My friend is vegan and gets upset when meals aren’t centered around her at social gatherings. It drives me nuts. I always make sure there is something she can eat, but I don’t make a huge second option for her. I kind of feel like if she is going to be that restrictive with her diet then she should bring her own stuff. Am I being a jerk? Or is she being a jerk?
I was vegan for about six months in my 20s; I was also a vegetarian for seven years and recall being annoyed at times about meal options at big gatherings, but I considered that my own problem, most of the time.
That said, I don’t think your friend is being a jerk if everyone knows of her dietary restrictions and she consistently finds that no effort is made to ensure she is able to partake in some of the food options. If you’re interested in maintaining this friendship and you attend or organize social options enough, its worth looking at ways to help your vegan friend feel welcomed.
If you’re throwing a dinner party, your vegan friend should reasonably expect there to be something of substance that she can eat. I appreciate that you make sure there is “something” she can eat, but think about whether it’s on par with what you’d serve your other guests. Not just a bigger bowl of the side salad you’re giving everyone else, but actual dinner food. You might find it to be a pain to accommodate because you were planning on making a meat-and-dairy heavy meal, but if she is your friend and you want to share meals with her, I think it’s reasonable that you make food she can eat.
If, however, we’re primarily talking about pot-luck picnics and such, then she should probably relax a bit, because she can certainly bring a lovely, hearty vegan dish to share, and then partake of other items like the fruit or the salads. I think that it is on those of us who choose (or are forced, in the case of allergies) restricted diets to be a bit flexible when attending gatherings where everyone brings something.
At the same time, I also think that it is worth considering whether you need to turn everything into a meat- or dairy-heavy dish. If you make a delightful Greek salad, perhaps allow people to add their own feta cheese. If dairy or eggs or honey are not integral to the dish and can be added later, why not just do that? More options for everyone!
If your gatherings involve restaurants, you obviously can’t always pick a vegan restaurant. But unless the gathering is a celebration of someone who specifically requested, say, BBQ or a steak house, then it’s not cool to pick a place whose sole vegan offering is ‘side house salad.’ Of course your group might also just want to try out a steak house for the hell of it; that’s totally fine. But maybe not every time you all get together?
I think this seems like I’m putting most of this on you, so I want to also clarify that this is a two-way thing. Your vegan friend should understand that her friends eat meat, and that meat will likely be present at gatherings involving food. If she finds meat consumption highly immoral to the point that she can’t be around people eating it, then that’s her path to follow. But it’s not incumbent upon you to remove all meat, eggs, and dairy from her presence.
So, to sum up:
- If everyone’s bringing food, she should bring something she can eat, but others should consider keeping things like cheese or eggs to the side if they don’t need to be incorporated into the dish
- If you’re throwing the dinner party, you should have something more substantial than a garden salad for her to eat
- If you’re picking a restaurant, in most cases you should make sure there are at least a couple of things she can eat
One last thing – this should also apply to your friend who have a restricted diet in other areas, such as Jewish or Muslim friends who don’t eat pork, or Hindu friends who don’t eat beef, or someone with Celiac who can’t eat gluten.