Dealing with Vegetarians

If you’re not a vegetarian, the thought of cooking for or eating with someone who is may seem rather daunting. In fact, it’s really not that difficult, if you follow a few simple guidelines and use common sense.

First of all, try to think of vegetarianism as a collection of food allergies. That is, consider each item (beef, chicken, eggs, dairy, etc.) the person doesn’t eat as an allergy to that food. That makes one very basic rule very easy. If you were allergic to beef or eggs, you certainly wouldn’t want to eat something with beef broth or eggs in it, even if you didn’t know they were there. Likewise, a vegetarian does not want to eat meat products, whether visible or not.

With that basic rule out of the way, here are some important dos and don’ts for dealing with vegetarians. Some of these guidelines may seem rather silly to you. They seem silly to me, too, but after 5 or 6 years of vegetarianism I’d already experienced all of them more than once.

Do ask the vegetarian what s/he can and cannot eat. Don’t make assumptions based on your experience with other vegetarians.
Do know that for most vegetarians “meat” includes everything in the animal kingdom (including fish and fowl) and “animal products” include eggs, all dairy, gelatin, and honey. Don’t ask “what about chicken? what about turkey? what about fish? what about shrimp? what about eggs? what about cheese? what about milk?”
Do use vegetarian substitutes in the vegetarian/vegan dishes you prepare, like vegetable stock, olive oil, and soy milk. Don’t figure it’s ok for a dish to contain meat products as long as the vegetarian doesn’t know about it.
Do ask vegetarians if they have any food allergies or if there are any non-animal foods that they do not eat/enjoy. Don’t assume that just because someone’s a vegetarian that s/he is not allergic to any vegetables or that s/he loves all vegetables.
Do, if possible, set aside a portion of your regular dishes before adding the meat. Don’t assume the vegetarian will be ok with picking meat off pizza or out of sauce.
Do make an effort to serve vegetarian dishes other than salad; you can even make two versions of many foods. Don’t feel you have to make dozens of vegetarian dishes or do amazing things with tofu.
Do be open-minded about trying vegetarian recipes. Don’t assume that vegetarian food is only salad and bread.
Do know that vegetarians enjoy food just as much as non-vegetarians. Don’t assume that vegetarian food is bland or boring, or that vegetarians can’t be foodies.
Do read packages to make sure that a product contains no meat or other unwanted ingredients. Don’t just look for meat, dairy, or eggs; there are a number of less obvious animal products.
Do use a separate set of cooking utensils for the vegetarian dishes. Don’t stir, for example, chicken soup and minestrone soup with the same spoon.
Do know that vegetarians appreciate the extra effort you are making. Don’t feel you need to make a meatless version of every single dish.
Do let your friend know which dishes are vegetarian. Don’t announce that there’s a vegetarian at the table.
Do know that that there are numerous vegetarian sources of protein and other nutrients. Don’t assume that vegetarianism is inherently unhealthy.
Do understand that vegetarians aren’t trying to annoy you. Don’t take offense if s/he refuses certain dishes.
Do accept that vegetarians have chosen vegetarianism for themselves and no one else. Don’t feel threatened, or assume that s/he wants you to feel bad about your diet.
Do understand that there are numerous reasons for vegetarianism, but in the end it usually comes down to a personal choice. Don’t challenge the person about why s/he is a vegetarian, or about eggs, leather, and other “borderline” issues.
Do know that most vegetarians believe in the right of each person to choose his/her own diet. Don’t let a handful of rude, in-your-face vegetarians make you think we are all like that.

Vegetarianism for Beginners     Dealing with Meat Eaters