A couple months ago I got an email at work about a work-sponsored “picnic” / BBQ. I’ve tried to make team lunches work out for me, but as much as I enjoyed the giant salads I’d end up with from a pretty decent salad bar at a grocery store, I quickly got tired of salad being the expected option for me.
Rather than deal with the resentment for my coworkers these lunches brought up, I stopped participating.
I had mixed feelings about this – on one hand, doesn’t it prove that vegans are “difficult”? At the same time, constantly having salad for lunch at these things encourages that other stereotype.
I’ve taken to telling people that I eat bark and twigs when they ask what I eat.
I’m really not a very good advocate, given that my annoyance threshold is so low. But sometimes I’m motivated to keep trying. And I know it is valuable to keep trying.
But when I got the email about the work picnic, my reaction was my default reaction to work-food events: I deleted it.
One of the organizers sits in my pod. She didn’t let me bow out; she insisted that they’d make it work for me. She never seemed to quite get what I can or can’t eat (she thinks that vegans can’t eat bread) and I doubt that my wariness about having her pick up whatever veggie burger they had on sale at costco was well hidden. She proposed that I be in charge of the vegetarian option. I agreed. There was at least one other vegetarian in the office, but of course I needed vegan options, and I wasn’t confident that I’d have much in the way of options if I didn’t take care of it myself.
We had 6 people signed up for the vegetarian option. I got what I thought was a generous amount of food, but my podmate encouraged me to get some additional stuff as well, to give people more options, even though it would mean we had a lot of extra food. She might not understand what we can eat, but she was clearly trying to make it a good event for us.
I queried my people on twitter, and based on their suggestions I picked up Tofurkey kielbasa and Field Roast Apple Sage.
I talked to the grillers to make sure they understood that we’d be doing the veg stuff first, so there would be no contamination issues. The grill and utensils were brand new (cheaper than renting grills, apparently) so that part was easy. I ended up watching and “helping” during the cooking. Just couldn’t quite trust it otherwise.
The Gardenburger Black Bean burgers and the Field Roast Apple Sage sausages were the biggest hits, and I had several people come up to me to tell me how much they liked them.
Without a doubt, this was the most successful work lunch I’ve participated in at my current place of employment. What surprised me, continuously, is that the two people organizing it kept coming to me over the weeks of preparation to say “we got x, it is vegetarian.” And then they’d have me read the labels. The salad dressing they’d gotten had cheese, so they immediately said to get another and bring it in, that they had wanted to have 2 anyway. They handed the responsibility of the vegetarian food to me, only because they wanted me to be absolutely certain that I’d be able to eat it. They ended up with loads of fruit to supplement the other desserts, and though I’d have jumped into a pile of vegan cookies without a second thought, it was better to jump into a pile of watermelon instead.
It was at work, so it isn’t like I did a lot of active outreach, yet I do feel that it was helpful for my coworkers to see that it wasn’t just me. 6 of us signed up, others were interested. Some of the meat eaters were fascinated by the sausages, especially, as they cooked on the grill. One meat eater ate the vegetarian stuff because he’s trying to correct his high cholesterol through diet, and yet there is that chance that he’ll start to see the vegetarian option as a normal everyday option. He hadn’t originally signed up for the picnic at all until he happened to mention to me that he was now eating meat-free during the day. I asked him if he wanted the vegetarian option for the picnic, and he was excited about it when he agreed.
Perhaps it helped a little. If nothing else, I certainly ate my fill, which itself seems a victory, considering it was a work lunch.