religious and very rarely see movies or watch television. When I was in high school, we were coming in for Thanksgiving weekend, and my mom told the lovely gal who took care of my grandmother that we would be there on X day and that we were bringing “Three Men & a Baby.” She didn’t get that it was a movie. She asked some of my local cousins who we could possibly be bringing, and they (also not getting that it was a movie), mentioned that there were several cousins who lived along the way, so maybe she was giving some of them a ride? There was much speculation about whose baby the baby was, and also many people wondering how she was going to fit herself, me, three grown men, plus a baby and car seat in her 1987 Nissan Sentra.

        She cooked for an army. OMG, the food. We had to buy a large cooler to bring home our share of the leftovers, after we ate for days and also filled my grandmother’s freezer, and brought a bunch of stuff to my cousins who lived in town.

        1. There’s a reason I keep telling it almost 30 years later. It still cracks me up. And hearing the gal talk about her conversations with my cousins, particularly about fitting people in the car was an absolute scream.

    4. Ahahaha, yeah. My in-laws. See, in my family, mom’s side and dad’s side both, we are tall and large, and We. Eat. Food. My maternal grandma used to cook up these epic meals to feed farmhands and workmen and such, and she also from a young age catered her parents’ many parties. That food-lore got passed to me in a thousand subtle ways–so much so that, despite my never having spent more than two days together on anything even resembling a farm, my introduction to the Hawaiian phenomenon known as “plate lunch” felt like coming home. “This is field-hand food,” I whispered to myself before devouring a heaping plate of Loco Moco; this dish is now in my regular dinner rotation. So that’s where I was coming from when we visited my in-laws a few Easters ago. My sister-in-law, who is lovely and who has bird bones instead of people bones, which trait runs in that family, invited us for dinner the day we arrived. So we went, tired and hungry, but happy to be seeing them and looking forward to a family meal. The meal was . . . soup. Eight adults and three children, and the entire meal was a pot of soup. It wasn’t even chowder or stew. Just a pot of broth and vegetables and beans, and everyone got one bowl, and that was it. I mean, it was delicious soup, and there was some cheese to put on top and some crackers to go with, but in my grandma’s house, even for a light dinner, that soup would have been accompanied by a green salad, a potato or rice salad, fresh rolls with butter, maybe some cold cuts, and coffee and cake or pie for dessert. “These people,” I thought. “These people are not my kind of people.” So I smiled and ate my soup and offered compliments and said “thank you,” and when we left, I pointed the car to the Olive Garden, where I sent my husband in for spaghetti with meatballs and ravioli and fettuccini alfredo, which we took back to the hotel and shoveled into our soup-holes.

      My in-laws with were not exhibiting the kinds of troubling behavior as your sister, but cultural differences and different habits and expectations and the relative birdiness of people-bones all need to be navigated. For their part, my in-laws always seem amused and slightly dazed when I’m in charge of the food. That’s fine. As long as everyone is operating in good faith, it all works out in the end.

      1. On the kinder side of this phenomenon, I do have my aunt and her family, who prepare enough for everyone to have roughly 1.25 servings. Given my one cousin, who eats 0.5 of a serving, and me, who eats two servings, it sort of evens out. But I loathe having to decide if I can take as much as I want or not, and I would never willingly inflict that on someone else.

      2. This reminds me of John Pinette’s stand up routine where he was aghast that his nutritionist expected him to eat salad “as the food.” He said, “I like green salad, but it’s not the food. Salad is the promissory note that food will soon arrive!”

        1. I love green salad. Green salad is not the food. Sometimes it comes before the food, sometimes you eat it instead of the food, but it is in no way itself the food. Green salad is to the food as ketchup is to the fries.

      3. I’m glad you could order something afterwards. I think I would have felt like crying after a long hungry day and the promise of … soup :O

  31. So. I used to work in the meat industry (not in America, though. European country). I was a QC officer. I fielded this shit for a living, lol.

    I second everybody who’s pointed out that labeling yourself something (e.g. vegetarian) will confuse people when you go against the label. Stating it as a strong preference is a lot easier on everybody, especially if you’re part of a group and people are trying to remember what label to assign to you – they won’t remember all the details. It’s just the way memory works. Try to frame your food habits so that people will remember them accurately, it’ll cut down on the confusion. “I rarely eat meat” or “I prefer to eat low carb if I can” or “I just really like vegan cuisine” is more accurate and if people start to look frowny/annoyingly inquisitive, tacking on “for health reasons” usually shuts that right down. Remember: mental/emotional health: still health!

    A few other points:
    – Please don’t be a source of label confusion! If you are trying to stay low carb, don’t say you’re celiac!
    – Usually, the places that have local/organic/kosher/halal/other sourcing/cooking policies will advertise it, subtly or not. If you like those places, go to those places. Drag all of your meat-loving friends along if they’re any good. You don’t have to be evangelical, just say that you like to support local farmers or whatever’s appropriate. Starting a restaurant is fucking _hard_. Sourcing ingredients, especially with restrictions due to ethics/religion/policy, can be brutal. Vote with your feet, as they say!
    – Use as neutral a language as you can if you’re trying to redirect the eating locale.
    – It’s not your job to educate your friends, but try to entertain the curious. If you live in an all-meat-all-the-time area, lots of people will probably not be able to fathom a meal without meat. Some of them may be honestly wanting to learn. (I will never forget the guy who called us, a company that had the word “Meat” gleefully in the company title and brand, asking if we had nut loaf. Me: “There’s no meat in nut loaf.” Guy: “But it’s a loaf.” Me: “Yes, made of various types of nuts.” Guy: “And no meat? How does that work? Do you mean like salted peanuts?”)
    – Let the small stuff slide if you can. Oh, they used bacon grease to fry up the potatoes? Oh well, yum. Oh, wait, this is made with _chicken_ stock? Ooops, well, I can live with that.

    Food has, honestly, become almost insanely complicated. (If you disagree, go pick up package of something processed, like cookies, or cereal or Doritos and read the label. Then have a look at this: https://jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/ingredients-of-an-all-natural-banana/ ) Anything you can do to make it less complicated for everyone else? If it costs you nothing, do it.

    1. heh, considering celiacs can eat lots of carb heavy foods that are still gluten free, saying you’re celiac when you really mean low carb could easily backfire.

      1. Please enjoy this large plate of rice! Oh, hold the soy sauce, that’s got wheat…

      2. I loved carbs before I had to become GF. I still love carbs. I just have to eat slightly different ones.

  32. One thing I didn’t know about being vegetarian is that, apparently, after not eating meat for a while, it can make someone physically ill to eat meat. I was horrified that this wasn’t common knowledge. It has something to do with a certain bacteria not being in your stomach anymore to help break down the meat, I think? I wish this was more well-known because people tend to be like “YOUR PREFERENCES ARE ANNOYING UGH” when a lot of the time they can’t eat meat because it will literally make them sick.

    1. Oo, that’s interesting! I was a vegetarian for 7 years as a child and distinctly remember being revolted by meat, though I never stopped loving chicken. That makes sense and probably explains why I felt so sick after eating a cheeseburger not long after restarting eating meat.

      Now I eat a fair amount of meat significantly because my partner does most of the meat + veg standard cooking, but still strongly prefer sandwiches/soups/pizzas without meat and despise people sneaking pig meat into everything (never been a big fan of any type of pig meat). We also buy free-range chicken and I generally avoid it when out.

      1. This happened to me – I couldn’t chew tough food for a few months, then was revolted by red meat forever afterwards. I never really liked beef, and my family had a mixed meat-eating culture – e.g. my mother never ate beef – but I’d never had a problem with meat. I remember excitedly trying my first lamb cutlet after months of nothing, and being utterly disgusted. I was also revolted by the smell of bacon after that, and couldn’t stand pork (someone accidentally gave me pork and told me it was chicken. Surprise, I COULD tell).

        I never ate enough to feel sick, as I disliked it from the first bite – it actually just tasted like ‘dead flesh’. Uuugh.

        Chicken and fish however, are completely fine, and I eat a lot of those (preferring the sustainable/organic options, of course).

        1. Isn’t that interesting, how something that’s going to make you sick grosses you out to where you almost can’t swallow it? I am amazed and impressed by the wisdom of the body, and ever since I discovered this phenomenon I’ve felt a lot more comfortable & less worried I’m going to eat something bad–I know I can trust my body.

          I discovered it because, long story, I ended up with some venison in my freezer that was past its “this is OK to eat” date. I had thought it smelled gross, but I ignored this and instead trusted the guy who butchered it, who told me it was OK, just “aged enough to tenderize,” because he was experienced. (Come to find out a couple years later he has NO SENSE OF SMELL. Also, I don’t take advice from him anymore because it turns out his one-size-fits-all advice is “It’ll be fine.” Ah, hindsight.) Later on I cooked some up. It smelled gross. Then I put a little in my mouth. It was rather tasteless, actually… but my stomach was like “Don’t even think about it.” I don’t think I could’ve swallowed if I tried.

          So here’s to you, stomach. I threw that shit out.

          1. Man I wish my body worked like that. Instead it’s more like “this chocolate is a teeny bit melty because it’s summer? THROW IT AWAY DISGUSTING HOW COULD YOU”. :/ Autistic sensory issues suck.

      2. Woops, I love pork. ^^; But people sneaking pork into things? I hope you don’t mean like LITERALLY cuz those people are awful then. D8 (I actually dislike chicken the most, people always cook it til it’s dry. Lolz)

        1. I was on holiday in a less-than-first-world place, and there may have been a language problem, so it wasn’t intentional. They just handed me a plate of food and told me the meat was chicken.

          1. Ahh that’s a little different then. Still unfortunate but not in douchebag territory.

        2. Oh no, not the horrible sneaking in of meat (jerks). More just the cultural phenomenon of BACON IS THE BEST – I will eat bacon, but hate how common it is to add it to everything because it just overpowers everything. And I’ve never loved pork/ham though I can enjoy it occasionally, so tend to generalise to all pig-based products. 😀

          1. omfg the bacon phenomenon ugggghhghghghg
            I love bacon but frankly I’m gonna end up hating bacon with how obsessed culture is with it right now. IT’S JUST BACON. IT’S NOT FUNNY ANYMORE. IT HASN’T BEEN FUNNY FOR MONTHS, IF NOT YEARS. STAAAAAAAHP

        3. Yes, there definitely are jerks who will sneak you food you specifically tell them you can’t eat. They suck.

    2. This is definitely true. My roommate of five years is a vegetarian, and I can still remember the one time she had a spoonful of meat broth. A SPOONFUL. And she was laid out on the couch with awful stomach pain for hours.

      1. It really shocks me that this isn’t more common knowledge, which means that it REALLY IS IMPORTANT to have vegetarian options! I’m autistic and have some (relatively minor) food sensory issues and a high metabolism and basically eating is always high maintenance for me, so I sympathize. People are just super judgey about food, it pisses me off. It’s like, do I judge how you go to the bathroom? No? Well then stop judging other physical necessities argh.

    3. I got inadvertently hammed in Spain (it’s in everything), after 11 years of eating meatlessly, and my stomach felt like it was on fire. I don’t know whether it was due to not having meat-digesting enzymes anymore or horror (and ultimately don’t care– either way, it hurt).

      1. Me in Spain to the server:

        “Does this have meat in?”
        “No no no, do not worry, it is ham”

        Repeat at least once daily…

        1. Yup, that exchange is very familiar.

          I added fish for the duration of that trip, as a concession to practicality, and at least where pinxtos / tapas were concerned, visible fishies (sardine / anchovy) signaled the absence of ham. So there was that.

      2. Many years ago, I ordered the vegetarian meal on a Spanish airline. I got…ham salad. Not a lot of minority food options are going to go for a ham salad. Maybe gluten free, but back then gluten free was definitely not a thing, plus I’m pretty sure it came with one of those weirdly textured airline bread rolls, which was all I got to eat for the flight.

  33. Something else I’d include as a general rule for eating: If someone is vegetarian, don’t literally push meat in their face, either to gross them out or attempt to “entice” them with the sight or smell. I cannot count the number of times that grown adults have speared a piece of meat on a fork and waved it under my nose, usually saying something like “Doesn’t it look good? Don’t you wish you could have some?” No, it doesn’t, and I don’t.

    1. Who does this? Why doesn’t everyone else edge away silently from them? How did people like that even get invited to eat with others in the first place? So many questions.

      1. “Who does this [waving meat in a vegetarian’s face]? Why doesn’t everyone else edge away silently from them?”

        My niblings do this. They’re young. They love bacon. Pulling the bacon off their burger and offering it to me is a sign of love. I both recognize it as such, and also tell them that the most loving thing they can do is to enjoy that high-value bacon as much as they can.

    2. I should have added to my list that if someone tells me they’re both vegetarian and bothered by the smell of meat I like to know so I can avoid frying and stewing while they’re in the house.

      I have a vegetarian friend who put a gas bbq in her backyard for the meat-eaters and that was okay too. She lives in the Bay Area, though. You can nearly always cook outdoors even when you wouldn’t want to eat outdoors in that climate.

      1. I’m not vegetarian, I’m an omnivore with protein intolerance. But when pregnant, that intolerance ramps waaaaay up – to the point that my next door neighbours cooking on their barbecue had me closing up my house because the smell was making me nauseous. My mum tells me that she was exactly the same, which amuses me no end 😛

    3. Alternatively, don’t try to turn a carnivore off meat by withholding their lunch and then describing the “blood flying everywhere” at a slaughterhouse. My drooling was not what the poor vegetarians expected…….

  34. I just wish there was less of a line between “vegetarian” and “non vegetarian” food… which is hard to maintain because I also like clear labeling! Our culture just seems to regularly endorse the notion that you have to identify as one or the other in order to choose that as an option, when I know plenty of people that will happily eat either.

    LW, it sounds like you are doing a great job. I like the captain’s advice a lot, although if you drop in that you’re abstaining for ethical reasons and people still push you, I would say they are inviting you to disclose your reasons. I often give a disclaimer before I start, saying it’s not very polite dinner conversation – it’s quite a good way to divert the conversation as many choose not to go further with it.

    1. I’ve noticed that a lot of people think of vegetarian food as some sort of alien, mysterious cuisine that you have to be trained to prepare, or can only get in special hippie restaurants. “I would love to have you over for dinner, but I don’t know how to make vegetarian food” is a common refrain, along with “So you must eat mostly salads, right?” Sure, I eat salads sometimes, but I also eat cheese pizza, bean burritos, peanut butter sandwiches, and all sorts of other things that look completely “normal,” for whatever that word is worth. I would love for more people to see that it’s really no big deal if someone is vegetarian (unless that person chooses to make a big deal out of it, which is always possible).

      1. I know, right? I once had to point out to a librarian that their new Reader’s Digest vegetarian cookbook used chicken broth in almost every recipe!

      2. I know! I recently had a meat-loving friend claim to me that he had NEVER IN HIS LIFE eaten a vegetarian meal. Um, I am fairly certain he has had grilled cheese, cheese pizza, PB&J, etc. many times over the course of his life…he just couldn’t conceptualize that those things would be vegetarian becaues they didn’t sound weird enough, I guess??

        1. This is really interesting to me. I am absolutely an omnivore and don’t think twice about eating meat, but probably 2/3+ of my meals are vegetarian because…it just feels like regular food that co-incidentally doesn’t have meat in it. This is all suddenly making me want to look up food anthropology info graphics 😛

        2. Don’t the majority of breakfasts not have meat? Well I guess in the big meat cultures there’s probably people who do a bacon fry up every morning. But like… cereal and pancakes and porridge and things like that, ALL VEGETARIAN.

      3. “I would love to have you over for dinner, but I don’t know how to make vegetarian food” is a common refrain,
        Quite apart from that being nonsense for all the reasons you listed, it’s 20-damn-15. You go to nice Mr. Google, type in “easy vegetarian recipes” and pick one that sounds good.

      4. Once, in a discussion of sourdough bread over in ye olde livejournal days, someone said they wanted a starter recipe but not a VEGAN starter recipe.

        I was like…ok to make a starter you literally use flour and water?????? it’s vegan by default????? what????? and they responded that well, they didn’t know what all the vegan rules were and what if a vegan starter had tofu in it or something.

