I suppose if you can eat whatever is available, free food is a draw. A good thing. Oh, a reception? Score! A lunch meeting! All right! Now I don’t have to figure out what to do for lunch! My reaction is quite the opposite. I have a sinking feeling, more like – oh sh*t. Part of this reaction is that I hate meetings and events like this anyway, and food just lengthens them. A meeting that could last an hour has to be extended if food is involved.
But, these kind of events are worse for me because I am vegan. They are not fun and very stressful. This is how it usually goes: “Is there something here for you to eat?” Me: “No.” That would be OK with me – I’d rather have control over my food anyway, and would be happy to leave and acquire my own nourishment, but, because these are working meetings or social events, I’m stuck! And I’m not just vegan, I’m a picky vegan. Just because something is vegan and I can eat it doesn’t mean I want to eat it.
Sometimes, people think they are doing me a favor, but they aren’t. For example, I understand that having breakfast provided is something most people enjoy, and I realize that organizers would think, hmmm… what to get for our vegan friend? I know, fruit! But, personally, I hate fruit. With the exception of apples, every other fruit makes me want to gag. It’s a texture thing. Or, eggplant. Eggplant is often featured in vegan lunches and dinners at conferences, and I detest eggplant. Let’s not even talk about my arch nemesis, the onion. Anything with onions is abhorrent to me. So in these cases, yes, there is one thing I could eat, but I hate it, so I’m back to not having anything to eat. I’d rather there be nothing at all vegan, so I’m not expected to eat the repellent dish.
At one conference, we were supposed to eat lunch together to network. The registration form asked about dietary preferences, and I wrote vegan and explained what it means. During the lunch, though, there was one option: hamburgers. Meat hamburgers. Usually, at this point, I choose to leave and find my own food, but everyone at the table was getting involved wondering what was wrong and what they could do to fix it. Then, I was stuck again. I would have rather made an inconspicuous exit, but I was thwarted. I think at that conference, they ended up getting me a plate of french fries, which took forever to prepare. Meanwhile, I was pissed, and everyone else was uncomfortable.
Way back in the late 1990s, when I was vegetarian but not yet vegan, I got corralled into a lunch with a group of people in Duncan, Oklahoma. I knew no one – a buyer sent me with his associate – and I was without my own vehicle. There was nothing vegetarian on the menu, so I ordered a grilled cheese off the children’s menu. I explained to the waitress why I was doing this. When the food came out, the owner (or manager) gave me the sandwich and said, in the meanest voice I can imagine, “That is the first and last time you will order off the children’s menu in this restaurant.” She was correct – I was sure as hell never going to go to that restaurant again! Around that time, I went to a conference where the vegetarian entree was fish. By the time the kitchen prepared a real vegetarian meal for me, everyone else at the table had finished eating.
At the holiday party last year, not only was the only vegan option something I would never eat (something with lots of onions and probably mushrooms and other ickiness), there was a dead pig in the middle of the buffet. It’s not something I could ignore. And yes, it did bother me. Not only was I expected to hang out and be jolly, I kept seeing this poor, murdered pig! A similar thing happened, minus the pig, at a goodbye reception. I was told I had to be there in the small time I had between classes to eat, yet there wasn’t one thing vegan on the buffet.
I could count on no fingers the food-related events I have enjoyed. When organizers act like they are doing a favor by providing food (especially the vegan food I don’t like), I really get irritated. I understand the necessity of food related events, but they have always been and will always be a burden to me. They are not something I appreciate, and they certainly don’t make me happy or provide a motivating force.
Now, I’ve worked myself up, and I want to finish this post, but I am sure that you are wondering, well, so, what could be different? Maybe some of my vegan friends who are not so bitter about dining events can chime in. For me, I’d rather have the time than the food. In an upcoming event, we have an hour for lunch. I would much rather work through that hour and leave earlier. If the networking time is deemed essential, I’d rather be given $8 and bring my own meal so that I’m not stuck either with no vegan food or with vegan food that is disgusting. I suppose a more constructive suggestion is for organizations having food related work functions to get individuals with dietary preferences (or restrictions) involved in ordering the food. If there is one vegan on staff, why not ask the vegan what she could eat from the catering list? If there is one person with celiac disease, why not ask him his lunch preference? It doesn’t make sense for someone not in the category to be making the decisions. For people organizing food-related events, I would encourage them to recognize the event has limitations just like any other motivating factor. It won’t be universally received, and so expectations that attendees will all enjoy the event are unfair and unwarranted. They should ask themselves: What is the goal of the event? Who are the participants? Could it be achieved in a more equitable, efficient manner? Often, when we are organizing things, we think about what we want – and that is what we do. For parties or weddings, that’s perfectly appropriate. In a work setting, different criteria should be employed.