Your Thoughts Thursday: Being A Vegan Dinner Guest

April 1, 2010 by Keri

In a vegan utopia, we could all have the same delicious, healthy vegan food available to us when we’re out in the world as we do in our own homes.  The thing is, life is full of adventures, outings, and mixed company, and no one wants to miss out on any of it!  Dining out has become relatively easy, with many restaurants adding at least one option to the menu (okay, choices would be great, but as long as I have something to eat I’m not complaining), but the real challenge often lies in dining in the homes of our friends, relatives, and acquaintances.  This is where being the polite dinner guest and “just grin and chew” gets complicated.  Of course there are options; bring our own food or a dish to share, call ahead and kindly explain our dilemma, fake the stomach flu coming on and don’t eat anything (okay, I’m completely kidding on that last one- don’t do that!), but no matter what we do there are many of our carnivorous counterparts wagging a finger and saying we’re being rude guests.  If we bring our own food we hear mutterings about how we’d feel differently about them bringing a fat slab of steak into our homes because we aren’t serving to their tastes.  But isn’t that differently because they don’t have any ethical issues with eating legumes, grains, fruits, and vegetables?  And the politeness police are saying vegan isn’t the same as a dinner guest with food allergies because it’s a choice.  So what do you think?  What do you do when you’re a dinner guest in an omnivorous home?
Do you bring your own food?
Do you politely voice your needs?
Offer to cook?
Hope they have a hungry dog that hangs out under the table (kidding again!)?
And if you’re not vegan, what would you prefer your hypothetical vegan guests do to get food on their compassionate little plates?

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I Eat Trees is a blog featuring my adventures in all things vegan. My favorite recipes, snack food finds, and restaurant trials are all on the menu so enjoy!


  1. Jennifer (It Ain't Meat, Babe) says:

    As long as I’ve been a vegetarian I’ve been doing this thing that I call “The Scarlet O’Hara”. In Gone With The Wind, Scarlet and the other ladies would eat a large meal before they went to a party so they could eat in a “lady like” manner (read: not much!) when they were in the company of men.

    I do the same thing, though not for the same reasons. If I’m going somewhere and I’m not sure what will be served and I don’t have the oppourtunity to check it out and/or make a request, I just eat a regular meal before I go. That way I can eat whatever is in keeping with my chosen diet, without getting super hungry or making a fuss.

    It’s a bit of a pain, sometimes, but it’s saved me from grumpy hunger in social situations many times.

  2. Danielle (Coffee Run) says:

    I’ve actually never been to someone’s house for dinner (while being vegan). Chances are, I’d probably let them know ahead of time and then bring my own dish.

  3. Bring a dish for everyone :).
    That way they can all see how yummy vegan food can be!

  4. Thanks so much for raising this topic! As a new vegan (over 2 months now), this is a big source of anxiety for me. Keep the responses coming!

  5. David Sanchez says:

    I do my best to let folks know about my choices regarding what I eat and what I won’t eat. I don’t push my life choices on them, and I respectfully ask that they show the same courtesy toward me. When attending larger gatherings (like weddings, for example) there is usually some sort of vegetarian option. However, even for occasions like this I typically eat enough to sustain myself in the event that I don’t find anything that I consider edible.

    For me the key is to not expect much. I find that if I don’t expect much, whatever I get really thrills me. Sometimes you will actually find that the host will venture into new territories and try something new. One of the best black bean soups I’ve ever had was when a friend’s mother didn’t know what else to cook for me, and searched for vegetarian recipes online.

    Perhaps a concealed snack might be a good idea too… a stashed Clif bar or something like that may just be enough to ease a hungry stomach for the duration of a dinner party : )

  6. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for posting this discussion! It’s really helpful to hear other people’s input with regard to this issue.

    Since becoming vegan, I actually haven’t been over to many omnivores’ homes for dinner; I am actually more likely to host a dinner for my friends (most of whom are omni) rather than it being the other way around, although I haven’t done that since moving out of town. These days, I’ll go to my brother’s and sister’s homes sometimes, but my omni family knows that I’m vegan and the gatherings are always potluck-style, in which case I’ll bring over something that everyone (myself included) can enjoy. If I’m dining out with friends, I’ll often eat a little something beforehand just because many of the restaurants in my area are not always that vegan-friendly, and sometimes my omni companions seem to stress out about me potentially not being able to eat anything at the restaurant of choice.

  7. Jameson says:

    As a sympathetic non-vegan, I just want to know if you’re vegan beforehand so that I have time to research recipes. I like to cook and, unlike most people, I welcome restrictions–they help me to narrow down what I want to make. Cooking for particular tastes requires some creativity, too. So, in a way, I welcome the challenge. I suspect I’ll find a few favorite dishes in the process, vegan or not.

  8. Laura Jill says:

    Hi Keri.