        1. I wonder if they meant they were considering the yeast involved to be “animal” that couldn’t be included under the “vegan” heading. But I don’t really think under that definition there is a “vegan” starter– how do you make it without yeast?

        2. Actually my current starter uses honey as well as (rye) flour and water for the first 3 days, so it is technically not vegan if you’re strict about it. (at this point the yeast have eaten all the honey though so it might be considered vegan again, depending on how concerned the vegan in question is with literally consuming animal products vs consuming things that have at some point taken advantage of animal products).

          1. Since this (non-vegan) person’s issue was that they thought a vegan starter might have tofu in it, I doubt they were thinking about the nuances of differently-purposed starters that might or might not have sweeteners in them!

          2. I was mostly responding to your “ok to make a starter you literally use flour and water?????? it’s vegan by default?????”, just to point out, that, regardless of this person’s weird ideas about veganism somehow requiring tofu in ALL THE THINGS, that starter is not always vegan by default. (I am actually now wondering about the vegan-friendliness of some other generally vegan-by-default foods. If a person is vegan to the point of objecting to any keeping of animals for human benefit, then would food fertilized with manure be vegan? Or the vegetables I get in my farm box – the farm keeps chickens, for eggs and meat, and uses them in their crop rotation – while a field is lying fallow, they move the chickens over it, and their droppings return some nutrients to the soil. They also scratch and eat potential pests, hopefully reducing the number of pest eggs laid and thus then number of pests the next season when the field is planted. (The chicken are free-range but obviously have to have *some* kind of enclosure, or they would be at too much risk from predators and just wandering into the road. They have coops surrounded by chicken wire at some distance, though some more adventurous chickens do get out of the enclosed areas.) Would food grown in those fields not be strictly vegan?)

          3. Someone who was very, very serious about veganism might be concerned with the fertilizer, yes. I was vegan for a while during college, and I remember friends debating about whether it was OK to take pictures because film and photo paper contained animal products (this was two or three years before digital cameras started becoming a thing, so it was film or nothing). One of the reasons I went back to being a lacto-ovo vegetarian was that I didn’t want to get to a point where I couldn’t live in the world anymore, and I could see how veganism could take you there if you let it.

    2. In the U.S. it’s almost a political thing. Vegetarian = wishy-washy crunchy hippie liberal who probably tells fortunes with rainbow crystals; meat-eater = bullheaded jerk conspiracy theorist with truck nuts and eleventy billion guns, plus bad taste in beer. I know somebody from a huntin’ shootin’ four-wheelin’ family who developed a really bad case of gout. Some of his relatives acted like he had spat on everything they believed in.
      “I just plain can’t eat a lot of meat and if I don’t stick to the super-picky-labeled kinds I get sick” should work, IMO–unless your friends and relations are like his, of course.

      1. I do this to close friends and family actually and I also was confused about the reaction.

        Thank you for highlighting this. I now have to think about what I want when I say that. Usually just: why are your habits different today pure curiosity and should I know anything? Eg. The person needs to stop by a place that has something they can eat so as not to become a scary calorie starved person.

      2. It absolutely IS a political statement these days. I think that is what the LW is doing by announcing the label of “vegetarian” although if other people’s comments are a surprise it may not be intentional. If someone is questioning why you order a certain dish, you can answer that it looked good or you can talk about larger issues involved in your decision. Since the LW mentions those larger issues in the letter, I think there is a desire to bring those political decisions into the conversation. However, you can’t expect other people not to challenge you when you do.

      3. Yep. My ex-in-laws were wounded and betrayed when I told them I was going vegetarian. They literally took it like, well, like it was any of their damned business what I put on my plate. It was stupid. And then the very next family dinner they planned was at a steakhouse. Jerks. We all realized together that there was not a single vegetarian entree, and they all looked at me out of the corners of their eyes, holding their breath: “Will she make a scene, or will she Conform to the Values of our Family?” I ordered the salmon. I just know that fish dinner would have come back to haunt me: “You ordered the salmon that one time; couldn’t you just have some chicken? It would be so much easier.” Fortunately, I was not part of that family for much longer after that.

  35. I’m curious about why it’s not appropriate to comment, “wow you must have been hungry!” – not that I do it, but because I receive this message all the time. I tend to eat a lot despite my size and I get quite annoyed when hearing this and I don’t know why.

    1. There’s a lot of pressure on us to be a socially acceptable (eg. attractive) body shape. So if you eat fast, eat a lot, or enjoy your food, people will comment, even if you’re slender (it’s worse if you’re fat) because apparently you have to maintain an attractive body FOR SOCIETY!!! It is your duty, or some such rubbish.

      It’s a subtle form of policing. Of “this behaviour does not fit the model we expect.”

      I tend towards either a big smile and a deliberately oblivious “I was!” or say something like “I’m recovering from an eating disorder and before this I [insert disordered behaviour here]” depending on how uncomfortable I want to make them.

    2. Personally, it’s one of those things that is almost never said in good faith. “Wow you must have been hungry” could mean “did you do something exciting today that used up a lot of fuel? please tell me about your adventures!” or maybe “oh no, did I not serve you enough food at [previous meal]?”, but usually it’s a relatively subtle way to tell someone they’re eating “too much” and shame them for it. It irritates the hell out of me because the amount that I eat is no-one’s business but mine, and not some sort of terrible surprise. I know how much I put on my plate, and I put it there for a reason.

      1. Yes. I have on a couple of occasions used “wow, you must have been hungry” to mean “gimmie the gossip, you just had a really hot shag didn’t you?” (because that is the usual cause of me being suddenly really hungry on a group holiday), and had it read as critiquing someone’s diet. Which on some level is odd, cos I’m quite fat and unashamedly so, but our society is fucked enough that of course a man commenting on a woman’s eating habits is about her being too fat for his preferences or the societal norm.

      2. I sometimes say “I’ll take that as a great compliment, would you care for more?” or just “If you’re still hungry there’s more.” I’m reconsidering this, now. I genuinely do mean it well, but I’m thinking maybe it doesn’t sound so great.

        1. Yeah, I think it’s better not to single anyone out to offer more food — “If anyone would like more of anything, there’s plenty more green beans and another two pork chops left; please feel free.” (I tend to mention what “extra” food is available at the beginning of the meal, actually, which I hadn’t thought much about but which does have the benefit of removing any suggestion that I’m basing the offer on my critical judgment of how much people have eaten.)

      3. Huh, interesting. In my culture it’s the kind of sentence that would be said by a proudly smiling host before offering you seconds (a good appetite is a positive trait where I live*), so I’d take this as a compliment. I’ll have to remember this when travelling so I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings!

        * Provided you aren’t a fat person being fed by jerks. Then it’ll probably turn into gross, awful body-shaming. >.<

        1. Yeah, I think it can definitely be cultural. In the family I married into, food is a big deal and they like to see you eat, especially if you’re a guest or someone not from that culture. “Wow, you must have been hungry!” would immediately be followed by someone urging you to take more food or just heaping it directly onto your plate for you, which is a separate problem, but at least there’s no shaming involved.

        2. lol fun times, my family is very white and Western and any comments are more likely to fall on the judgy side, but I hang out with a lot of Māori and Pacific Islanders who are totally on the FOOD IS BONDING AND GOOD train. (I personally prefer the latter, though without forcing food on people.) It’s weird occasionally getting cultural whiplash from switching expectations between meals on the same day.

    3. Holy mackerel, agreed 100% that this drives me bananas. (Okay, I do slip on this and occasionally say it to Sweetie, who I promise doesn’t mind and doesn’t carry baggage and is usually marathon training or CrossFit training and so has quite an impressive ability to vacuum up foodstuffs and I’ll stop being defensive now). Aside from that overlong parenthetical, I would not say this to anybody else. If I ever have kids, I’ll probably stop saying it to Sweetie too.

      I think it goes along the lines with what the Captain said above about food discussion etiquette. It suggests to me that your companion paid way more attention than is polite to the contents of your plate. Also, if you’re any sort of female-identified person, there is a lot of gendered baggage that goes along with appetite and food. My hackles definitely rise when I hear that–what is so 1) amazing and 2) interesting about the food I just ate? As I think about it, it smacks of food policing without actually saying that you should eat less/slower/whatever.

      And I’m with you that, in the moment, I can’t put my finger on why it makes me cringe. I have an anecdote about going out to dinner with in-laws and making the egregious mistake of ordering the same meal as my MIL. Egregious because when I finished mine, and she did not, she proceeded to 1) comment on how hungry I must have been, 2) exclaim half a dozen times how huge this portion was, 3) ask whether I had eaten lunch and 4) tick off everything she had eaten that day. I’m something of a foodie and so am happy to have *certain* types of food conversations, but this kind of thing bugs the living daylights outta me (she’s also been known to go on and on about the number of calories in tablespoon of olive oil… I fell asleep just writing that). All I could do was just give her this baffled look and turn to talk to Sweetie without answering.

      1. Aaarghh, I have a friend who does this and it drives me bananas too! If I eat my meal faster than her, she says “You must have been hungry!” But if I eat slower than her, she points at the uneaten things on my plate and asks “Are you going to eat that?” She has massive food issues going through at least two generations of her family so I figure I can’t fix it. I just try to plan things so that when we meet up, it’s not at mealtimes.

      2. “You must have been really hungry!” sounds like a subtly comparative statement to me. If that person had eaten as much as I did, they would never have used that statement.

        Plus, there’s an internal notion of “you eat so much more than I thought you ate, because at first glance I thought you would only eat a smaller portion than this”. And in this culture, it’s shameful to eat a large meal if you’re a woman. It’s as if you shattered their expectations of you in a bad way, because for some reason they expected you to eat a specifically-sized meal. In any case it’s a weird belief to have over someone else.

    4. “I tend to eat a lot despite my size.” This part of your comment stood out to me. It seems to me that people saying this feel like they have a right to monitor and comment–pass judgment?–not only on the amount of food your eat, but also on what your body looks like. It’s invasive and presumptuous and icky. In this case, I feel like “Wow, you must have been hungry” translates to “Wow, I am looking at your body and at what you are eating and comparing these things to my assumptions of how people who have bodies like yours eat, and I am surprised that my assumptions have been proven less that 100% accurate! Also, I am absolutely sure that that is an very interesting and perfectly appropriate thing for me to be saying right now! I am looking at your body and watching you put food in your mouth to see how much you eat! Words are coming out of my mouth! Are you paying attention to them?!” Maybe that’s just me.

  36. LW, you sound exactly like two of my friends. L is a pescatarian (who I know has difficulties getting enough protein because we discuss medical stuff.) I feed L fish by default, because I worry about her and it’s a good excuse to level up my fish cooking skills.
    J is “mostly” vegetarian. Which just means that if I’m choosing a restaurant, I choose something vegetarian/with vegetarian options unless she specifically says “I really really want a STEAK.”
    None of this is… anything that I comment on because why would I? The only friends I refuse to eat out with are the ones who only eat something I find actively makes me feel ill (McDonalds) and then all I say is “Hey, I might eat before we catch up.”
    I think it’s broken record time:
    “I’m mostly vegetarian.”
    [if they ask for details, something like]
    “I don’t eat a lot of meat.”

    Just keep repeating those two phrases. Anyone who’s not a close friend who asks you that gets a blank stare and a repeated script phrase.

    If someone’s really confused by it, just say “Treat me as a vegetarian. I’ll let you know if I’m ever in need of a steak.”

    I’m pretty firm about food boundaries ask I’m recovering from an eating disorder and I’m fat, so I say a lot of direct “Why are you interested in my food? That’s really weird.” but ymmv, you may not prefer to be so confrontational.

    Explain to people close to you as you choose. I think the scripts written above about “I eat meatless except for rare occasions when I cook myself or know the meat is humanely sourced.” is good.

  37. I tend to say I like meat as a flavoring rather than a main dish. And then depending on my audience I might follow that up with saying cheerfully, “which leaves more meat for the rest of my family!” Which implies that I’m not going to be judging.

  38. LW I’m like you but a bit more to the meat eater side of the spectrum. Instead of cutting meat out, i cut it down and often eat meat alternatives. Sometimes ppl ask me if I’m veg bc they see me going for a vegetarian option at restaurants. I usually reply nonchalantly like it’s nbd something to the effect of “yeah I like vegetarian dishes” “I’m not veg, this dish just sounded good today” etc like I’m not doing anything weird. For recipe sharing ppl, maybe something like “no I’m not veg but I’m interested in decreasing my meat consumption and cooking more veg meals” if they ask why cut down and I dont feel like an ethical debate I often just cite good ol $$$ as the reason, or resource use of farms with animals, or even digestion. I’m not into debating the ethics part, esp at work.

    The captain raises good points about hospitality and work catering accomodations though, those are areas where people might feel a little put out if they see you turn around and eat meat. It’s understandable that those ppl might want an explanation. Hopefully they will chill once youve explained. Also bowing out of the occasional outing so people can go to their favourite place you cant eat at might be helpful. At my work we have a couple of halal eaters so their restaurant choices are quite restricted. Their choices are actually more restricted than our vegetarian colleague. We always accomodate them for any working lunches and for social lunches we accomodate them around half the time. The other half they may not join us or will have to eat vegetarian that day. If your work goes to a lot of places where you can’t eat anything, maybe a compromise where youre accomodated the majority of the time but not all the time could be ok to get rid of any friction that’s there.

  39. I have a similar relationship to meat.

    Restaurants are easy as you just choose the vegetarian option – no discussion needed. I think for catered events like conferences, you need to decide for simplicity whether to check the vegetarian box or not for the whole event.

    If I am going to dinner at a friends, I generally don’t say anything and make that the one of the occasions when I meat and try not to stress too much about the source of the meat, though if I know there will be a vegetarian option (and so I’m not putting the host out too much) I might ask ‘please could I have the vegetarian option?’ beforehand. I’m unlikely to be in that situation more than once a week though if that and have decided to make that trade-off with my social life. If that was happening more regularly, I can see it could be trickier.

    Recently when I was on holiday with a group of friends – so several meals cooked communally, I told the person in charge of food that I try not to each too much meat and it’d be nice if there was enough of the vegetarian option that I could have some if I wanted without feeling like I was depriving the vegetarians. They were totally fine with that and it all worked out great.

    I’ve pretty much managed to avoid discussing with anybody why I eat meat but not very often. I think if I were asked then I’d say that I have environmental but not ethical issues with eating meat, even though the actual reasons are slightly more nuanced than that.

  40. The only time the LW’s preferences might be tricky is when invited to dinner at someone’s house. If the LW is willing to eat fish without knowing its source, that should be fine – just say they’d rather have fish than meat, and hosts used to a nice central piece of protein should be happy. If the LW isn’t OK with fish, the hosts might resent forgoing animal protein when they know the LW will be eating it another time. But good friends will either suck it up, or order takeaway so everyone can have what they want.

    The notion that anyone would hassle anyone else about food choices just boggles me. Maybe it’s down to British uptightness and reserve, but it’s not happened to me or anyone I know (despite a wide mix of preferences and intolerances). People will ask what you do or don’t want to eat, you tell them, they accommodate you if they can, the end – right?

    1. I think things risk becoming an issue with friends when it becomes an issue of “I rarely eat meat/prefer vegetarian options” and then would perhaps be inspired by some ethically raised bacon brownies. While that may ultimately be an accurate representation of the OP’s eating preferences (largely vegetarian meal with one course that has a small amount of meat that meets a certain standard) – for many people that will read as confusing. So as fair as stating preferences and not overly self-censoring is, a reality will be that when someone is hosting, it’s probably best to keep things as uniform as possible. Sure, just eating sides at a large Thanksgiving/Christmas meal may not be noticed – but if a friend is hosting only a few people, such an inconsistency may be a source of comment.

      1. Wait, what? I can totally understand how “I’m vegetarian”, followed by eating meat is confusing, but I am completely befuddled by the idea that “I rarely eat meat/prefer vegetarian options” followed by rarely eating meat is confusing.

  41. Oh, a subject dear to my heart!

    As a former-vegetarian who now eats meat and keeps the meat as close to “local humanely-raised” as I can, and someone with dietary restrictions for health, and who cooks for people with widely varying tastes and restrictions of their own, it is a giant. pain. in. the. butt to deal with all kinds of food-judgy activities!

