Every vegetarian has experienced this at least once when out to lunch with friends or at a family dinner: you ask for a vegetarian option or you fill your plate with non-meat items, which prompts dirty looks from those around you. One person then asks: "You don’t eat meat? Why?" After this, you just want to sink into your chair and hide from the world.
Only five percent of the United States population is vegetarian, and another two percent is vegan. This means that vegetarians have to live in a meat-dominated world, and it can be very difficult, especially considering how important meat is to our meals and social experiences.
When a carnivore discovers that you’re a vegetarian, a few things tend to happen:
- They want to enter a debate about how we are supposed to eat meat.
- They try to encourage you to eat meat, even if you don’t want to.
- They make you feel awkward by not ordering meat to accommodate you.
- They keep probing you for your reasons to refrain from consuming meat.
- They inquire if you’re judging them or hate them because they eat meat.
Much like how non-alcoholic drinkers have to experience the vitriol of avid alcohol enthusiasts, vegetarians have to go through a lot just to defend and maintain their lifestyle, and sanity.
Being a Vegetarian at a Business Dinner - Yikes!
Now, if you think it’s awkward during casual social gatherings, then just imagine how cringing it can be during a business dinner when you’re either hanging out with your boss or wooing potential clients.
The primary purpose of a business dinner is to make a proposal, close a deal or influence clients in a certain way. The entire experience is one that is supposed to be fun, direct and businesslike. In other words, a meeting with clients tends to be laid back but everyone knows why they’re there. It’s just business.
Unfortunately, this is where vegetarianism comes in. If you think your friends and family members become uncomfortable because of your vegetarian lifestyle, then it’s quite likely that, usually alcohol-drinking, meat-eating and virile, businessmen may be irked.
Once again, they may serve up questions, share a few dirty glances, make insulting suggestions, launch a debate, and/or feel compelled to pass on the meat out of guilt or accommodation. Your boss may not appreciate this if a client does feel the latter. Maybe abstaining from the dinner altogether is the best solution for all parties involved. But why should you hinder your career?
Unsure what to do? Here are four options to consider during a business dinner:
1. Do not bring it up
If no one notices that you’re not eating meat, then simply do not bring it up. You don’t have to pontificate to the world or deliver a 20-minute soliloquy about how you don’t imbibe chicken, steak, salmon or lamb. Ignore it, be quiet and don’t talk about it.
2. Just a salad’
Be inconspicuous and just order a salad. Although your fellow diners are ordering medium rare T-bone steaks, well-done hamburgers, and a chicken and lobster dish, you are best to order a salad, but be sure it’s a rather filling one that comes with various vegetables and on a giant plate.
3. Order the appetizers
"I’m not that hungry, so I think I’ll just order a couple of appetizers." This is a statement that can be utilized to avoid a huge scene. Most appetizers aren’t even that healthy – cheese sticks, potato skins and onion rings – so your guests wouldn’t even shudder to think that you don’t eat meat.
4. Make jokes about your meal
If you really want to eat a vegetarian dish then do so, but if someone asks, try to make a joke about it. You can achieve this by alluding to your growing belly or how you promised your significant other that you would cut back on the meat and hefty restaurant bills. Whatever the case, make a remark in jest and dismiss it entirely.
For some reason or another, there is a gigantic stigma attached to vegetarians and vegans. Perhaps it’s the fault of vegans for being too confrontational and accusing everyone of killing innocent animals. Perhaps meat-eaters are to blame for making a big deal about nothing. Whatever the case, tread with caution about your food intake during business dinners.
Emily Han of The Kitchn may have said it best:
"A lifelong vegetarian, I personally prefer to keep things low-key. If the gathering is large and/or buffet-style, I stay silent and simply make do with what’s available. This occasionally means going hungry, but I’d rather not make a fuss and then raid the refrigerator when I get home."