    I have a few responses to this dilemma.

    First of all, like Jennifer, I’ve made it a point to eat beforehand. I went to a wedding two weeks ago where even the salad had goat cheese on it. If I hadn’t eaten earlier (and enjoyed the bread so very much), those mimosas would have been a big problem! 😉

    That being said, all of my friends know I’m vegan (what with the Vegan Society Logo tattooed on my arm)…they also know that I cook…and that I cook well. So what started as me bringing a dish (to share) to make sure I would at least have one thing to eat turned into me being recruited to cook for all kinds of events always. I never show up at a party anymore without at least one savory and one sweet. But the best part is that I’ve been turning a lot of people on to vegan cooking!

  9. Eve says:

    Everyone knows I’m vegan and when dinner plans are made, there’s always the, “Oh, what about Eve?” discussion.
    I pride myself on being a very easily-pleased eater. I love food, love cupcakes and sweets, love being cooked for, but when I’m out with omnivores, I absolutely always make an effort to make accommodating me as easy as possible.
    I want to demonstrate for my friends that eating ethically is easy and still yummy, so in being the hassle-at-dinner for more than half of my life, I’ve learned to be incredibly easy-going about it.

    At any casual dining chain restaurant, I can get a delicious wrap that WOULD have chicken or beef in it, but I ask the staff to stuff some of those giant, yummy steak fries in there where the meat would go. In a fast food joint I have been known to eat a sugary sesame seed bun stuffed with all of the vegetables in the store and some Italian dressing. At a diner at two in the morning I will eat some fries or oil-fried taters with toast and oatmeal (made with water) with some fruit tossed in. If you root around enough, there’s always something that can be vegan on the menu. One of the best vegan pasta dishes I’ve ever had was at a steak house. The waiter’s son was a vegetarian, and he understood my requests and just asked the chef to toss some pasta with oil and vegetables. If you’re friendly and don’t act entitled, you can almost always get a waiter to help you. Leave a big tip, so they are even kinder to the next vegan who comes in, terrified.

    I think that because I try to be such an agreeable vegan, and express excitement at weird/creative flavor combinations, and even knock the “hippie” aspect of my diet to laugh along with the meat-eaters, my friends are more excited to play along, to learn about what vegans eat in their natural habitats (our own homes) and I have never, ever gotten to a meal at a friend’s house and faced cock-eyed looks from people who still don’t get that I can’t eat butter.

    An important note, for my approach at least, is to be gracious.
    A good friend, who eats meat, loves to try new vegan recipes she finds, or veganize a plate for my benefit when I come over for dinner; A few times she has purchased pretend-cheese to serve to me, and once I noticed that she had purchased a brand of soy cheese that contained casein.
    I ate it.
    At the very least, it was freegan (I am NOT a freegan!), but, more importantly, it would have been discouraging for my friend to learn, while she is standing there cooking a special plate for me, that she failed, and accidentally bought the wrong specialty item.
    I mentioned it weeks later when the topic of sneaky animal ingredients came up. It was casual and followed by enormous praise for the meal. I explained that casein is one of those sneaky dairy ingredients, and “hippie” vegans might turn their noses up to it, but it was a delicious 99% vegan meal and I had probably swallowed a bug in my sleep that same week, which contained more animal protein than the whole block of pretend-cheese.

    I think it’s so important to share our love of sustainable diets with positivity and inclusiveness, knocking out all of the ego. I want to share with others what fun it is to think about my meals as an opportunity to promote kindness and sustainability.

  10. franco says:

    i bring my own . i tell everyone foods serious business to me / my health and that ive all my favorite sources where i get the stuff that suits me best and its thusly what i always eat unless im in a posistion where i dont have that option

    i also fast alot as life habit for appetite control / health so many times when visiting i dont eat or very lightly munch on vegi platter type stuff just so those eating dont feel uncomfortable

    and many times ive offered to bring the salad for everyone and make a huge soup pot (3 gallons) of salad for everyone and thats all i eat . what ive found is everyones used to bottled dressings and that when they taste my homemade raw oil/vinegar/garlic/herb dressing they totally love it as compared to the bottled

  11. Sara Stanton says:

    Nice discussion topic as this will be me on Sunday. I get to go to my in laws who don’t get it. I usually ask what they will be having and try to make and bring something similar for me and my boys. Normally, I try to eat before so that I can have a salad if we are eating out etc and just seem like I am a picky girl on a diet instead of “that vegan chick”.This weekend it was great to have my sons birthday party with food and desserts that fed everyone including myself and my sister and brother in law who are also Vegan (my side of the family is more veg friendly than my husbands). My sister said it was the first party they could eat the lunch and dessert at! It’s not easy began Vegan in a non Vegan world, but we do what we do.

    @Jennifer, Love the Scarlet reference, I am so stealing that!

