Eating Out and Speaking Up
“If I’m eating at a table where non-vegan food is being served (and everyone knows I’m vegan), invariably someone will apologise for eating the chicken’s leg or hamburger they’re about to bite into. Instead of lying and saying, “It’s okay” or reacting indignantly I usually say – with a smile – something like, “Don’t apologise to me. Apologise to the chickens.” It enables me to speak the truth without shaming them, but it also sets a lighter tone.”
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge
Getting comfortable eating out and talking about being vegan in social situations where people are consuming animals is a process, and I am still not quite there yet.
I am now reasonably okay ordering in cafes and restaurants. It has taken a few goes to figure it out. I completely agree with Colleen’s advice that you need to be specific; the word ‘vegan’ is too ambiguous. It is more effective to ask questions like, “What type of stock was it cooked in?”, “Is it made with eggs?” “Can you leave out the cheese?”
In my experience, most cafes and restaurants are fine with my odd questions and requests, and there is always something on the menu I can have adapted. Fortunately, I can cook and used to work in kitchens, so I know what is possible. I just have to feel okay about being ‘the difficult’ customer.
Yet, because I have to go through this to find or make at least one thing in the place edible, eating out has lost its appeal. I hardly ever eat out these days, as it always feels like a compromise – I could do this better and more cheaply at home. Walking into a restaurant no longer means a menu of deliciousness to choose from, but a minefield of ingredients and dishes to avoid. I can’t just eat and enjoy. A part of me is always suspicious and on the alert for someone adding something to my food I really, really do not want to eat.
And the other side of eating out, socialising, has also lost its appeal. I still like to hang out with people, I would just prefer it didn’t involve food. There is nothing enjoyable about sitting at a table watching people shovel dead animals into their mouths. It is no longer see just cheese or ham, but the end result of abuse and death. It is no longer an ingredient, but someone on the plate whose life should have meant more than this.
I get what Colleen is saying about eating out with a mind set of ‘abundance’ rather than ‘lack’, but that’s not how it works for me. Eating out used to play a particular role in my life. It was an enjoyable way to connect with people through the pleasure and adventure of food. Eating at a non-vegan table no longer has any appeal. If I can avoid it now I will. When I can’t, I spend the time pretending I’m not viscerally disturbed as people causally consume the bodies of others and the products of enslavement. Yet, oblivious to what it is they are really doing. How I am in that moment is no longer a true reflection of how I want to be socially with other people. I want to relax and enjoy the conversation. I want to talk about food and enjoy the process of eating and sharing. I can’t genuinely do this at a non-vegan table.
When eating out, or any other social activity, stops being fun, what is the point? When it feels more like obligation than pleasure, you have to really stop and ask yourself, why am I doing this?
Social interaction around food is something I am still figuring out. If I thought it made sense to talk about being vegan while eating I would just suck it up and do it, as it seems to be a natural time for people to ask. However, it is probably the worse time to talk about it both for me and for them. How explicit can I be about the breeding and farming of chickens or the anatomy of a heart attack while my conversation partner is slicing into the body of a chicken?
Day 9 has a lot of useful tips on eating out and managing social iterations around food as a new vegan.