Periodically I get an invite to a team lunch at work. Since the closest they come to being inclusive is to say “hey, there’s a veggie platter” (and then only at the really big company-wide holiday luncheons), I came up with an efficient system for handling these invites. A couple weeks ago, another invite came in, and after glancing briefly at it, I hit the delete key, just like normal.
A few days later, the woman who had the misfortune to be put in charge of organizing this lunch stopped by to ask if I’d looked at the menu for the four restaurants the invite had asked us to vote on. I hadn’t, of course. She asked me if there was anything I could get to eat at any of the restaurants. She asked because she knew I was vegetarian. (Vegan is a new word for her, I think, so she went with the more familiar “vegetarian”.)
A lot of my coworkers know I’m vegan, and in my two years working there, this made the very first time anyone actually made any effort at all to be inclusive.
And so I looked at the menus, and on finding that there were two restaurants of the four that looked workable, I voted for the one that looked most promising. And naturally the one that was chosen by the majority (the majority of whom know I, a team member, am vegan) was a bbq place where I could not even order a side salad.
No big deal as far as I was concerned. I wrote to the lunch organizer and I told her that I was going to back out of the lunch, and I explained why, in a nice way. (That took a few revisions, as the inner snark came out strongly in my first couple attempts.) And then I thanked her for trying to accommodate me, and I told her that she was the one and only person who had thought about me at all.
She responded that she was determined that we’d find a way to get me some food for the luncheon, and a couple days later she came through with a great solution. She had to go to a grocery store to get drinks anyway, and she asked if I’d want to go with her, since that grocery store has a great salad bar. I agreed, since I love salad, and since I felt it was as important at that point that she succeed in helping me, as it was for me to join in a team lunch.
The lunch was today. The salad bar really was a great one. And the conversation we had along the way was interesting. She’d been vegetarian for a few years a while back. And then 9/11 happened, and she decided that she was going to do what she wanted, and so she started eating meat again.
That threw me. I can honestly say that’s a new one for me. I had no response to that, and so I focused on the main point that she was trying to make – that she had been vegetarian for a while, and so she knew to ask me if the restaurants in question could accommodate me.
She was pretty amazed that no one else had ever made an effort to be inclusive.
The end result is that this is a luncheon that is going to happen about once a month, and it looks like she’ll be the one organizing it each time. She’s going to make sure that the restaurants chosen in the future are ones that I can get something at.
Does this accomplish anything other than allowing me the dubious pleasure of joining in the team lunches? I’m not sure. In terms of social aspects at work, it probably does help me, as I’m quite sure I was seen as a non-joiner or anti-social, both of which are actually true to some degree. But neither were reasons that I wasn’t joining in the lunches, and maybe that was made a little clear to a few of the more perceptive of my team members.
I don’t talk about the ethics behind my veganism at work, as a general rule. I’ve had one person, just last month, ask me directly, and so I answered. It is not the sort of work environment that is open to people talking about anything more in-depth than football, Tiger Wood’s knee surgery, or animal planet.
Lately though I’ve been thinking hard about the impact we have by example. It’s one piece of the whole, but in situations where we see people every day, it might be one of the more important pieces. Different than the advocacy we do when we’re leafleting or performing other sort of fly-by educational tasks.
They say actions speak louder than words. Sometimes that is true.