    I tend to not talk about what I eat much, aside from stating preferences based on my dietary restriction: “I love all kinds of food, but I have to limit dairy. Can we see if we can find somewhere with non-dairy options?”

    When I issue invites to a small group, I always ask for any dietary restrictions. If there are people whose tastes I don’t know, I’ll ask before cooking for them (“Mary, I know you’re vegetarian — do you have any other restrictions? If I make X, will that work for you?”)

    For large parties, the invite ALWAYS says to please let me know about dietary restrictions, and explicitly mentions that vegan and vegetarian options will be available, and the Food Rule for anything I make for parties is that the meat or dairy in any dish must be Obvious or Visible — nothing hidden!

    But that’s for sharing with others. For talking about my preferences, unless it’s to people with whom I regularly share meals and who need to know more about what I need, mostly I just stick to variations on “I have to limit dairy”, with minimal explanation. Most people assume, correctly, that it’s medical, and MOST people are not rude enough to pry. (Those who do, well…)

  42. I just go with “I eat meat, just not all that often” in a casual tone + subject change, and leave it at that. I doubt many people would continue to push after that, but if they did, furrowing your brow a bit as if you’re confused by their interest (since, as CA says, what’s on your plate should be pretty boring to others) before an, “Um… I don’t know, it’s just how I do” with a ‘y u bein weird dude’ look will head off like, 90% of discussion. Unsolicited commentary/questions about your eating habits are awkward – toss the awkward back their way and let them deal with it.

  43. There’s actually a label for how you eat – flexitarian. I think something like “Oh I’m flexitarian, I prefer to eat plant based meals most of the time but due to health reasons I need animal protein occasionally”.

    Technically I’m flexitarian but due to my kneejerk hate of labels I don’t use it, but maybe you and your kid can find it useful!

  44. I like the idea of stating this very clearly as a preference when you get asked about it, and otherwise just not mentioning it specifically. So, order whatever you want to at restaurants and don’t feel the need to explain every single choice you make. If you are directly asked what the deal is, something general like “I generally prefer vegetarian food” or “Meat sometimes doesn’t agree with my system” are great answers.

    I do think it’s good, though, to be sensitive to when requesting vegetarian food may create inconvenience for others, if you don’t actually need it. 99% of the time what you eat is your business and only your business, and other people really have nothing to do with it. But sometimes, such as when another person is providing you with food, they do matter in the equation. You mentioned that one comment you’ve gotten is “we saw you eat meat; so why should you get the special vegetarian food?” I’m not sure exactly what situation this has arisen in, but the two that come to mind are big catering orders and dinner parties. I feel like, for the most part, these are occasional events that you could perhaps plan for by scheduling your “once every other day meat” for those times. It can legitimately be extra work for others to order special catering options, set those meals aside to make sure the right person gets them, etc. I know we did a lot of extra steps for our wedding to ensure that our vegetarian and celiac guests were properly accomodated in a meat-and-wheat heavy buffet setting. I was very happy to do that for people who actually had those dietary restrictions, but would have been a bit annoyed if it was just a preference thing (after all, it’s one meal out of your life, you can live with it not being your favorite thing ever). Similarly, as a hostess for dinner parties, I’m going to specifically plan to accomodate a vegetarian guest and might be confused and possibly a bit peeved if I go out of my way to do this when it’s just that the person didn’t care to eat MY meat.

  45. While I mainly eat a high protein diet, I also like to play with my food, so I end up preparing and eating vegetarian, vegan, paleo, no-salt, or whatever sometimes just for the challenge of preparing food in a given style or working with or without a certain ingredient. Sometimes that results in cognitive dissonance among my friends, family, or coworkers. “You brought a vegan tofu dish to the potluck? You’re not vegan and you hate tofu.”

    Dunno if this is helpful to the LW, but I just shrug and say it was what I felt like eating/preparing. “The recipe looked like fun, and I’ve figured out how to cook tofu so I like it. I still hate the tofu down at Tofu Emperor.”

  46. Being in one of the Meat loving states and most of my family really like to have meat at every meal. I am not a huge meat eater and I do not need it at every meal or even every day. Currently I do work with several people who are vegetarian or for religious reasons do not eat meat on certain days. I do not feel the need to make my eating habits known unless specifically asked. Then, I usually say it would be nice to have some vegetarian options if you can do that ( a lot of people here do not know how to cook vegetarian options so I would consider it more work) otherwise maybe find a meat or something you have less ethical concerns about.
    I can understand being irritated if someone said they were vegetarian only and i had to work around them only to find out they do eat meat. If for nothing else because i had to make a special effort. I prefer people be honest with me. I have several friends on a gluten free kick none of them have allergies to gluten but if asked I do make special effort to make gluten free options
    My recommendation would be to be honest if they ask why explain it briefly if they want more info they’ll ask. Personally I only get offended about how others eat when they insist I also eat the same way.

    1. What drives me nuts is asking people about their food allergies and preferences and they say anything is fine, they don’t have any problems. And then when you serve the food it’s, Oh I can’t eat this, or I never eat that. I would have been very happy to make something else had I only known. Happier, in fact, as I wouldn’t then feel annoyed over it. 😉

  47. There are so many comments here policing the way that people identify. There is no magical identification that will stop people being a jerk about your food choices.Words like flexatarian and pescatarian are great if they help you to understand your choices and find your people, but it’s far from a shield against people being jerks.

    I have been on some form of meat restricted diet for 18ish years, Most of those were ovo-lacto vegetarian. The only time that I ever need to specify ovo-lacto vegetarian? When someone is cooking my meals. I still got all the nosy “Do you eat fish? Where do you get your protein? If you were on a desert island with a cow would you eat it?”

    It’s not the pescatarians out there using the vegetarian moniker for ease that are causing people to ask me if I eat fish. It’s people thinking that my dietary choices are a topic of conversation.

    I have been a pescatarian (or vegequarian) for a while. I still used vegetarian because otherwise I’d be expected to eat a quantity of fish that I never wanted to eat. Fish was an occasional supplement to my diet – not something I wanted to eat at every single social gathering.

    I’ve had so many vegan friends. Some who will do the apologetic “I’m vegan, but not the militant kind” (ie. I’m not being vegan at you) but outside of my general lefty circles they still get the “Where do you get your protein? I knew a vegan once and something terrible happened to them! Did you think about that? If you were on a desert island with a cow (why people think this one is original is beyond me) What are you eating today?”

    I have a friend who is fructose intolerant. Common ingredients like onions and tomatoes leave her bloated and gassy. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it isn’t. She still gets people asking her when she eats things she “shouldn’t” “Oh, is it better now? My aunt’s friend’s husband’s sister has fructose intolerance, but she saw a naturopath and now it’s better! You know, there’s so many more food intolerances around these days. My sister in law knows someone who says she’s gluten intolerant but is totally faking it”

    I mean, I’m lucky that I live in a place where I can get vegetarian food most places I go. It’s usually not a point of tension when choosing a place to eat. But when I start getting the twenty questions about why I don’t eat meat I answer as far as it’s relevant for someone cooking for me or choosing a place to eat and further than that I act like the question is really uninteresting, shrug and change the topic. I haven’t had to pull out a “Wow, that’s a bit personal. Is there a reason you’re so interested in what I eat?” in a while but it’s in my arsenal.

    And I don’t know. I’ve known a few obnoxious people on the meat restriction dietary spectrum who think that anyone who isn’t restricting their diet as much as they are is doing it wrong. These people have almost always turned out to be jerks. I am totally happy to talk to anyone wanting advice, hints, recipes and restaurant locations no matter if they’re vegan or just trying meat free mondays.

    1. Annoying Person: “If you were on a desert island with a cow would you eat it?”
      Me: “If I were on a desert island with a cow, how in hell would I KILL it? Have you SEEN cows? Do you know how big they are? Did a loaded rifle wash up on the desert island with me?”

      Mind you, I have never gotten to deliver this response, as I have never been asked this ridiculous question. But I am now totally ready.

    2. Definitely there are always *some* jerks who go from “I notice you ordered the eggplant parmesan, are you some kind of vegetarian or something” to “How would you get your B12 if you were trapped on a desert island with a ham sandwich?” and you’re right, that is ultimately on them, not on the previous person they interrogated.

    3. I think it’s fair to say that if you’re using a word to describe yourself, and other people are confused by your use of it, it’s legitimate to ask if you might consider using a different one. You don’t have to – I’ve met lesbians who have occasional sex with men, and Christians who don’t believe in God, and they had their reasons – but if you’re not actually invested in that particular word or phrase, it’s an easy way to clear up confusion.

  48. I like to blame religion (eating kosher). I don’t keep kosher, but since most people don’t know what keeping kosher entails, they usually reduce it to “weird food choices, but don’t comment as to not seem like a bigot.” I’m assuming you don’t have that choice.

    1. As per the discussion by eightysixed and others above, I prefer not to say ‘I keep kosher’ in discussions about food choices. Partly that’s because here in Britain people tend to know less about it, so it’s not really a helpful term for clarification (“you mean octopus isn’t kosher either?!”) but also it’s because I am not as strict as some people can be, and I don’t want to give the impression that they can safely serve a more orthodox person what they have served me. I guess I would fall into the Conservative type eating standard if I was in the USA? I eat vegetarian/pescatarian food out, because I don’t have the spoons to cook everything from scratch. I believe kashrut is a set of laws that have evolved and changed over time (after all, Rashi only had one sponge). If I end up getting into a discussion with someone about it, I will explain that different people keep different standards of kashrut and that some will not eat from my kitchen due to requirements of cholov Yisrael etc.

      To explain my situation I tend to say things like ‘I eat mostly vegetarian’ & ‘I don’t eat pork’ and I don’t eat meat out, which leads most people to the conclusion I’m vegetarian. Of course, I still sometimes get “but whyyy? Bacon is so delicious!” but in my experience that doesn’t actually get better if I say ‘It’s because I eat kosher’. People then feel entitled to pass comment on my religious habits, get into a discussion about Palestine (yes, really) or assume a ton of stuff about me that isn’t necessarily accurate. They also tend talk about all the Jews they know who eat bacon. Maybe it’s different in the USA?

      1. As I’ve said above, I think that the problem of saying your kosher when in reality you don’t meet Orthodox standards – you really do open yourself to more questions and in the case of meeting other Jews, risk getting a lot of side-eye and perhaps even more intrusive questioning. Polite people will take it for what it is – but they’d also take “I don’t eat pork/I eat mostly vegetarian/I’m not hungry right now” at face value as well.

        That being said, rude or not – if someone I met told me they kept kosher in a context where that was clearly untrue by Orthodox standards – I’d push the point. Not aggressively, but in a case of “I don’t really understand what you’re talking about, and I’m curious”. Do you just eat pescatarian in non-Jewish spaces? Do you just not mix milk and meat? Do you eat nonkosher meat at home? Do you eat non-kosher cheese? If you host a meal will I need to buy either kosher wine or prepared food from a kosher establishment or will you eat a vegetarian dish prepared in my house?

        If someone keeps kosher by Orthodox standards I know all those answers, if not – it becomes a discussion. I think a large part of this is that at least in the U.S., Conservative Judaism has largely stuck to Orthodox definitions of kosher and often keeping shabbat in institutional spaces. So Conservative synagogues, overnight camps, youth groups – all of these spaces define kosher by Orthodox standards. So while in many Conservative homes practice varies, in communal spaces one standard definition is typically used.

        Whether or not saying “I keep kosher” leads to an in depth conversation on religion isn’t one that I typically see – but then this is usually something I see from my mother and the people she encounters are a bit older in age. But I do think in general, when bringing up a religious reason that no everyone understands – it can be seen as an invitation for further talk about faith, Palestine, tradition, etc. As a kid when friends told me they weren’t eating X for lent or fasting for Ramadan, I asked about questions – because it was foreign to me. Similarly if someone told me they were allergic to night shades, I ask to be reminded what night shades are because while the term is food familiar to me – I don’t really know what the group is.

        If the point of saying “I’m kosher” is to shut down conversations – I find that more often than not, it’s not effective. And I also find it problematic for non-Orthodox kosher keepers, because even within a community it doesn’t come with set definitions.

        1. Thanks for the reply. I think it’s also important to emphasise to those who aren’t aware that in the Orthodox community itself there are a variety of practices – for instance, regarding kitniyot over Pesach, or eating edible locusts – which aren’t ‘more kosher’ than each other, just different customs. So it’s always best to ask what someone’s personal practice is.

          1. Within the Orthodox community there’s definitely not one standard application, but I’ve also found that for the most part the Orthodox community is usually pretty happy to talk about their personal practices. How much time people wait between eating milk and meat, what practices are done in regards to fish with diary, traditions around Pesach, etc etc.

            But yeah – I guess my pet peeve is more seeing kosher as a way to shut down a conversation. Not to mention, if I’m under the impression that I need to bring kosher wine to a dinner (which will be more expensive and have a greater likelihood of not being good as I don’t normally consume kosher wine and unfortunately it often can be poor) and show up finding that wasn’t necessarily. I will be irked and will be more inclined to bring up “kosher” as a point of conversation.

  49. I have an item for your list:
    – Don’t assume someone makes a food choice because of a lack of information. Sometimes people hear the same stories you do yet arrive at a different conclusion. The lack of your input is not the reason they choose differently than you do.

  50. Hi LW!

    I’m in a very similar boat as you in terms of meat eating! I’ve been all over the spectrum between strict vegetarian and carnivore. These days I eat more meat than I used to, but I still have a lot of friends who refer to me as vegetarian. When people ask about it, my stock answer is “I don’t really like meat that much, but I eat some occasional”. It’s the truth, both in terms of flavor preference and environmental leanings, but without putting the pressure for others to defend their food choices.

  51. Can I just request to the people with serious dietary restrictions of the universe that they stop looking at other people’s food with open longing, or at least not doing it to the same person EVERY DAY? I have a coworker with celiac and every single time I eat lunch in her presence she looks at my food, asks what I’m eating and, when I tell her, sighs and says “That looks REALLY GOOD.”

    Yes. Yes it does. That is why I am eating it. I do not feel that I should be required to begin the majority of my lunches by being sorry you cannot eat it though. It makes me feel really self-conscious about what I’m eating because I know someone is paying attention to every single item I consume.

    I’d be okay with two or three times a month but five times a week is just too much.

  52. I’d like to expand the point that says: “If people tell you they can’t eat something or don’t like something, believe them the first time.” Here goes:
    And bear in mind that sharing their REASONS is strictly optional – you don’t need to know and certainly aren’t entitled to judge the validity. (But it’s fine to inquire about the EXTENT if you’re the host or planner.)
    And a similar point: – “No, thanks” means no (at least for a reasonably long moment). Don’t pressure people into accepting offered food.

  53. LW,

    I’m not sure if this could be a feasible option for you because of your desire to eat humanely raised meat, but I have a similar situation and I basically save all my meat consumption for when I don’t have as much control over my options, like when I’m eating out, or I’m someone’s guest. It doesn’t really address the people making things way more complicated issue, but it might make things a little easier logistically and removes stress from you.

    The other thing to consider might be is how your communicating information to people. I know several other people have left comments suggesting you should not say vegetarian because it’s probably confusing people and I would definitely agree with that.

    I’ve have several friends and family with various dietary restrictions and the one of the trends that I’ve noticed is that ironically, the more relaxed attitude you have about your food restrictions the more people seem willing to accommodate you. What I mean is I have friends who try to eat vegan, but will eat vegetarian and even eat meat if there options are limited and people seem more willing to accommodate their veganism, then say someone who is very strict/vocal about their veganism.

    Since I would like to believe that people are not vindictive jerks I think this is because by making their diet seem like a very big deal, it sends out the idea that accommodating this is something hard or their are serious consequences if the other person makes a mistake. But for some reason saying I try to eat vegan when possible it somehow makes it seem way more chill and accessible to people then just straight up saying I’m a vegan. It’s sort of stupid that you have to make that distinction, but if it gets results it’s a probably a bit of stupidity you can live with.

    1. I agree that if you are relaxed about your dietary restrictions, people are much more accommodating. I have life-threatening allergies to bizarre and specific things. I do my research online and know which dishes look appropriate for me. I ask my questions really nicely and if I’m concerned about something? I won’t eat or order it. Epipens are, after all, super expensive.

