One of the questions I am asked frequently by new and aspiring vegans is how to handle going to parties as a new vegan. For many people there is a concern about being tempted to going off track or being the weirdo vegan not eating what everyone else is eating (not that I think this would make one a weirdo per se). That being said, I think this is a common challenge that new and veteran vegans alike struggle with. While there are many challenging social situations as a vegan, I will only be focusing on eating at friends’ houses and going to parties because I don’t want this article to become a saga.
These are some of the different factors that can make this a challenge:
(1) Lack of vegan options
(2) The temptation of non-vegan foods that you may still be struggling to eliminate for good (like cheese for example)
(3) Wanting to fit in
(4) Feeling deprived
(5) The challenge of finding not just vegan options, but healthy plant-based vegan options.
Okay, so I will address these individually as I handle them in my life, other people may or may not handle them differently.
(1) Bring Food
In terms of the lack of vegan options, this one is usually the easiest to address. I typically call the host ahead and ask them what they are planning to serve and if it would be okay for me to bring some additional plant-based snacks, such as cut up fruit, hummus and crudites, etc. So far, I have never been turned down with this approach, and my snacks are usually gobbled up pretty quickly, so I recommend bringing more than you think you need so you can share how delicious vegan food is.
Focus on your Motivation
Temptation is a little trickier to address. So let me back up a little bit and talk about motivation. Why talk about motivation, you might ask? Because being really clear and strong in your motivation to stick to a vegan diet is what will you get you through these situations. For me, my initial foray into veganism started from a health and weight-management point of view. I used to love reading diet books, and I read my first vegan one, The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone, not knowing it was vegan.
However, there are times when this motivation towards health is weaker than other times, and that’s when the ethical point of view helps me. I find that the ethical vegans are so passionate about helping animals, that I am quickly reenergized about my vegan lifestyle and I consider this to be my back-up generator. Currently it is more front and center for me, but that was not always the case. I recommend reading an inspiring article like something in VegNews or Laika Magazines or listening to a vegan podcast like Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s Food for Thought. Of course there are also a bazillion books on the topic as well.
(3) Be Low Key
Next up, would be wanting to fit in, rather than sticking out as “the vegan”. I’ll start by saying I’m a lot more comfortable than I used to be with this title and with people knowing my eating choices than I used to be. I realized through experiences and reading, that most people are slightly intimidated by vegans and often feel self-conscious around them about what they are eating which can make omnivores defensive and at times try to draw more attention to what I am eating to shift the attention away from them. I try to take the approach of Dr. Doug Lisle author of The Pleasure Trap where he recommends the path of least resistance. This means being kind, and somewhat evasive as well as not going into too much detail unless expressly asked. For example, if Sara said, “Oh, so I heard you were a vegan” (insert her eye roll here). I would normally smile and say yes. Next Sara might say, ”so you don’t eat any of these yummy things on my plate? I could NEVER give up my (insert favorite food here: ribs, cheese, bacon etc.)”. I would say something like, “yeah it’s not for everyone” and change the topic. If someone is genuinely interested in why I eat the way I do, or how they can do it too, I will obviously share what I know, but often people really don’t want to hear the details.
(4) Choose a Non-Food Focus
No one likes to feel deprived at a party, while other people eat and drink with abandon. But it really is all about how you frame it your mind. For me, I try to look at parties as gatherings to talk and hang out with my friends, not necessarily just about the food. I also try to avoid standing or sitting in front of tempting non-vegan options if at all possible. I would try to focus on how good you feel both physically and emotionally eating the way you are, and think about wanting to continue feeling that way after you leave this party and even the next morning.
(5) Eat a Little Something Before You Leave the House
The challenge of finding healthy plant-based vegan options at a friend’s house, is probably where my family would consider me difficult. Not everyone who is vegan is trying to be plant-based or even cares about it. However, I believe it is getting more common as there are more and more people coming to veganism to help with health issues like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. I usually have some food before I leave the house, like cut up fruit, a green smoothie, ½ portion of leftovers, or a salad so that I don’t arrive starving. Also, since I always bring food to share, I know there will be at least two options for me to eat.
Remember, this gets easier with practice. You will also find, that as you continue to eat this way, you will slowly start to make more friends with similar eating habits, making it easier and easier for you to continue on this path. I also find that as friends see your enthusiasm (and watch you lose weight and get healthier), they tend to become more curious and interested in what you are eating. Remember that this is a path, and while most vegans do not admit to this, we all make mistakes and eat something we regret, so if this happens to you, remind yourself that you are human, we all make mistakes, and get that adorable vegan behind back on track as soon as you are able.