    @Eve, how cool of you to not make your friend feel bad for not knowing. I was in a friends wedding and she tried so hard to accommodate me for dinner that she freaked when telling me the salad would come with a honey/mustard dressing. When she realized what she said I told her, it’s your day not mine and if honey is the only thing I have to worry about, I will deal with it.

  12. Melissa G says:

    I’m fortunate that many of my friends are vegetarian/vegan and thus have a wide array of delicious vegan food for me to eat when I dine at their houses. Also, I’ve had some non-veg friends who were very excited to cook either a vegan dish or a whole vegan meal for me when I went to their homes to eat. This situation only comes up with my family members nowadays. How do I deal with celebrating big family dinners at their houses as a vegan? Usually I just bring a frozen Amy’s dinner or something else that I can reheat to eat. Sometimes I can count on them having a fruit salad or lettuce salad that is vegan, but not always. Occasionally I’ll fix a casserole and/or dessert to pass around. And once every blue moon my sisters will fix a dish or bring something that’s vegan for me to eat. But I don’t ever go to a relatives house for a family dinner without bringing a little something for myself to eat. I never bother to speak up and request that they cook something vegan. I also never offer to cook….something I should reconsider, for sure, since it’d be nice to expose more people to delicious vegan food.

    To be fair, there are some of my relatives who do call or email me ahead of time to ask what they can get/fix for me to eat, which I sincerely appreciate, but that’s the rare exception, not the rule. My relatives usually just ignore my dietary needs and go ahead and fix their regular family dinner. After being a vegetarian or vegan for the past 27 years I find myself getting irritated sometimes that most of my family doesn’t make an effort to accommodate my vegan diet because, as you pointed out, I’m sure they would if I had a dairy or wheat allergy. But since it’s my choice they seem to have the attitude that I can just make do on my own ~ fix/bring my own food. I wish some of my family members would take a little time to consider my vegan diet when planning big family dinners and include me. And in kind, I need to spend a little time making some really delicious vegan dishes to bring to those family dinners to expose them more to the vegan lifestyle.

  13. Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) says:

    keri, great post!
    love the replies, too. havent read them all but i try to eat whatever veggies they cooked and/or other foods, i am not allergic to, which if it’s not a veggie, it’s pretty much case by case. and then just realize that i may leave a little hungry and that’s fine. i’ll live. of cousre, ALWAYS bring an appetizer i know i can “live on” for the nite, too 🙂

  14. Keri says:

    Thank you so much for all of your awesome responses! I love, love reading your comments so much!

    This was a big area of anxiety for me when we first became vegan because we got a lot of “oh geez, it’s just a little cheese/egg/bacon bits/etc.” and it felt apparent that bringing our own food or even a dish was met with much eye rolling. When I’d have people over to try a vegan meal, they’d bring their own nonvegan food, which felt kind of disheartening, but was it hypocritical? And it still happens and I still wonder if my disappointment is hypocritical. I guess in my mind I liken it to if someone prepared me a meal following their cultural or religious beliefs and I brought a dish I knew to go against those traditions.

    Luckily, my family is absolutely awesome, planning vegan meals for my husband, son, and I when we come to visit (they live a few hours away), requesting our favorite recipes, and making their favorites vegan by switching out simple ingredients like soy milk instead of milk, bananas or egg replacer instead of eggs, and vegan-friendly margarine instead of butter. It’s so nice that they realize little things like that don’t change the flavor for them, but mean the world to us!

    I don’t panic too much at weddings or larger social events because it’s easy to turn down a plate in such a crowd without much notice. I won’t actually take nonvegan food just to fit in, because wasting it wouldn’t be any different than actually eating it, but it generally goes unnoticed and I don’t mind kindly explaining if someone questions why I’m not having the fillet. It’s the intimate 5-10 people gatherings where people tend to get offended over our eating habits, but if a little awkwardness is the worst I have to face in life then I’ll consider myself lucky. I just try to conduct myself with as much grace as possible while still remaining true to my beliefs and choices.

  15. Vegmom says:

    I think I’ve done a little bit of what each of the others has posted, depending on the circumstance.

    Sometimes I eat enough to fill me up before hand, other times I bring hidden snacks in my purse to tide me over just in case, and other times, I’ve brought items to share.

    But most of the time, I don’t have those situations anymore. I don’t avoid them purposely (ok maybe I do) but have started meeting friends at places we mutually like rather then a home. And while at family’s house we make sure to have a meal out as a “treat” so they don’t have to cook 🙂 *wink*

    The worst has been as a parent and what to tell the other parents if my child is visiting. So I just started packing his own meal and telling them he has allergies. Rather then getting in to everything he doesn’t eat or making them feel uncomfortable to cook/waste food on him.

  16. Vegmom says:

    Oh as for manners and the what people think… I soooooo don’t worry about that anymore…. 🙂