      I find if you seem relaxed and forthcoming, people relax, too. It’s less OMG SHE IS ALLERGIC TO ALL THE THINGS OMGOMGOMG and more of a, “oh, I will make sure not to poison her with edamame.”

      Love the Captain’s advice and thank you for the “preference” vs “allergy” distinction. Own your preferences, non-allergic people, because allergic people pay the price when you’re flippant about it (plus the poor server needs to check/arrange EVERYTHING for you).

      A few suggestions to add for eating well with others?

      -If someone says they are allergic, please just BELIEVE THEM.

      -RE above: No need to ask “but are you sure?!!” and ask again a million times just because you have that great recipe. It’s embarrassing for me to keep having to re-reject your food.

      -Lengthy diatribes about how allergies aren’t real make you seem like a condescending, dangerous jerk. Do not do this. Not ever.

      -Trust people’s autonomy. Trust your friend when they say they don’t wish to eat such-and-such. Don’t be an ass about them not eating pancakes for your amusement or edification. It’s exhausting.

  54. I think it is time to introduce a new generation to Peg Bracken’s Cockeyed Cake:


    It is vegan. It is fast. It is ridiculously easy. It can be modified with relative ease. It is cheap as chips.

    And it tastes incredibly decadent.

    I often make it with a cup of cold coffee instead of water for Devil’s Food. (Just make sure the coffee is COLD or the baking soda will go off prematurely).

    1. It sounds great, thanks for the link! Bookmarked and will keep an eye out for a physical copy.

    2. Off topic, but I just love Peg Bracken so much. For my 29th birthday, “Peg Bracken Recipes” was my theme. “What can I bring?” “Anything you like, so long as it’s a Peg Bracken recipe!” It was the best party EVER!

    3. Thanks! I don’t have any dietary restrictions, but I’ve been on the lookout recently for relatively simple, vegan-friendly baked goods.

  55. Although this happened much higher in the thread, I just wanted to chime in about the relative hardness of accommodating people on the vegan and/or gluten free end of the spectrum when entertaining in one’s home. I love to eat. I am a non-picky omnivore who doesn’t eat much meat. That means that I’m pretty flexible with accommodating people when we eat out, or enjoying it when I go to someone’s house and they cook for me in the style that they prefer. I’m also good at making sure that people are accommodated when I’m planning professional events or group outings.

    In my own home, though, the truth comes out: I am an extremely limited cook. My repertoire is small. I really don’t enjoy cooking. I don’t know how to make delicious, party-worthy vegetarian entrees–especially not anything vegan. (My vegetarian meals are SUPER basic and mostly only taste OK–steamed veggies, basic beans, etc.) I also do some limited baking, and don’t have any gluten free repertoire at all. I’m not interested in learning to make new stuff that is complex, requires skill, or takes time, either, because for me to get good at making something usually takes a number of batches/practice runs, and I’m not willing to do that for stuff that I won’t be eating every day. (I eat almost the same thing every day for months at a time–I cook it all on Sunday.)

    I don’t entertain as much as I want to because I have so much trouble with the food. My budget is not very big. I like delicious food, but cannot make it myself, and don’t like serving stuff that really doesn’t taste good. I often provide a spread of stuff I can actually do with my budget and skills–nice cheeses and breads, my home made grilled chicken tacos (corn tortillas) with the great salsas from the Mexican market, veggies and non-dairy dips, two reasonably non-shitty alcohol choices.

    When I send out the invitations to my parties, I remind everyone that I’m not that much of a cook, I state exactly what I am going to provide, and I invite them to bring whatever else (and whoever else!) they would like. Of course, in this situation, I’m making it clear that I’m the one with the limitation, but the people who need something other than I can provide end up doing more work/spending more money (or eating beforehand). I hate always doing it that way, and I had hopes for many years that I would improve, but I’ve finally come to accept that cooking isn’t in the cards for me, and that’s the best I can do (at least until I can afford catering).

    1. “I state exactly what I am going to provide, and I invite them to bring whatever else (and whoever else!) they would like.” I think this is super fair, especially as it sounds like you offer a variety of foodstuffs that suit various food preferences. You’re being hospitable by hosting a meal and inviting friends – you don’t have to be a “great cook” or have an expansive budget for that! My husband doesn’t cook many things, but he has perfected about 3-4 dishes over the years. He sticks with what works, much like you with your chicken tacos. One of the meals my stepmom still raves about is a simple spaghetti with meat sauce that my husband prepared when we had my parents over about a year ago. It was a great time not just because of the delicious pasta, but because we were all together enjoying a lovingly prepared meal.

    2. I am a limited cook too, which was never more obvious than when I had a mix of friends over for dinner which included a gluten- and dairy-free but meat-eating person, a vegetarian person, and a person who mostly likes big slabs of meat and is generally a pretty picky eater. I ended up making a vegetable tian, which was completely delicious, with some sausages on the side for the meat-fanciers, but for a while I was basically rummaging through my go-to recipes going nope, nope, nope and pulling my hair out. I had some good vegetarian options and some good gf/df ones in my repertoire, but none that catered for both. My friends are all lovely and didn’t want to put me to any trouble, but my self-esteem as a host meant that I had to offer something everyone could eat. Anyway, I made an effort to learn some nice vegan recipes for the next time, so that was a good thing that came out of it.

      I did have a friend who was staying for a week at a mutual friend’s house (both of them are gf/df but eat meat), and as she came through the door said, “Oh, by the way, I’ve gone vegan – sorry I forgot to tell you”. They’re still friends, but the IM conversation I had with the host that evening was a doozy! And we still talk about the Surprise Vegan moment…

  56. If your main goal is to get the food you want to eat without having to explain it too much or deal with people getting judgy about what you do or don’t eat, maybe you could go with something like, “It’s complicated, but vegetarian food is usually safe.” If asked to elaborate, you can just keep implying that the details of your diet are just too complicated and boring and inconvenient for other people to have to keep track of them, and the veggie option is just fine, thanks. It’s also vague enough that food-judgy types won’t necessarily latch onto it as an invitation to preach at you about whether you should eat animals– “It’s super boring and complicated” both sounds more like something someone would say about a medical issue than a dietary choice and also implies “It’s none of your business and I don’t want to talk about it” pretty hard.

  57. One of my co-workers constantly brings up the sinful/bad thing. I shrug the comments off but it does annoy me. I’m very glad that I don’t have the same mindset about food and I can actually enjoy what I’m eating.

    1. There is a whole group of women in my office who basically have a “diet club.” They are constantly on different cleanses and 30 day challenges and they talk about them all the time. ALL THE TIME.

      I really wish that they had the rule(s) that “You do not talk about Diet Club.”

    2. As someone once said back at Shapely Prose re the sinful/bad thing, “it’s pizza, not genocide”. I always think of that when someone starts in on how “bad” they’re being by eating something.

  58. LW, I too am a mostly-vegetarian, for most of the same reasons you describe (ethics, environmental concerns, nutritional needs). When someone asks me if I’m a vegetarian, I say, “No, I’m not a vegetarian. But I am very picky about the meat I eat, and I don’t eat it very often.” I find that using the word “picky” lets me avoid bringing up the reasons why I eat this way, and makes it seem less like I’m critical of the meat/livestock industries or of American cuisine. If people seem curious in a friendly way and press me for more information, I share; in the rare instances when people have started asking questions that felt more hostile to me, I’ve found a way to sidestep the question and change the subject, or simply said “Well, that’s pretty personal, and I don’t really feel like talking about it.” The vast majority of the time, though, this way of explaining my preferences seems to work really well. Good luck!

  59. I feel like “meatless mondays” has become a fairly well-known idea (at least around these parts)… I would probably go with “Some people do meatless Mondays, I do meatless most-days”

  60. One comment on the Captain’s first two rules (and it should be obvious, but I’ve dealt with enough literal-minded people this week that I’m taking no chances): One should not be interested in one’s dining companions’ plates unless those plates are being shoved your direction with enthusiastic “This is fantastic, please have some!” noises. And then one may ask about it or examine it and reciprocate as one sees fit.

    I also think a discreet, “That looks fantastic!” is usually OK, as long as it ENDS THERE unless the recipient of the comment says, “It really is! Want a bite?”

    (Tonight a friend and I went for Chinese and pretty much ended up mushing the two plates together and going to town, because each of us was interested in what the other got. Spoiler alert: Mine was better. 🙂 )

    That said, if sharing food isn’t a thing in your social circle or isn’t appropriate to the setting, the Captain’s rules are golden. And you should probably assume they are in force unless you know for sure that they have been suspended.

  61. I very recently lived here: “If you live in a part of the country where meat is ubiquitous and vegetarians really have to work to defend and carve out some menu space for themselves” and so I, as a vegetarian (no meat in any context), ask that you not call yourself a vegetarian. You may say you prefer or require vegetarian/meatless meals but eating meat even less frequently does still make you an omnivore. Many people in these areas are not as familiar with the terminology of vegetarian/vegan and switching it to mean meat only sometimes sourced a certain way can rightfully be confusing.

    Personal example- Many people have asked me if vegetarians only eat chicken or seafood (by definition it’s neither) and so I’ve been served dishes wih chicken broth or beef stock unless I am very careful. Please don’t help perpetuate the confusion.

  62. I think less (information) is more is a good option for the LW. So sticking to “I don’t eat much meat” if people ask, or requesting that the restaurant have some non-meat options.

    Because really, aside from “wow that looks good” or “wow the description on the menu sounds yummy” there’s not much to say (about the food on the table)

    As far as entertaining goes: I like providing enough food that anyone can make a meal.

    As I have no allergies, as a guest I eat what people put in front of me.

  63. If you tell a restaurant “No onions, please, I hate them” they will not put onions in your dish. If you tell them you are allergic, they are obligated to find pans/knives/plates/utensils, etc. that have never touched an onion so they don’t risk making you sick. Respect the difference between “preference” and “allergy.””

    Hahaa, oh dear. I just had flashbacks to the last time I went out. I’m very close to telling restaurants I’m allergic to chili, because they consistently refuse to believe me when I say I need a non spicy option with NO CHILI. I can taste it. I can taste it even if there’s hardly any, and while I can push bravely through the burning pain for a little while, that’s not something I want to pay money for, and if it’s anything more than a tiny trace I *cannot eat the food*. I even have trouble with pepper and have to avoid any bits of sushi that brush against the wasabi.

    3 times this year, I’ve had ‘do you have a nonspicy option?’ conversations where I’ve specifically said “with no chili. NONE. Please’, am blithely reassured that there won’t be a problem, then been given an incredibly spicy meal (even my non-chili-avoidant friends could tell it was spicy). Then when I complain, they usually act apologetic, take it away (with me telling them ‘it has to have NO CHILI’) and bring back a slightly watered down/scraped off version of the curry (or whatever) that is STILL too spicy for me to eat. Recently I ended up having to order a second dish… which was ALSO to spicy for me, after the big fuss about not being able to eat the first thing, so I ended up with two takeaways that I couldn’t eat (they wouldn’t just replace the first meal). Never going back there again.

    The only reason I take the damn risk on the dishes in the first place is because I’m also unable to eat a wide and random selection of foods (I have processing/sensitivity issues and a hair trigger gag reflex – I’m not sure I could eat most of my anti-foods if I was literally starving, though I hope never to test that theory) and am restricted to an average 2 dishes on any given menu (this is also why I can never stop eating chicken. I can’t eat most vegetarian options because they’ll have onions or cooked capsicum or parsnips or something equal-vile-to-me in).

    …and oh the drama whenever I visit someone and they try to offer me food. I assure them I don’t like most foods, they are riding the hospitality instinct full tilt and insist they have something, I tell them it’s fine, they lead me to the cupboard and start listing off food, and I have to assure them over and over that I don’t eat that, or that, or that either, please stop trying. Or I have to sit down to dinner and sit quietly in the corner poking at the peas and avoiding everything else, or carefully picking out ALL the nasty bits from a meal, which never ever goes over well.

    1. Admittedly none of the above really helps the letter writer. Mostly I just don’t raise the issue and look for the stuff I actually want to eat, rather than a 40 minute conversation explaining that I’m avoiding X dish in case onions are mixed in, or Y dish because I can’t eat anything covered in cooked tomato sauce, or Z is full of beef mince. If people try and offer me food, or push, it basically goes:

      (my responses to various offers/attempts to make me eat/explain things)

      – Actually, I want to eat X
      – I don’t actually like beef.
      – Or most other things, I’m don’t like a lot of foods.
      – don’t worry, I can eat X.
      – Why? Oh, lots of reasons. I’m really sensitive to certain tastes (e.g. anything slightly bitter), so a lot of random food tastes horrible to me.
      – Actually, the list of food I like is probably shorter than the list of food I don’t like, so it would take too long to list them for you
      – also I have problems digesting some food.
      – well, I can eat certain foods if I don’t eat too much, but I have to keep track of that myself.

      (…how far along I get into that conversation process depends on how interested/pushy the other person is. If they’re genuinely interested, they can progress all the way to Detailed Discussion of sensory taste issues and IBS. If they’re just being pushy, they can self-select out at any stage before it gets too TMI or tiresome).

      P.S. I hate onions. All the alliums, actually. And mushrooms. And anything vaguely bitter, which is a lot of cooked vegetables. And anything spicy. And sickly sweet stuff like sweet potato and parsnip. Also find the texture of muesli and lentils frustrating and boring and icky (lentils also have an aftertaste, actually). This makes vegetarianism …difficult.

  64. So what’s funny is that, although I don’t stick to humanely raised meat (because I cannot afford to), I eat vegetarian fare more frequently than I eat meat. It’s very, very difficult for me to cook meat at home, I grew up never eating breakfast meats, and although I eat meat when I go out, I frequently opt for vegetarian fare because it’s stuff that appeals to me.

    I also don’t drink all that often, or drink much when I do drink. It’s just not something I do a lot. Last week, I went to dinner with my father-in-law, who does not drink at all (quit years ago), and he commented on the really amazing cocktail selection and made some suggestions. He was surprised that I declined, saying, “I don’t really drink all that much alcohol. Oooh, look at this entree!” But my subject change worked.

    My husband used to be what he called an “ethical flexitarian,” although he did so in private with GREAT embarrassment. He ate fish and humanely raised/ethically slaughtered beef and chicken. That meant that when we were home, we would sometimes eat meat, and when we were out, he wouldn’t. He kept his at-home meat-eating … not SECRET, but he didn’t publicize it, because he knew that it might frustrate people if he was “inconsistent” and he didn’t want to deal with the same drama you’re dealing with.

    What I would recommend, honestly, is that you consider dropping the vegetarian label. If you’re invited to a cook-out, offer to bring some vegetarian dishes. If you’re out to dinner, order a meatless meal.

    The point of my info above–that I’m not a vegetarian but I don’t eat much meat; that I do drink but I don’t drink often or in large quantities–is that you can absolutely tailor your consumption without labeling yourself. If someone says, “You eat meat, so why aren’t you eating it now?” you can say, “I’m in the mood for fettucine alfredo–why do you care?” If someone says, “Why are you eating a burger when you declined one at the last barbecue?” you don’t have to explain that the burger you’re currently enjoying is made from Whole Foods’ Grade 5 humanely raised beef. You can just say, “It’s a little creepy that you noticed that. I didn’t want a burger then, but I want to eat this one. What’s it to you?”

    You shouldn’t have to defend your choices, but you also don’t have to explain them. Wanting to eat something or not wanting to eat something is good enough. Hell, I confuse a lot of people because I don’t keep kosher (how could I give up shellfish?!!) but I don’t eat pork. “Why don’t you eat pork?” “I just don’t. Anyway, this clam chowder is ridonkulous.”

  65. If you tell a restaurant “No onions, please, I hate them” they will not put onions in your dish. If you tell them you are allergic, they are obligated to find pans/knives/plates/utensils, etc. that have never touched an onion so they don’t risk making you sick. Respect the difference between “preference” and “allergy.”

    I would go even further than this. As both an ex-waitress and as a picky eater (and oh my LORD, let me tell you that picky eaters are apparently another group of people that people just LOVE to lecture as if they’re not grown-ass adults who can choose their own goddamn food with no help from anyone else, thankyouverymuch), I have both served and asked for a *lot* of meals altered.

