“Oh, vegan food.”
I was at a party once, and after it became know that I’m vegan, the people I was chatting with starting joking about vegan food. They must have said “vegan food” ten times collectively. I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore and I asked, “Do you know what vegans call vegan food?” No one had an answer. “We call it ‘food.’ Because it is.” One of the guys I was talking to took a minute to think about it and he apologized. “Yeah, it is really just food. It doesn’t make sense to call it something else.”
At my own Christmas party a few years ago, a friend took a bite of a cupcake I had made and with much surprise in her voice said, “This is actually really good. It doesn’t taste vegan at all.” I asked her what she thought a vegan cupcake should taste like. She laughed and said, “I don’t know. Cardboard, maybe? I guess it’s kind of stupid to think it would taste different than any other cupcake.”
Last year I was eating dinner at Blossom on Carmine in New York City and at the table next to me was a man dining with this mother. When the waiter came to take her plate after she finished her meal, she said, “That was the first time I had vegan food and it was absolutely delicious. I have no idea what I ate, but I loved it.”
It’s clear that to the outside world our food is “foreign” and “strange,” when actually it’s really just food. (I often wonder what people think vegans eat. Do they think we’re sitting around on dirt floors scarfing down bowls of twigs and grass?) I highly doubt that the woman next to me at Blossom had never eaten spaghetti with marinara sauce, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or even an apple before. Even though all of those things are indeed vegan, most omnivores would never consider them to be so. Years ago I had a job where my coworkers constantly harassed me for my eating habits, yet whenever there was a company catered meal, I would have to rush over to the food that was specially ordered for me, because if I didn’t, it would be gobbled up by everyone else. Yet they didn’t seem to make the connection between the food they were inadvertently stealing from me, and the weird “vegan food” that they imagined I ate.
I’m a firm believer in introducing, and perhaps even converting, people to veganism through delicious food. People ask “If you don’t eat meat and cheese, what do you eat?” and, sure, I could answer “everything else,” or “tempeh, tofu, kale, broccoli, quinoa…” but both answers are pretty vague and neither seems that appealing. But if I were to present the questioner with a delicious kale and quinoa salad or a yummy tofu scramble, they’d be more likely to “get it.” Of course I don’t walk around with containers of prepared food (that would be both inconvenient and really weird), but I do like to cook for people whenever I can. I consider it to be a form of activism (cooktivism!) because sharing delicious food shows that being vegan doesn’t mean depriving yourself of flavor. I believe there are many people in the world who would give veganism a try if they realized that the food is delicious, easy to make, easy to find, and most of it is stuff they’re already eating.
Here are some of my tips on how to share vegan food with omnivores:
Give Vegan Food Gifts
Giving vegan food as a gift is a great way to show how yummy this “weird” stuff can really be. I usually give people boxes of homemade vegan cookies for Christmas. I love to give friends and coworkers little boxes of vegan chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Recently I’ve also been giving things like mason jars full of “just add water” soups, pancake mixes and even taco crumbles.
Share Your Food
If you work in an office, make sure your coworkers see that you do, in fact, eat real food for lunch. People used to always tell me that my food smelled really good when I was heating it in the communal kitchen, so I often let them taste a bite of it. It was inevitable that they would ask for the recipe. I often brought in extras of what I was eating for coworkers to try too. I was able to get my whole office hooked on my veggie chili and cornbread pretty easily.
Bake for Your Coworkers
Offer to be the baker for office birthdays and celebrations. Use your most decadent recipes, because it’s very possible you will be serving your coworkers their very first vegan cupcake or cookie. (I believe that tasty baked goods are okay to eat once in a while, if you’re eating healthy foods the rest of the time.) I earned the title of Cupcake Queen at my old office, and I once saw the owner of the company eat one of my cupcakes in just two bites and then go back for another. By baking once in a while, you’ll not only make yourself popular, you’ll be showing people that vegan cupcakes don’t taste like cardboard. The people I worked with didn’t hesitate to try the kale salad I brought to the office picnic because they already knew I was good cook based on the baked goods they had tried.
Host a Bake Sale
Much like sharing baked goods with your coworkers – but to a much bigger audience – hosting a bake sale shows off how delicious baked treats, without cow’s milk, butter, and eggs can be. I run a Meetup group called Montclair Vegans that participates in the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale every spring. We donate the money we earn to a local animal-based charity and use the opportunity to hand out vegan literature to passers-by. Our baked sales are always popular – we make about $1,000 at each one – and we have started to gain a reputation for our tasty treats in town.
Host a Cocktail Party
I love to throw little cocktail parties here and there and invite all of my friends, vegan or not. Through these parties I have been given the title of “The Vegan Martha Stewart” (though I think of myself more as the Vegan Liz Lemon). People know that if I’m hosting, there will be lots of good food to be eaten and a fun time to be had. I usually serve a combination of both home-cooked and store-bought goodies to save time, and my secret is to make sure the food will appeal to everyone. I save dishes like nutritional yeast mac and cheese for vegan potlucks, because I know that some omnivores will not like it. I do know that my friends will enjoy hummus and veggies, guacamole and chips, potato skins, spring rolls, and of course, cupcakes.
Host a Dinner Party
Much like hosting a cocktail party, hosting a dinner party is a great way to show off delicious homemade food to your omnivore friends. Again, make sure the food will appeal to everyone and save the “weird food” for your fellow vegans. Risottos, pasta dishes, lasagna, curries and Asian-style dishes are always good bets for mixed-company meals.
Host a Potluck
I host a lot of vegan potlucks through Montclair Vegans, and omnivores are always welcome. Sometimes my non-vegan friends attend and sometimes vegan group members bring omnivorous significant others. Everyone knows that their dish needs to be vegan, so non-vegans are forced (in a nice way) to prepare a vegan dish to share. By doing so, they realize that it’s not very difficult. When they attend the event and try all of the dishes people have brought with them, they realize what a wide variety of foods there is in the vegan world, and just how tasty it all is.
Whatever you serve to your friends, family and coworkers, be sure to also share the recipe. If they like your dish, chances are that they will make it themselves at home – and even share it with others. They might not go vegan right away (or at all) but when they’re eating a meatless dish, they’re consuming less cruelty, and that’s always a good thing.
Dianne Wenz is a Holistic Health Counselor (CHHC, AADP), Main Street Vegan Academy-certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and Plant-Based Nutrition Specialist (T. Colin Campbell Foundation/eCornell). Dianne coaches people from across the country to help them improve their health and wellbeing, and she helps people make the dietary and lifestyle changes needed to go vegan. Dianne lives in New Jersey, where she runs the busy MeetUp group Montclair Vegans. Through the group she hosts monthly potlucks, runs charity bake sales and organizes guest speaker events. An avid cook and baker, Dianne also teaches cooking classes to local clients. She just took over the role of editor-in-chief for ChicVegan.com, a website where compassionate fashionistas and vegan vixens meet up to discuss how they can make the world a better place for people and animals alike. Dianne also writes the Meatless Monday column on NJ dining out website DevilGourmet.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and visit her website Veggiegirl.com.