    As the diner, I have found that servers are 99.9% of the time just as eager to help me when I want to find a meal I’ll enjoy. It’s the goddamn people I’m with that are the problem. If I said “I don’t like them” I immediately started getting people ragging on my choice of foods. Nothing like having a table full of people your age treating you like you’re six, right? Eventually I learned the secret – and it was AS THE SERVER that I learned it!

    As the server, let me tell you that *lots* of people order food a specific way. Sauce on the side. Extra sauce. No pickles. Extra pickles. Lots of mayo, no relish. Chicken instead of fish. Half an order. Double order. Well done fries. Rice instead of fries. Hell, Subway is a perfect example that technically *everybody* is a picky eater – it’s a place where you can walk in and command a sandwich built to your exact specifications (well, unless you want real meat in your sandwich – yeah, I went there). But here’s what I finally picked up on: as a kid, I was constantly nagged about food. In fact our mother damn near force fed us some of our meals. Don’t get me wrong I love her to death, but I don’t think it’s a huge coincidence that both my sibling and I are picky eaters. So I got used to criticism of my meals and I assumed that’s what everybody went through, and I took it from my contemporaries when they started doing what my parents couldn’t do once I moved out. BUT – non-picky eaters were so used to not having their decisions to not eat something questioned, they took it for granted that a reasonable request would be accepted. AND IT WAS. AND IS. You don’t have to explain things to anybody! All you have to do is say “I don’t want this” and find out whether that’s possible or not! And neither I or any of my co-workers had any problem altering meals to suit if it was at all possible. If it was mixed in advance we apologized and offered alternatives, but it was our job as a server to give you a meal you will enjoy, and we always tried our best to help find something that will work. We didn’t give a damn why you did or didn’t want onions on your meal!

    As the diner, I am always polite, of course, and if they say “sorry, we can’t do that” I accept it and find something else, and if I find that the restaurant in question prefers not to allow ‘special orders’, I just pass on going there when other people want to go (but so far that’s been a total of 0 restaurants). I’ve never bothered explaining “no ____ please, I hate them”. I just say – to use CA’s example of onions – “I’ll have the burger, no onions please.” And if they bring me the burger with onions I pick them off and leave them on the side of the plate, and if they bring me something where onions are cooked right in, then I just say “sorry, but I asked for no onions with this meal and it has onions in it.” They apologize and fix it and generally a restaurant can be pretty fast about getting something redone when they’ve screwed up, and you’ll be maybe 5 or 10 minutes behind the rest of the table. What I’m saying is, if it’s not an allergy, you don’t have to explain anything to anybody about why you will or won’t eat anything. You are there to pay money to a business to cook something for you, and if they feel it’s worth their while they’ll take your money, and if they feel it’s not (and they’re a decent business) they’ll politely decline.

    That was a long rant for a simple suggestion on cutting down a scripted request, but I’m hoping it’ll help someone younger than me catch on a little sooner on how to get people to stop ragging on them about what’s on (or not on) their plate!

    1. I’m still trying to internalize this, because I’ve passed up some seriously tasty-sounding meals that happened to contain an ingredient that makes my brain and/or stomach roil. (It’s usually mushrooms. I don’t know why. Mushrooms are generally healthful and when I’ve have mushroom-flavored stuff without visible lumps of mushroom, it’s been tasty. Maybe it’s the texture. Maybe it’s just a psychic block at this point. Maybe I’m overthinking why I don’t like something.) The idea of “I’d love to have this burger, but please hold the mushrooms” just feels too much like Making A Fuss. Knowing that a lot of servers will be like, “Sure, whatever, no big” helps a lot. Thank you.

      1. I’ve always gotten good responses when I phrase it as “Is it possible to…” When I had my semester abroad in college, lo these many years ago, I was taught that that’s a polite way to make a request in French, but I found it carries over really well into English-language interactions so I just kept doing it. It acknowledges that it might *not* be feasible and gives the other person an out, so the request is softened. “Is it possible to get the chicken bruschetta pasta without the chicken? Oh, awesome, I’ll have that then, thank you!” “Is it possible to get the loaded pub chips without the bacon?” That time I ended up with a cup of bacon on the side, but I just gave it to someone else. “Is it possible to get the swiss melt burger without the mushrooms?” should be fine.

    2. Yeah, one of the advantages of going to a really *nice* restaurant for work was realising that part of their job was to give you the food you want. Less nice places tend to have to many readymade and premixed things to customise easily, but at least I learnt I could ask.

      On the other side, see two comments up for a fun ‘asking doesn’t always help even when you’re SUPER CLEAR’ story. Even though I know I can ask, I also know that half the time, it won’t help.

      1. Really nice places tend to train their people more thoroughly about the food offered, and also possible issues. Servers in upscale places have always been willing to go ask the chef if they don’t know the answer to an ingredient question. They tend to have made things THERE so they actually know what is in the food and the kitchen is usually more able to adjust ingredients.

        The one thing being Celiac has done for me is that it got me more accustomed to speaking up for myself.*

        *i know, however, that I am fortunate that I can eat at such places, and that I generally can speak up for myself. My life is easier because of these things that not everyone can do.

  66. My spouse and I keep a 97% vegetarian kitchen (literally the only meat we have on hand are mini-pepperonis for pizzas) and eat meat when we’re out of the house. We also eat at home almost all of the time so effectively we eat very little meat. This is not for ethical or environmental reasons, it’s a matter of economics and also of preference. I grew up in a meat-heavy part of the country, and even there you didn’t get people being all judgy over someone preferring vegetables to meat, as long as they didn’t make a big deal out of it. My mom eats no meat except for occasional pork (and fish), doesn’t call herself a vegetarian/flexitarian/whateveritarian, eschewed meat at family gatherings, and it was just considered a weird quirk, because *she didn’t call attention to her diet*.

    I agree that you need to drop the labels and stop trying to explain your diet. Aside from a few foodie outliers, I promise that nobody cares. Unless you’re going to a Brazilian steakhouse, there’s going to be some meatless options on the menu, and even if there isn’t, eating meat two days in a row isn’t the end of the world. There is not some Standard American Diet police force who will fine you for not eating a typical proportion of meat.

    1. Brazilian steakhouses actually often have really excellent salad bars. It feels deeply weird being the only one eating the salad bar while everyone else is getting endless-meat-onna-stick, but it’s delicious and generally even has some protein of some kind.

      1. all the Brazilian steakhouse talk in this comments section is making me realize I haven’t been to my local one in a few years. it has an AMAZING salad bar, mmm, so good.

  67. Rereading and looking back at the comments I wonder if people are looking at it from criticism-from-carnivores perspective, but is the LW mostly getting criticism from vegetarians?

    “I am very interested in vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants, what my vegetarian friends are cooking, and the vegetarian options in the cafeteria. I eagerly discuss these topics with the vegetarians, but then they act betrayed when they see me eating meat later.”

    And… it may be a culture clash. You are looking at it like Theology 101 and expanding your horizons and learning about another culture, they may be looking at it as you’re looking to convert and feel betrayed that you just see their passion as something to dabble in. So for them it might be better to be much more upfront about “I still eat meat, but vegetarian food is amazing and I prefer it most of the time.” but if they are Serious Vegetarians then they might not ever accept that, and that’s entirely on them.

    I think it’s important if you’re making things awkward with your vegetarian friends by going “hi yes fellow vegetarian I too am a vegetarian isn’t it awesome being a vegetarian?” without them bringing it up, then they’re going to understandably be a bit confused later when they see you chowing down on some meat and maybe you should back off a little and let them take the lead in bringing up food topics or not? The ‘very interested’ sort of gives the impression that you’re starting the conversations there and setting the topics.

    And I may be entirely off base and these things just come up, but it might be worth figuring out which friends are the ones you call up at all hours to squee that you just made the most amazing and perfect mushroom burger ever and want to share a recipe for non-dairy mozzarella, the ones you discuss the ethics of factory farming vs. the ecological damage of monocrop culture, and the ones you just go grab a veggie pizza with without making a big deal about it.

  68. The things I’ve learned ordering catering for a fairly stable group at work, an incomplete list:

    – Ask for both dietary requirements/restrictions and preferences. You can’t always please everybody, but asking for preferences as well increases the odds that you’ll be able to delight them on purpose.
    – Asking for preferences does mean that the guy who likes to eat nearly an entire cow as rare as possible will tell you about it. You will also hear from people who wouldn’t have otherwise felt comfortable sharing their strong aversions, non-life-threatening medical issues, and other awkward food stuff. Those are the people you’re asking this question to make life easier for.
    – Take people at their word. Don’t badger them for details. If you need to ask clarifying questions, be respectful. “Can’t you just pick them out” is not respectful.
    – Don’t take any requirement, restriction, or preference personally.
    – Ask for dietary requirements/preferences ahead of time and keep them on file, so if there’s a last-minute thing you can order with reasonable confidence.
    – Ask for dietary requirements/preferences fairly shortly before finalizing each order, with a deadline, so people know when they have to get their information to you.
    – Cross-check and update your file every time someone gives you new information. Stuff changes all the time — new diagnosis, new medicine interaction, change in tastes, burned out on that thing after having it for 5 straight years in grad school.
    – Treat the dietary requirements/preferences as somewhat confidential information unless you learn otherwise.
    – Prepare a high-level summary of your team’s dietary needs that you can give to catering. This protects your team’s privacy (the catering crew doesn’t generally need to know by name who goes with what preference) and makes things easier on the caterers who honestly probably don’t care as long as nobody’s getting something they shouldn’t have. For example: group of 40, 30% vegetarian, 3 gluten-free omnivores, 1 lactose-intolerant omnivore, 2 shellfish allergies, 1 tree nut allergy (peanuts ok).
    – Not everyone is going to want to eat the same thing. That’s OK. Not everyone has to eat the same thing! If the group is large enough, you can order smaller amounts of a larger variety of things.
    – Be on the alert for intersecting requirements. If the same person is dairy intolerant and gluten intolerant, it does them no good if all the gluten-free dishes have dairy and all the dairy-free dishes have gluten. The plight of the mushroom-allergic vegan is a sad one. I address this with a spreadsheet and a lot of swearing.
    – Be on the alert for requirements that can be collapsed together. The main dish which will serve the uncomplicated vegan will also serve the person with lactose intolerance who can’t have pork. I also address this with the spreadsheet.
    – My spreadsheet is a matrix of people going down, and dietary restrictions going across. I like conditional formatting that highlights red and green to help me visualize. I also have a separate text document with their original phrasing because sometimes that’s important. (Sometimes this is when I find I need to ask clarifying questions, such as if someone said “vegan, nut allergy” and the caterer is proposing coconut in the vegan stir-fry, does that nut allergy include coconut?)
    – I assume that at least another 10% of people will like the look of the vegetarian entree than who are vegetarian as a restriction. When my group is 20% vegetarian I order for 30% vegetarian.
    – Throw yourself on the caterer’s mercy if that’s a practical option. I tend to give them the restrictions summary and order “chef’s special” which results in cost-effective, seasonal dishes which meet the requirements and surprise my team who are used to cafeteria food (plus) although it’s a surprise what they’re going to be (minus).
    – Demand ingredients labels as a matter of course, with special attention for the dietary requirements in your summary. The mashed potatoes might be: Potatoes, olive oil, salt. VEGAN, GLUTEN-FREE
    – My workplace cafeteria is so fucking sick of hearing “the stir fry has bell peppers and the menu doesn’t say that it had bell peppers in it”, but someday the fuckers will learn that they’ve got to list all their nightshades.
    – Prepare a contingency plan for what to do if the catering falls through or somebody can’t eat what’s there.
    – The best $REQUIREMENT-compliant dishes are not the ones that have a substandard substitution for the forbidden ingredient, but ones which were never intended to have any in the first place.
    – I have been using https://captainawkward.com/2013/05/15/479-trying-to-be-more-social-when-you-have-serious-dietary-restrictions/#comment-53962 as a guideline on diversifying the menu for a while.

    1. I would hire you so much. For just about anything. Because you are well above and beyond here. KUDOS.

    2. I love you, and I hope that the next place that I work has someone who cares as much as you seem to.

    3. Yes yes yes, re dishes that were never expected to contain the ingredient in the first place! I like to call this the tofu burger vs.the tofu stir-fry rule.

    4. ‘– The best $REQUIREMENT-compliant dishes are not the ones that have a substandard substitution for the forbidden ingredient, but ones which were never intended to have any in the first place’


  69. I love the Captain’s suggestions for how not to be a massive dickwad about other people’s food. I have massive anxieties about eating in public and if everyone stuck to those simple rules then I just…wouldn’t.

    I freak out a bit if people comment on my food or even so much as ask what it is while I’m eating it. This *could* be because I was bullied at school by kids who’d stare at my lunch and go “Ewww, what IS that?!” then spend the rest of the meal going on about how disgusting I was. But whatever. The same goes for someone who’s vegetarian or doesn’t eat certain foods because Reasons. Those Reasons are their Reasons and none of my damned business. I’ve a friend who’s mostly vegetarian too. She never eats “anything with four legs” and very rarely eats fish or poultry but when she does and people go “That’s not vegetaaaaaaaaarian!” she just responds, “I never said I was vegetarian. I just prefer vegetarian food and eat meat very occasionally.” Repeat at nauseam, if necessary.

    Also. If I’m socialising with anyone who’s eating when I am not, then I get really uncomfortable. But if anyone suggests I eat when not everyone else is, that’s way worse. In that situation, people…watch you eating. A lot. Don’t stare at people who are eating. Please.

    I spend a lot of my social time in a sporting environment: a place that’s very male dominated and the food is very burger and chips-y with not a lot of choice. I find that guys often try to police what I’m eating there because female (they never do it to one another). I often get “aren’t you watching your figure?” “That looks…healthy” and once, “Eating AGAIN, xebi?” This was when I’d grabbed a cheeseburger because I hadn’t eaten in THREE DAYS. I usually just reply, “Thanks for your concern, but what I eat is really my business.”

  70. “So… I am very interested in vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants, what my vegetarian friends are cooking, and the vegetarian options in the cafeteria. I eagerly discuss these topics with the vegetarians, but then they act betrayed when they see me eating meat later.”

    Dear LW – are you telling your vegetarian friends that you are a vegetarian or are you telling them that you are interested in vegetarian cooking? I’m a vegetarian in a very “hard to find an option for veggie food” town. I am extremely excited to find other vegetarians because there are so few of us around here, and it is sort of an “instant bond” when meeting new people (especially at buffets where three of us are trying to scrap up enough sad iceberg salad to actually have something to eat). I don’t think I would act betrayed if I saw someone who claimed to be veggie eating meat later, but I do get perhaps your veggie friends feeling disappointed if you were eating meat and you said you were a vegetarian/vegan (or implied that you were one). It’s not because of the meat eating, but more of the “oh, damn, was hoping to have another person to discuss things with” and if you’re not up front about the “part-time” part of your vegetarianism, it can be disappointing perhaps because they have felt they have found another “eye rolling, guess we’re eating cupcakes for dinner” friend. (This happens to my friends who are Celiac, too, when they see someone who “doesn’t eat gluten” eating another slice of pizza, by the way. It’s not so much judgey at you, but more “oh, I wish we actually had the same eating habits” and perhaps some “damnit, that person is going to make it harder for me to get actual vegetarian/gluten-free food later.”)

    (NOTE: I love talking about vegetarian stuff to non-vegetarians! More people bringing ‘quin-know-ah’ to potlucks! And I do love the list above – if one more person asks me where I’m getting my protein…)

  71. I have to say I disagree a bit on one of the captain’s points. When someone hosts a meal, there is a ton of work and expense involved. Moreover, preparing a special, extra dish for the single “type” of eater (whether vegetarian or otherwise) involves even more work and cost. Thus, having someone show up and complain about the offerings is a huge faux pas in my book. The best thing you can do, I suppose, is to give the host plenty of warning in advance and offer to bring something yourself.

    1. This. Also as a minor bit, if you’re open to people bringing their own food, please let them know!

      My husband has really bad food allergies to a ridiculously common food additive and as such he doesn’t eat out and very very rarely lets anyone else make food. Because it’s harder to go “You have to read each and every single label on everything that touches the food and not only recognize the allergy additive, but know that ‘spices’ ‘flavorings’ ‘natural flavorings’ ‘broth’ ‘seasoning’ ‘natural/added color’ all mean ” ?????? mebbe death” and can be added to anything, even raw chicken. And to trust that someone else is as diligent about each and every label and cross contamination when if they screw up they’ll likely just feel a little sad, and he gets a fun filled ride to the hospital and a big bill on top of all the symptoms.

      But it’s amazing how many people get indignant and act offended when he offers to eat before or bring his own food because sheesh, their food is safe! Does he really think they’re going to poison him on purpose, ha ha? And he tries to explain that it doesn’t matter if they’re the president of the Cooking For Food Allergies Committee if he doesn’t get to read every label he’s not going to feel safe eating it. People still get really worked up and offended if he’s not willing to try their food. Thankfully the group of friends we’ve got now are all very understanding, but I do wish it was a little more accepted to say “Hey, I’ll be glad to meet you guys at *restaurant* or *party* but I will be eating before hand, so I’m just there to visit” without people getting horrified and insisting they have to accommodate him somehow. They can, by letting him eat before he goes or bring his own food.

      1. Oh my gawd, I loathe phrases like “natural flavors” and “natural colors.” I have cooked for many people with different food allergies or intolerances in my life, and DAMN those phrases cover a multitude of potential food-restriction gotchas. And so many brands won’t tell you what’s in the natural flavors/colors. No, food manufacturer, I don’t need to know your proprietary spice blend, but is it gluten-free? Dairy-free? How about corn-free? *headdesk*

        1. I keep two e-mail folders for those, snotty no-we-won’t-tell-you e-mails and pleasant helpful ones. Like when he was thinking of trying hard apple cider and realized… oh yeah, alcoholic beverages don’t need any ingredient labels at all, but the company was very nice about it when e-mailed.

        2. My newest problem is this, exactly. Caramel color can, but does not always or even mostly, contain wheat. It is my most common minor glutening ingredient.
          Caramel color is in so MANY MANY THINGS! and I must consider it roulette, like modified food starch is, because one never knows for certain if it is safe or not.

          Minor glutening, for me, is a bout of sleepiness to the point of having real trouble staying awake for about three hours. Minor glutening is, for me, a tiny amount of caramel food coloring or modified food starch, or soy sauce(it often contains wheat!).
          Major glutening is much worse. My body decides to purge all, again, for about three hours. This can be set off by someone browning the meat in wheat flour, using flour to thicken something like cheese sauce or soups, or, using beer as a secret ingredient in a marinade or bbq sauce. Unlabeled ingredients are painful, as are undocumented recipe steps that people don’t think about(the roux….you made it with wheat flour!), and wooden spoons shared across pots.

          Once upon a time I read with horror that some places mix pancake batter in with their scrambled eggs to make them fluffier.
          And then, I understood why I got sick at Local Breakfast Place when all I had was eggs and bacon. *sigh*

          “Secret Recipes” can go take a long walk off a short pier.

          1. The “look out for wheat” issue that blew my mind when I was helping a wheat intolerant kid navigate the food world was french fries. So many places batter their fries to make them “crispier.” You don’t need to batter the potatoes to have crispy fries. You just need to cook them properly. Potatoes crisp up just fine without flour!

            One of the most frustrating things was seasoning mixes. So many of them have flour mixed in, even when the seasoning mix isn’t something you would expect to have thickening properties.

          2. Fries that are not gluten free are so frustrating.
            And I don’t think to ask, sometimes, because why would they not be safe?

          3. Fries are almost never gluten free – very few places have a gluten free fryer which negates the wheat coating issue entirely.

            Those that do, though, tend to have gluten free fries because they truly get gluten issues. So yay!

            Packaged foods are required by law to disclose if they contain any of the big 8 allergens – including wheat -, or if they may contain them (like food starch from an unnamed source.) If they’re not, you definitely have a case for complaining to the company.

  72. Think about it in terms of cognitive resource. When you tell a new acquaintance you’re a vegetarian (or gluten-intolerant, or allergic to nuts, or whatever), it becomes one of the things they file away in their head about you. So when they see you biting into a burger (or whatever) it’s not a “betrayal” but it does suddenly bring complexity and uncertainty to what they thought was a straightforward, easy-to-understand fact about you. And that drains cognitive resource. They need to revisit what they thought they knew about you and examine whether they misunderstood the general concept of “allergy” or “vegetarian” or whatever. And maybe they’ve already put in lots of effort trying to cater to what they thought was a fixed, non-negotiable dietary requirement of yours, so now they feel silly and as if that effort was pointless. Or they told other people about your dietary restriction while helping to organise something and now they’re wondering if they spread misinformation. Revisiting previously-closed issues, dealing with uncertainty, social embarrassment and being told your previous work was wasted…all drains of cognitive resource. So no wonder people act irritated and confused (though “betrayed” seems a strong way to put it).

    My advice would just echo all the many, many commenters above: tell the truth in the first place, even if it is slightly more complex than simple vegetarianism, and stop calling yourself a vegetarian when you’re not one. Sharing the slightly-more-complex reality might even open up interesting new connections and conversations. It doesn’t have to be negative!

    1. I like this. It’s not that they are mad or upset per se but you’ve moved out of the ‘box’ they mentally have for you under ‘food’ and ‘dining’ and they need to revisit it.

      1. Yes, exactly! I’m not saying challenging people’s preconceptions is always a bad thing, but there’s a world of difference between “Wow, this documentary completely changed the way I think about ants!” and “Oh, it looks like I was wrong about the opening hours of the shop I go to and now I’m not sure if it’ll be open when I go there on Wednesday night.”

  73. No advice, unlike everyone else, just want to say I LOVE this question as a fellow part-time vegetarian. It’s hard to do away with the cultural expectation to explain your food choices, especially when people side-eye “but I like the vegetarian options better!” Ugh. Peopling. Hard.

  74. This isn’t precisely the same thing, but I’ve experienced a certain amount of this lately. I’ve switched to a ketogenic diet (which is a very low carb but higher fat and protein diet) for weight related reasons, so what I eat looks… odd… to anyone who’s around me for multiple meals. If they see me eat breakfast, all I get are remarks upon cholesterol and heart attacks (because that’s what eggs and bacon every morning mean, apparently). If they see me eat lunch, I get incredulous ‘why are you starving yourself, you look fine, how is that satisfying!’ etc (because they don’t realise that a protein bar is quite filling, or the small brownie looking think has a meal’s worth of fat and protein in it, all they see is the bag of green beans or the salad). If they see dinner, the make smart ass remarks again about the amount of fat (because cheese and cooking with butter or leftover bacon grease), or heart attacks (‘you’re eating so much meat, hahaha!’). God help me if they ever figure out that a ketogenic diet is more or less gluten free.

    My point is, if someone feels like judging you upon what you eat, they’re going to freaking judge you for what you eat no matter what you are eating. If you ever feel the urge to do this just … don’t. In the past, I can admit I’ve mocked how many people go gluten free, which makes me super embarrassed now. But my best friend had a biopsy and was diagnosed as celiac, so I saw how shitty all the judging of that is, and don’t do it now (though I still reserve the right to mock bottled water marketed as non-GMO and gluten-free). I’ve taken to just replying with, “That’s nice, but I’m fine,” or a “Oh, that’s interesting,” said quite deadpan while staring at them and continuing to eat my meal.

    I would suggest maybe talking to a couple close friends that you are with quite about about helping deflect this shit? It sucks to have to do that, but like a lot of things on this site, a good Team You can help you so much. After my friend was diagnosed, we talked a bit, and now I’m excellent at snarkily getting people to shut up about gluten-free foods. At least part of this is because I used to be one of those people, so I know good ways to get them to shut up about it, too 😀

  75. We have the same diet! My friend came up with the term “sustainatarian”, which I really like. When people ask (as they always do), I describe it as “mostly vegetarian unless I can find sustainably farmed meat”, and then depending on their level of interest, I get to have conversations about sustainable agriculture and antibiotics and climate change, or just mention that no, I haven’t seen that Portlandia episode, but yes, that is exactly what my dietary preference actually is.

    Also sometimes I like to describe myself as “vegetarian except for bacon, which is a vegetable anyway”.

  76. Hey OP! I have similar food habits to you (I was going to go into detail about my own choices and caveats but who cares). Totally agree that even mentioning that you prefer to go for Infrequent and/or Happy Meat options where-that’s-possible-and-not-too-much-of-an-imposition can get read as judgmental and holier-than-thou. So I tend to focus on my food choices as just my own personal preference, and since I’ve started doing that with a no big deal kind of attitude I’ve not had anyone react badly or take it as an invitation to start a debate.

    Here are some approaches I like to use, depending on the context and the audience:

    * Not even acknowledging any bigger-picture side to things when someone queries a particular food choice: ‘I just actually really like / am really in the mood for [specific food item]’. Even the most fervent vegetarian-hater can’t argue with that!

    * Responding to ‘oh, I didn’t know you were a vegetarian’ (usually because they’ve noticed me searching for veggie options, or consistently bringing in veggie food, and surely only vegetarians would do that): ‘I’m not a strict vegetarian but I am pretty into veggie food, I often like it more!’ / ‘Not really, but my staple foods are generally veggie, meat is more of an occasional thing’.

    * In response to further enquiries about whether this is a diet/moral/religious thing, depending on the crowd: ‘Honestly, I just prefer it’, ‘ I grew up eating meat relatively infrequently, so it feels normal to me’, ‘It’s a mix of all sorts of stuff… it’s a bit about the animal welfare and environment impact, but it also just suits me. And my budget!’. Etc. Being a little self-deprecating helps, at least where I am (UK). (Also meat is relatively expensive here so that is a good go-to with some).

    * Simply changing the topic without them noticing I meant to: ‘No, I’m not a full on vegetarian, but I do eat a lot of vegetarian food. In fact this one time I was in a second hand bookshop with a friend and I saw a cookbook with a title ‘Mostly Vegetarian’, and I pointed it out and said ‘That’s me!’ and then when I took it off the shelf the subtitle was exactly ‘That’s me!’. We laughed so hard I just had to buy it and…’ (immediately use having the conversational floor to move the topic on to recipes, cookbooks, second hand bookshops, the friend I was with, the city it was in…). I’m sure your daughter and her friends can provide much anecdote-fodder.

    Writing this I notice I’ve concentrated on ways to deflect the conversation, which is in the spirit of the Captain’s post and definitely preferable to getting into an argument. But if people seem more friendly-curious, or if our conversations can handle a bit of politics friction, then I have no problem going into my thoughts about it. I’ve found often if I keep the tone sort of casual, introducing only one or two concerns as appropriate rather than speechifying, and focusing on it clearly as a ‘me’ thing, people tend to react okay. They’ll generally say things like ‘it just doesn’t seem like a proper meal if it doesn’t contain meat, you know, I would still feel hungry if I didn’t have any meat for lunch’, to which I’ll smile and nod and say something general about how yeah, lots of people feel that way, but everyone’s different. Generally not setting up something adversarial unnecessarily, by taking it as a purely conversational remark even if it was said defensively.

    I actually haven’t had any bad reactions from ‘real’ vegetarians or vegans, I find we have more in common than not even though I’m not a card carrying member of the tribe.

  77. A subject near and dear to my heart. My cohort had enough vegetarians and vegans in it that I got used to planning the occasional restaurant outing or BBQ to include tasty options for this or that vegetarian friend, and I never really considered it a hardship. Then about a year ago my BIL married a woman who’s a pescatarian but other than that mostly vegan, and that’s been a whole level up in terms of cooking/feeding her. She is incredibly gracious about it– she doesn’t insist on eating vegan at our house (she’ll eat cheese pizza, for example), she always tells me not to worry about feeding her when we have her over for dinner, and she brings vegan contributions for big meals like holidays or family reunions (which are usually delicious). But, because of the food culture I grew up in– which is that too much food for your guests is only barely enough– I am always worried about including something, or multiple somethings, that she can eat whenever she is over at our house.

  78. Hi, LW! I’ve not read all the comments, so sorry if someone already said this, but I think packed home meals are a great solution most of the time.

    My eating habits are similar to what you describe, though mostly for economic/preference reasons (I get sick of meat very fast, plus it’s more expensive than vegetables and pulse). As a result, I’ve made it a habit to carry my food and drink with me and eat it on the way to joining a friends’ outing, or during said outing if we’re going to spend some time sitting down. Occasionally I make extra so we can share, and nobody has any problem with that. I’ve taken my own food to serious meetings, and nobody has had a problem with it in that setting either. This poses the advantage of restaurant-picking no longer being a problem, since there’ll be enough paying customers in the group for me to be able to eat my food without being asked to leave.

    I think the reason people don’t give me grief is that I’m very matter-of-fact about it. When you treat something you do as a totally normal and boring thing, not drawing attention to it, people often let it go. When it’s meal-time, I just get my food out and start eating like everyone else, and people usually don’t comment. Sometimes I’m asked for my reasons, but I just answer “I’m on a tight budget” and that stops the questioner in their tracks.

    If you’re used to carry a purse or a backpack with you, it’s easy to fit a 0,5 L thermos, a medium-sized tupperware, a pair of chopsticks (or a spork) and a piece of fruit in most of them. This could also be an option for your daughter, I think.

    Whatever you decide, LW, you don’t have to explain yourself or defend your choices to people. If someone tries to argue with you about your own life, they’re a jerk and not worthy of your time, but most people won’t care about what you eat and why, unless you decide to start a conversation on the topic. Best of luck!

  79. I would refrain from calling myself a vegetarian and instead say something like, “I’m more of a flexitarian, I don’t mind eating vegetarian and sometimes prefer it, but I do meat occasionally.”

  80. Yes, that’s true, and I think it’s definitely part of why some people will get frustrated.

    Although I think part of what makes it extra complicated is that it’s also true that some of the time people really do specifically not want to eat YOUR meat, e.g., if they have only specific types of meat they will eat or only from very specific sources. (E.g., if you only eat meat from animals that were pastured all their lives, or only wild game hunted by people you know personally and can vouch for. And meat labeling standards in some countries are such that even ‘free range’ or ‘humanely raised’ may frequently be used to refer to farming practices that some people will be unwilling to condone or participate in).

    But it’s hard to find a diplomatic way of saying that to someone who eats meat from those sources, and explaining it isn’t always appropriate – it’s far easier and more polite to just say you don’t eat meat, or to say you only eat meat you cook yourself (even the second can be difficult, since as you say, it can sound insulting).

  81. I recently heard the term – Flexitarian

    wiki – A semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet is one that is plant-based with the occasional inclusion of meat products. In 2003, the American Dialect Society voted flexitarian as the year’s most useful word and defined it as “a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat”.

  82. LW, feel you on this. It can be very frustrating to feel the need to justify yourself or explain your personal choices. Ragen Chastain at Dances with Fat does a wonderful job of articulating the nature of and the problems with food policing and offers one million excellent ways to respond. There’s a food-policing response for every conceivable situation and mood somewhere on that site. Here’s a link to some of her entries on food policing, but this is by no means everything there is there:


    I hope that link is helpful for you. I have to say, this part of your letter stuck out to me:

    “I have good reasons to eat meat sometimes and require vegetarian food at other times.”

    Sure, of course. You’re the boss of your dinner plate. You don’t have to explain what you eat or when, why, or how you eat it to anyone. I offered an opinion on a different thread that engaging in a fight over a personal matter validates the other person’s right to comment or opine on the matter. It really is none of their business. At the same time, however–and correct me if I’m wrong about this–but your letter seems to suggest that you have a right to comment or opine on other people’s choices. I’m looking specifically at the shade you’re throwing on the “typical North American diet” (which is not actually all that typical). Well, just like you have good reasons for your choices, so does everyone else. Those reasons could include culture, habit, time limits, preferences, budget, physical health, mental health, emotional health, politics, religion, and more. In my house, we eat lots of different things for lots of different reasons. Some of the choices we make might line up with yours, some of them might not. Even when the choices we make are not the choices you would make, *we have good reasons for making them*. Food is a political and philosophical issue for you, and that’s fine. It is for me, too. It isn’t political or philosophical for everyone though; this is also okay. Eating food is the most personal, private act we perform in public, and while it is excellent and good to have an opinion about the food system qua system, individual choices–even the choice not to think about it–are simply not open to comment or review. You don’t want other people opining on your food choices, and there is lots of good advice here about how to achieve this. As you adopt them, you might also reconsider adjusting your own perspective. For example, I took my kids to McDonald’s a few weeks ago and bought them McNugget Happy Meals with fries, sodas, and milkshakes. Why? None of your business. Do we eat that way all the time? None of your business. How does this fit in with my broader food philosophy? None of your business. Look, here’s what I’m getting at: it seems to me that if you can rejigger your perspective to respect the food choices of everyone else, it will be easier (more natural, more emotionally consistent, etc.) to engender others’ respect for your own.

    1. Look, here’s what I’m getting at: it seems to me that if you can rejigger your perspective to respect the food choices of everyone else, it will be easier (more natural, more emotionally consistent, etc.) to engender others’ respect for your own.

      Word! There are no better words for this. You’re more likely to get the reaction you want if it is the one you deliver.

  83. This has been very interesting/helpful to me as I have nearly the same eating habits as the LW. But my problem is that I WAS vegetarian for a while, and told people I was vegetarian, so when I started eating fish again.. well, I have known for years the issues of people who are vegetarian being told, “Oh hey, you eat chicken right? Because so-and-so is vegetarian and eats chicken.” I didn’t want to be one of those people who made vegetarianism confusing for people, but there’s really not a good way to say “Well, I changed some of my eating habits, and I do eat fish now, but not chicken, and only grass-fed beef.” I guess if people are curious, I don’t have a problem saying that, but it’s awkward when people recall that I’m vegetarian and I have to mentally debate if it’s worth going into the details, or if I should just eat whatever is put in front of me and hope they don’t notice that I eat fish sometimes. I actually go out of my way to not eat fish at work because of this – okay, also partially because I know it stinks!!

    What further complicates things is that it seems like no matter how many times I have explained to my boyfriend that I want my meat to be grass-fed and prefer my fish to be wild caught (my reasons are environmental), when we go to restaurants and I say “I don’t know the origin of this..” he’ll say, “This restaurant uses really high quality meat!” But high quality isn’t the same as grass-fed! We also used to bicker about chicken, and I finally just said, “I just don’t like it.” But the problem is that now that he cooks for work, he says things like, “You just haven’t had it prepared correctly!” Ugh. I don’t want to eat it! Leave me alone! 😀

    1. “You just haven’t had it prepared correctly!”
      1. There is no magic preparation that makes it OK for person A to push person B to eat something they don’t want.
      2. Maybe A is right! Maybe B is missing out! It is still not OK to pressure B to eat something they don’t want.

      Too much for a t-shirt, so I sometimes want to buy a billboard right outside A’s house.

    2. I have a lot of food allergies, and like many allergies they tend to change over time. There are things I couldn’t eat at all ten years ago that I eat a lot of now, things I ate a lot five years ago that I can barely eat at all now, and everything in between, and I occasionally get a lot of pushback from people who are like “SIX YEARS AGO YOU LOVED MY BLACK BEAN SOUP” and it’s like, sure, but if I eat it now, I will get the kind of migraine that made my doctor tell me that I’m an increased risk for fatal stroke, WELP, NO BLACK BEANS FOR ME.

  84. More dieting etiqette: If someone’s on a diet, and refuses dessert, or whatever, don’t try to talk them into it. No “ooh, you deserve to live a little”, etc. Stop hindering their progress if they’re trying to achieve something and maintain their hard work.
    This happened to my coworker the other day when someone was sharing sweets, and it was weird how much he was being cajoled into eating some crummy little chews, y’know? Like, other people were really invested in talking him into eating the sweets. Weeeird.

    Also don’t comment on how much/little fat/skinny people eat, or assume that their eating must be disordered or somehow a source of entertainment just because of their size.

    I’m personally bored of people telling me I “eat like a bird” or need to “fill yer boots” when I’m not hungry, or that “I don’t know where you put it all” when I have a big appetite. I don’t like having my metabolism scrutinized whilst I’m just trying to enjoy the flavour of whatever fuel for my body.
    My Beloved even does it whenever we have a big meal, and he’s all like “How do you fit your organs inside you?” even though I’m in proportion to my size and like all mammals, my abdomen stretches to accommodate… Seriously, my eating is not a performance for your amusement, grrr!

  85. LW,
    You are not any kind of vegetarian. You are no more a part time vegetarian when you eat a veggie kabob and then an omnivore when you have bacon the next meal than I am a part time vegan when I eat oatmeal with almond milk who becomes an ovo-lacto-vegetarian when I put butter on my toast I eat with my eggs. Cut down on 90% of the confusion/irritation by excising “vegetarian” from your descriptions of your diet, it’s functionally meaningless.

    You are a Michael Pollan acolyte, best described as someone who “eats food, mostly plants, not too much” or someone who “uses meat as a flavoring or a sometimes food” This is far more accurate than calling yourself any type of vegetarian and will garner you far less friction and discussions in social situations. I would not bring up health or ethical reasons unless you want to get into endless discussions about Why This Is Super Moral or Why Your Doctor Is Wrong. I would not bring up the particulars of the provenence of animal protein you find acceptable unless you’re with foodies who eat it for status and taste or you really want to get into an argument with everyone.

    1. +1

      And it’s really normal to have some foods you don’t like or don’t eat for whatever reason. You don’t need to explain it. When I treat my preferences like no big deal, people go along with it. When I point out that I don’t drink or I don’t think fish is food or whatever, then we run into trouble, and really I started the discussion.

    2. I just want to say that I eat mostly vegetarian and anyone who called me a Michael Pollan acolyte would get a rude gesture and a termination of interaction.

      “Vegetarian” is not always edge-defined. You don’t stop being a vegetarian when someone slips you chicken broth risotto. Vegetarian is, as many people have pointed out, a diet and a political label and an aspirational label and a convenience label.

      Now, the argument that the LW will probably get less friction if they describe themselves in terms of “I eat X” instead of “I am X” is probably true and has been made several times in this thread. Saying that the LW isn’t cool enough to hang with the REAL vegetarians is unhelpful and unkind.

      1. I just want to say that I eat mostly vegetarian and anyone who called me a Michael Pollan acolyte would get a rude gesture and a termination of interaction.
        Ha! What do you find objectionable about Michael Pollan? Michael Pollan is very thoughtful about his food consumption like the LW is.

        “Vegetarian” is not always edge-defined. You don’t stop being a vegetarian when someone slips you chicken broth risotto
        My examples were conscious and voluntary consumption of choices I make on a regular basis. The LW was talking about her conscious and voluntary consumption ,habits, not hidden ingredients in a one-off meal.

        Saying that the LW isn’t cool enough to hang with the REAL vegetarians is unhelpful and unkind.

        1)the LW specifically asked how she could get people to “stop commenting on her food choices” which generally means “pick the most accurate food label that is understandable with a minimum of discussion”. For those purposes, “part time vegetarian” is unhelpful.
        2) It is “unkind” and “unhelpful” for people like the LW to render the iterations of pesce/ovo/lacto/vegetarian meaningless for people who identify as such and to confuse people who barely understand what it is. If someone assures me something is vegetarian, I don’t want to eat it only to find mystery beef broth. LW might shrug, someone like my mother will be doing penance and LW isn’t the only person who has moral reasons for what she eats.

        1. I find what of Michael Pollan’s writing that I have read–which, I will admit, is in the form of articles and excerpts, not his books–to be patronizing and classist. I also find the flippant motto “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” to be nails-on-chalkboard excruciating to read over and over again from well-meaning people. I haven’t had as bad issues with disordered eating as many people in my cohort, but hearing “Not too much!” from someone who has set themselves up as a food authority puts up my hackles like nobody’s damn business, and “mostly plants” may be good advice for us as a species over a population, but given the fucked up nature of human digestion and economics of food production I read that and get a ringing in my ear which sounds like someone shouting “Fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you” over and over again.

          If someone assures me something is vegetarian, I don’t want to eat it only to find mystery beef broth. LW might shrug, someone like my mother will be doing penance and LW isn’t the only person who has moral reasons for what she eats.

          If I was assured something was vegetarian and then I later found it contained meat products I would be offended and angry. Not because I don’t eat meat, but because that’s a terrible thing to do or the person assuring me doesn’t know what vegetarian means.

          How many voluntary meals involving meat products can someone eat before they stop being allowed to define themselves as a vegetarian? Does once a year make you a vegetarian who cheats? Only when visiting family because faaaaaaaaaaaaamily won’t allow you to skip home-cooked meals always made with meat products? If you’re doing it for your health when you know you’re going to visit faaaaaaaaaamily and you find the option of eating meat occasionally less objectionable than either vomiting all over your mother’s sofa or cutting off your relatives? I mean, I’m just trying to get a sense of where you’re drawing the line, because you appear to have one, like if you get tricked into eating bacon you’re still okay and you get to have a martyr complex about it but if you decide to eat chicken “just this once” you get thrown out until you get your born-again vegetarian altar call or something.

          As it happens I agree with you that the LW shouldn’t call herself a vegetarian, but she’s not, and I don’t think “part-time vegetarian” is such a horrible sin against labeling unless you consider “vegetarian” a badge you have to earn with good behavior and the LW is cheating the game. The question of “is this label useful and doing what you want it to do” is completely separate from whether she is “any kind of vegetarian,” and I maintain that coming and saying “You’re not any kind of vegetarian and you need to stop calling yourself that” like you’re terminating her membership is a dick move.

          When the LW said she mostly got crap from vegetarians and vegans, this was exactly what I was picturing.

          1. I think your comment may be reinforcing part of the prior point though. Why doesn’t the person assuring you about the soup know what “vegetarian” means? Sometimes because it truly is outside their realm of experience but I would also suggest that it occurs because of the blurring and mislabelling that then causes confusion as to what the term really means. If there ARE no edges–then why on earth should a vegetarian care about whether there is beef broth in their soup this one (or two or 400) times? After all the soup is mostly vegetarian–right–barley, vegetables, 1 cup of water and let’s say 2oz of beef broth–what’s the big deal? The other vegetarian didn’t mind!

            However, I do agree with your overall point regarding the particular label the LW uses. I don’t think “mostly vegetarian” should confuse anyone. Using the same reasoning as above, people should understand that more often than not, LW won’t eat meat or seafood, which means that sometimes LW will. Similarly “part-time vegetarian” means that on at least some occasions the LW chooses to forego meat or seafood. And “I just feel like eating a goddamn salad now, okay?” means exactly that. I find it difficult to see why that should cause any concern or confusion.

            But without the qualifier, nuh-uh. Certain categories have edges for a reason and all the self-labelling in the world can’t be allowed to undermine that rationale. Case in point, I’m fairly confident that the local synagogue has some thoughts that would rival yours on Michael Pollan when it comes to “Jews for Jesus”.

          2. Phir bhi dil: I certainly don’t mean to state absolutely that there’s no difference between being a vegetarian and being an omnivore. There are separate spheres, and “this food is vegetarian” should absolutely mean “this food contains no meat.” But I think that when someone describes themselves using the label “vegetarian” or anything related to that, they’re labeling themselves for a particular reason, and not all of those reasons are the same. I think that’s where a lot of our confusion comes from, not just because some people mis-label.

            Like, if I’m a vegetarian for ethical reasons, but I can digest meat just fine, I might be flexible in a freegan sense (Freegan where I come from==”Vegan, unless its free” or alternately, “If it’s free, that makes it vegan.”) If someone else’s meat order is going to go to waste and I’m hungry, I might be ethically all right with eating it/picking around the meat to prevent waste, while never paying for or encouraging the production of meat myself. Whereas if I’m vegetarian because I can’t digest meat, the production of meat might be less of a concern than making sure there really isn’t any meat in any dishes I consume. And if I’m vegetarian “for my health”, I might be willing to cheat and eat meat occasionally, or eat vegetables cooked in animal fats, because “vegetarian” is the label for the diet I’m on, like Atkins or South Beach, instead of a political philosophy.

            I feel like the definition of a vegetarian dish should be “No products that came from killing an animal anywhere in this dish,” but the definition of a vegetarian person is “Someone who is deliberately defining themselves by eating no meat.” The problem with that definition is that there is a real grey area in terms of what people are willing to accept under that “eat no meat” label, from “I meant absolutely zero, nothing which has touched meat, nothing at all” to “Well, almost never.”

            And I find labels like “part time vegetarian” or “mostly vegetarian” to be aspirational labels, like “I am making a conscious decision to eat as little meat as I can.” Does that make you a kind of vegetarian? I think the answer to that depends on how you feel about vegetarianism rather than how you feel about the specifics of the person’s diet, to be honest.

            All of which is incidental to the LW’s original question of “how do I get people to understand what I’m doing?” I don’t feel like the answer to that question should be “You’re not allowed to call yourself any kind of vegetarian.” It’s more like, “Whatever you’re telling people is making them not hear the ‘part-time’ part. Maybe emphasize that part somehow.”

  86. I would add a few to the list .

    -If someone comes to a food-centric event and does not eat, it doesn’t need to be commented on. They’re not insulting the host or the food, they have their own reasons for not eating right then. And suggesting that not-going-to-eat means you should not go ignores that a large portion of socializing involves food, and expecting people with, say, eating-related anxiety to never attend an event with food is expecting them to severely limit their social options.

    -Not wanting dessert is fine. It is not morally bad, it is not morally good, it’s just a valid option. Don’t push dessert and don’t praise someone for “resisting.” (I’m fat and don’t like sweet food, I can’t refuse dessert without someone supporting my nonexistent diet). Relatedly don’t praise anything “healthy” or assume anyone’s motivations in eating.

    -I know it’s a host thing that everyone should be given a drink but, “hey can I get you a drink?” “no thanks” should be the end of the interaction. You don’t need to list every available drink.

    1. *to the first one I would say if you’re attending a sit-down dinner and don’t intend to ear talk it over with the host first. I was thinking more eat-and-mingle, not formal dining.

    2. Re dessert: I know, right? I am also fat and I don’t like most sweets. You can have pretty much all of the sweets and the sugary juice drinks, OK, and I will have deviled eggs for dessert because I absolutely love them. No, I am not diabetic. No, I am not being a good fatty by skipping sweets. I don’t like them, that’s all. Keep talking about my dessert choices and I will start talking about your body hair, mmmmkay?

  87. I’m an Epi-Pen carrying member of the Top 8 Food Allergen Anaphylaxis Club, and also a Celiac. Thank you for addressing the “I hate” vs. “I cannot have anywhere near my food for healthy and safety” distinction!

    I’d love to elaborate on how much this alters our social dining experience, and how you can accommodate in ways that make meals safer and more inclusive for people like me.

    Mostly, please pease puh-lease don’t cross-contaminate! Meaning:
    1)Keep serving utensils in the dish in which they were presented.
    2)Don’t allow serving untinsils to contact other food items on your plate.
    3)Pour Chips (etc etc) onto your plate; rather than reach your (potentially allergenic/gluteney) hand in.
    4) Wash hands and use clean utensils when switching from handling a potentially unsafe food to a food I could otherwise eat.
    5) If serving, it may be easier to use separate serving areas for dietary restriction-friendly foods and all other dishes.
    6) You get super-BONUS points if you set aside a little of a food I love (like special cheese) before serving it on a platter with unsafe foods I won’t risk going near (like the crackers that scare me away from the cheese plate.

    If you bring a dish that I’d love to eat, I might have questions about how it was prepared. This is because I’m excited about the possibility that it might be an option for me! If there is something about the preparation or ingredients that make me decide it’s not something I want to eat (aka not worth the risk of getting sick), that’s fine! I just didn’t want to pass up in it unless I had to! I so so so count on your honesty, in moments like this, for my health and well being!

    I pretty much never leave the house without a meal’s worth of snacks in my purse, so if in doubt, that’s what I’ll eat. But most of the time, awesome dining companions allow for a much richer mealtime experience.

    1. 6) Hell no. This is no super-bonus points. Serve the damned things in as inclusive a way as you can think of. If someone tells you that they can’t eat the cheese because of the crackers, remember it the next time and make a plate of cheeses without crackers and a separate bowl of crackers. It doesn’t have to look ornamental, especially not if it means it gets inedible for your guests.
      As a mere vegetarian with no dangerous allergies I don’t have it as bad, but looking at five identical plates of tomatoes lying on salami lying on cheese lying on ham lying on lettuce makes me angry. I will rather go without dinner for that day than eat something that icks me. But if each thing just were on a separate plate, I’d happily take the cheese and tomatoes and lots of lettuce (the same lettuce I see thrown away from the integrated plates, considered a mere ornament).

  88. This is all really good advice! Sadly people don’t stick to it. The number of people who ask me over dinner why I’m vegetarian is large. I end up saying “um, it’s personal” knowing that if they push, my description of animal welfare is likely to put them off their food…

    The other thing I get a lot of is “your husband has ordered meat? But you’re a strict vegetarian!” and my script is that it would be just as wrong for him to stop eating meat as it would be for me to eat it. LW, I wonder if a variant on that would help you, along the lines of “well, this is what’s right for *me*” followed by a subject change?

  89. A quick thought – on behalf of a strict veggie who does suffer when other people’s “vegetarianism” involves meat and restaurant staff get confused*… Would it work for you to say “I’m eating vegetarian today” rather than “I am vegetarian today”? After all, many people do Meat-free Monday or whatever and that seems to be quite widely accepted, so perhaps you could frame it that way to both help people understand and to encourage them to stop questioning you about your choices? Because surely if you’re eating vegetarian today, it’s irrelevant that you ate meat yesterday. Whereas if you “are” vegetarian today, it looks like you can’t decide, and might lead to more confused enquiries from your fellow diners.

    I totally respect your decision, and others’, of course. I think a lot of curiosity maybe comes from the way things are framed & presented – NOT that you should have to watch your words to appease others, but if the world was perfect you wouldn’t have had to write this letter.

    I wish you many wonderful meals!

    * for instance, a time when I was given tuna and when I said “no, this isn’t vegetarian” was told “but it’s dolphin friendly!” by a confused server.

  90. I’m in the same situation in that I rarely eat meat. So I describe myself as ‘I rarely eat meat’ and make it clear whenever appropriate, that I’ll decide spontaneously if the thought of meat makes me hungry or nauseaus. It’s been questioned sometimes b/c it seems to be hard to remember my eating habits, but I don’t mind explaining, because my reasons are ‘because I want to’, and you can’t argue with that. I also know all the vegan arguments and sympathise, and ‘if everyone would eat like me there wouldn’t be a problem, so actually, I am part of the solution, thank you’.
    Things are also made easier by my unconditional willingness to eat whatever is served and leave the meat to my husband. I’m not polite about it, just relaxed and no-big-deal; I’ll just ask him out loud if he’ll swap my meat for some vegetables. I also have no problem with picking things out of my food that I can’t eat. It’s not pretty to the more civilised folks, I guess, but if I don’t eat it, I don’t eat it. I’m good-natured about it and just do it. I guess that might be the key.
    Just do your thing, smile, no resentment. It’s just food. Unless your hosts explicitly only cook things you can’t eat. But why would you visit them, then.

  91. “If you tell a restaurant “No onions, please, I hate them” they will not put onions in your dish. If you tell them you are allergic, they are obligated to find pans/knives/plates/utensils, etc. that have never touched an onion so they don’t risk making you sick. Respect the difference between “preference” and “allergy.”

    Can I just highlight this? I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but absolutely do not do this. When I was a server this happened ALL THE TIME. Someone would claim they had an allergy and their fellow diners would frown and say, wait, no, you don’t. Or you’d bring the food for the table and see the allergic person happily pick onions off someone’s plate. Or you know they’re a regular who have onions all the time. But regardless, if you claimed allergy, I got to watch the chefs scramble and swear tearing up the kitchen looking for the extra special pots and sprays. (This was always a treat for everyone, since we all knows chefs are a shiftless and lazy lot who do not even know the meaning of this word “time pressure.”) Keeping an allergic person’s plates several feet away from the regular ones is always fun in a busy kitchen too.

    Don’t do it. Don’t. There’s absolutely no shame in not liking something. Every single person on earth dislikes certain foods. Everybody gets it. Nobody cares. You’re not picky or childish. You’re not a prissy brat for visiting a Chinese restaurant and requesting no say. We get it. It’s fine. Whatever. “Please no soy” is so easy to accommodate nobody will even blink. But the word “allergy” will send everyone involved into a mad oh-god-please-don’t-let-me-kill-a-guest cleaning frenzy. I swear your mild dislike of onions is not worth backing up the kitchen for.

    1. And of course the converse, which I have run into, where because of people claiming allergy when they just don’t want onions, when I say “I’m allergic to this, can you leave it off my main–like, not PICK it off, LEAVE it off because the residue might make me sick” and then I get my plate and it has $allergic-thing on it because “Oh I thought you just meant you didn’t like it”.

      One of my favourite restaurants back home was SUPER conscious of allergy, to the point where, when I asked about a seafood dish because I can have everything but shrimp, but I wanted to be sure they didn’t stretch the crab with shrimp or use shrimp stock, my server checked and then said “I’m going to recommend you try the crab cake benny another day, because we have a shrimp special and the shrimp is kind of near the preparation area for those dishes”, which I VERY much appreciated because I was planning to carry on breathing that day.

      Allergy is a convenient shorthand for a lot of people who just don’t want to eat something, but their convenience has on occasion made me VERY sick.

      1. In addition to the impact that using such a shorthand can have on people who actually have allergies and other very involved dietary restrictions – I think that often relying on such a shorthand, particularly for women, is just another way to try and be easy and not actually articulate precisely what we want (in this case, to eat).

        When I was 12, I was going to camp and didn’t want to overly draw attention to not eating pork. So instead of talking with my mom about how to address this with the camp’s food service, I just decided to be vegetarian. Now to my credit, I actually was a vegetarian for the next 9 years – however, it was a choice I initially made because it was easier, not because it’s exactly what I wanted.

        As an adult, looking back on this is, the scenario seems ridiculous – but I was 12 and desperately trying to draw no undue attention to me. And probably could have greatly benefited from a moment in life where I had to articulate “what I really want is XYZ because that’s what I want”.

        1. I think that often relying on such a shorthand, particularly for women, is just another way to try and be easy and not actually articulate precisely what we want (in this case, to eat).


      2. “Oh I thought you just meant you didn’t like it” doesn’t make any kind of sense. If you ordered a meal without onions, there’s no justification for bringing you a meal with onions. What did they think their job was? Policing your diet? Baselessly accusing you of lying? Playing pranks on you?

        1. Notice a lot of the verbiage in this comments page about “picky” people. That’s pretty much why. People think they get to dictate what “picky” is, and that it’s a good basis for being judgy about other people. I don’t like to offer a defence because I don’t think it’s okay to be judgmental about what other people eat, and I feel like excusing myself because eating something can make me very sick sounds like I’m saying the only acceptable defence for not eating something is that it’s going to kill you, while in fact, it is totally okay to not eat things for any reason at all, including that you don’t like the looks of it, aren’t really very hungry just now, or don’t eat red foods on Wednesdays in the winter months.

      3. it has $allergic-thing on it because “Oh I thought you just meant you didn’t like it”.

        Which is precisely why people will say they’re allergic in the first place, because it often isn’t good enough to just say you don’t want/don’t like a certain item in their food. What restaurants need to do is just be honest over whether or not they’re going to leave something out of a dish or substitute, like in your example with the crab.

    2. This is definitely a much needed perspective, especially learning about how people use fake allergies to be picky, but the way this is worded made me (personally) afraid to bring up any legitimate allergy. Knowing that the kitchen staff is scrambling and swearing around the kitchen, falling into a frenzy because of me? That causes a lot of anxiety on my end. I’m not sure if others would be this put off by that, though.

      1. I’m sorry. I sort of lapsed into hyperbole there and I shouldn’t have done that. I can assure you that at least in my experience, all kitchen’s I’ve ever seen are swearing, scrambling and frenzied places pretty much by default. The EXTRA anxiety does not at all come from the fact that some people have allergies and let us know that. It comes 100% from the fact that we can’t ever know who is faking and who isn’t, and being taken advantage of and lied to for no good reason would frustrate anyone.

        I am very sorry about the poor wording. Part of the reason my rant got so ranty is because I have a food allergy myself. It took me ages to get over that feeling of being “ugh, that chick” when eating at restaurant, so I think I understand. So when I said “please don’t be afraid to look picky, nobody cares if you’re picky” I kind of took “and if you’re actually allergic, please care not at all” as understood. The reason kitchen scramble and servers take extra care is because we take allergies very seriously. It’s nothing to do with legal liability (not on the prep and serve side of things anyway) and everything to do with the fact that we don’t want our work to cause anyone discomfort or worse. Having picky eaters or people who just don’t like a certain ingredient cry allergy feels a lot like they’re taking advantage of our genuine desire to make sure our guests have a pleasant (or at least non-deadly) meal. It’s like people who lie about having a birthday or anniversary to get free stuff. It’s tacky and, at least in my book, immoral, because it ruins things for nice people who play by the rules. And in the case of medical issues like allergies, it’s straight up malicious appropriation.

        I’ve never heard a server or chef complain about people who are actually allergic or food allergies in general. Maybe it happens, everything eventually happens, but in my experience most of these people take pride in their work and want everyone to enjoy it, allergic people and picky eaters included. Almost everyone I know in the food business knows that a food allergy is much worse for the person who has it than for the person who prepares the food. Most people I’ve worked with LOVE food and have spent some time thinking about what it would be like if certain foods were restricted to them. It helps with understanding not just the medical but the social and personal ramifications of having a food allergy. Nothing is universal, but again, in my experience, people in the food business tend to understand and are more than willing to accommodate.

        It’s when people take advantage of this understanding and lie to us that we get tetchy. And unfortunately, there’s a LOT of fakers. More than most people seem to be aware of. It’s a real problem. (I haven’t been a server for a while, and I was never in the food industry in the US, but I do keep up with it.) Of course I can’t magically see into the heart of people, but even the cases where it’s clear someone is lying amount to a whole heaping lot. And statistically speaking, it does raise an eyebrow when you get several fairly rare allergies in one night. Either the allergy statistics are frighteningly wrong, or something shifty is afoot. For example, you can’t help but notice that when “gluten” suddenly became a buzzword in the diet world, suddenly every other person seemed to have a gluten allergy. And of course the people who pay the price for that “allergy-means-dislike” malarkey are people who actually HAVE a gluten allergy. (I’ve read some of their blog posts and forum rants. Suffice to say they are not pleased.) And yes, the fourth time in one busy evening someone claims “gluten allergy” when really they’re on some sort of diet, there will be swearing and scrambling. It really is a case of many bad apples spoiling the bunch here.

        So please, please don’t take my poorly worded rant to mean that chefs and servers hate people with allergies. I’ve never seen evidence that this is true. We just hate it when people take advantage and lie for no reason, just like most people would. For me personally, I hate that it devalues the actual meaning of the word allergy and downplays its seriousness. It’s extra work, I can’t deny that, but it’s work most people do gladly, without thinking, if the reason we’re doing it is important. And I’m sorry I expressed myself so poorly. It was meant to sound like “please respect the word allergy for what it is and what it means” rather than “we hate it when anyone claims allergy, true or false.”

      2. I don’t know if this will help your anxiety or not, but, it is part of their job to feed you safely. Just, a part of their existing job.

        Now, some kitchens are set up better for this than others. Some chefs are happier to have a little variety in their day. Some chefs are aware that finding a restaurant that is safe to eat at will MAKE SOMEONE’S DAY(like me) and that happiness is actually a goal. If you can, or if you can delegate this to a trusted friend, find a place like this!
        What has made my life so much better is that I have a short list of trusted places like this, and I give them my business and send them business because I want them to continue to exist.

        One of the things to look for on a menu to spot a place like this is a note somewhere on the menu about letting your server know about allergies, and sometimes little marks on the menu that indicate gluten free and vegan items, or things that can be made gluten free or vegan. This is an indication that they are aware of allergies (even beyond gluten and vegan; this is a signal, not a comprehensive list) and want your business. Servers in places with this notation are USED TO questions and making accommodations.
        I am not saying they are perfect and always wonderful(everyone has bad days), but, as far as anxiety goes, you aren’t doing anything unusual. It’s a normal part of their job. They have encountered this before. The chef has knowledge and a plan, and it is normal and expected to do this.

        I will acknowledge that this is all easier for me because I live in a larger metropolitan area, and I am not ordering fast food(can’t order much fast food. My list of trusted fast food places is minuscule).

  92. I’m a bit late to this discussion, but anyway…

    LW, my sister had a similar approach to meat-eating as you. She labelled herself “eco-vegetarian” (or actually the German equivalent) which seems to have worked quite well for her. When somebody would ask what that means she would explain that for ecological and ethical reasons she would only rarely eat meat, and only from sources that comply with her ecological an ethical standards. Most people understand and accept such an explanation (except those who will call you a snob for buying organic products, they can go eff themselves).

    I think a label like that might help people to remember the concept and avoid future confusion.

  93. It seems like everybody is all like “But it’s so easy to do it MY way.” Well, of course it seems easy to you.

  94. More items for the list:

    Give people the opportunity to tell you about their food restrictions. If you are planning an event and plan on serving food, let your invitees know ahead of time, ideally before you’ve made hard and fast decisions about what’s being served.

    If possible, avoid planning food events during your co-worker’s fasting/food-restricted holidays. For example, is it really necessary for Doughnut Day to occur during Passover? Every year? Really?

    If people tell you they can’t eat something or don’t like something, believe them the first time.
    Related: If someone does explain why their diet is restricted, that is not an invitation to quiz them about said reason. They told you they had [medical condition] so you’d believe them, not because they wish to discuss their condition for the next hour.

    Stop commenting on the amount of something someone is eating.
    This includes complaining about the restaurant’s portion sizes, how fast/slow the person is eating, etc. No trying to make someone end their meal early because you don’t approve of what or how much someone is eating.

    1. If possible, avoid planning food events during your co-worker’s fasting/food-restricted holidays.

      Holy poop, yes. To my forever-facepalming shame, I was once part of an office party planning committee that unwittingly set our 200-person annual picnic during Ramadan. An Important Lesson was learned, believe me.

  95. My grandma used to say re foods “I like it, but it doesn’t like me.” I’ve used that to explain things in the past and it worked out quite well. (especially since it’s sort of hard to explain probably-IBD)

  96. Policing people’s food — no matter whose or why — is rude. And you shut down that kind of rudeness the way you shut down most other kind of rudenesses — politely deflect and then change the subject.

    Rude person: “What? A salad? You can’t be a vegetarian, I saw you eat a steak last week!”
    Us: “Sometimes a nice salad just absolutely hits the spot, you know? Say, how ’bout them Cubs?”

  97. I feel Jennifer’s point about how much work, physical or cognitive, people have to put into your food preferences is quite a good one. I have friends with very strict dietary requirements such as celiac who are never a PIA about what restaurant as long as there are a couple of possible things on the menu, and when they go to a dinner they bring along something delicious to share that they can also eat. I also know people with fairly minor restrictions (not health-related) who hem and haw over every restaurant choice, send unsolicited emails to dinner hosts explaining all the things they can’t eat, and generally fuss about whether they will “be OK” wherever they go. Guess which group I enjoy catering to with e.g. special gluten-free desserts when I give a dinner party.

    The worst are people who have advance fussy requirements and then, after you have accommodated them by making extra stuff, decide your forbidden brisket or whatever looks so delicious they’ll have some anyway.

    1. Yup. I have a friend who does this with pork. It is super easy to make non-pork stuff, but it does get kind of annoying when I’ve spent time recreating pasta puttanesca or something without the bacon and then watch her eat something else with pork in it because “it’s ok as long as no one tells me there’s pork in it.” Uh.

    2. Yeah, I don’t like this either. If I’ve worked to make a GF version and you say you’ll have the regular because it “looks so tasty” not only will I die a little inside, I’ll also not bother next time.

  98. Captain, you asked readers what you left out of your awesome list of food manners and fraught situations. First, thank you for the “lettuce and bread” nod.

    My addition : No messing with someone else’s contribution at a potluck or buffet dinner. If the salad dressing or tomatoes are on the side, there’s a reason. Adding them to the whole salad “to make it easier” may ruin the one thing someone knew they could eat and enjoy.

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