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Vegan at a Wedding

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If you have a special diet, does this sound familiar?

You receive an invitation to a wedding, and the RSVP portion asks you to check off one of two things: chicken or fish. Well, obviously vegetarians do not want to be served chicken or fish. And people with allergies or special dietary needs also can’t eat just anything. What do you do?

A. Grumble a bunch, and then check off one or the other

B. Eschew going to the wedding altogether …

Skip the wedding? How sad would that be?

A few months ago, I wrote about how I was once a bit embarrassed about my diet. While this is definitely no longer the case, I still try not to call attention to my veganism when out with friends, family, or other non-vegans. I don’t want anyone to feel awkward, and also, sometimes it’s not all about me! Sometimes, I just don’t feel like getting into the debate, ya know? I want to talk about things other than my culinary inclinations.

In my eight years as a vegan, I’ve learned that the best way to ensure you’ll get some vegan grub, hassle-free, is to call ahead. This is a good strategy for three reasons: One, you don’t have to call attention to yourself or seem “high maintenance” when the waiter is taking orders. Two, if they can’t accommodate your diet, you have time to make different arrangements. Three, it’s courteous to give the chef a heads-up so he/she can be better prepared. Plus, you’ll probably end up with something yummier if the chef knows in advance about your diet and is therefore able to brainstorm a meal for you.

By calling ahead, for the wedding I recently attended, I was rewarded with an amazing, gourmet meal: Perfectly-grilled zucchini, eggplant, yellow squash, peppers, tomato, and portabella mushrooms drizzled with a balsamic reduction so sweet I’m still dreaming about it.

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I was lucky this time. However, it’s always a good idea to have a back-up plan, just in case. My backup plan for this particular occasion was a bunch of nuts thrown into my purse, if all I was served was an iceberg salad. True, nuts and salad aren’t an ideal dinner. But I believe food isn’t the most important thing in life. What’s more important? Friends, family, and dancing all night! That, and cute party favors like these Love Beyond Measure spoons:

NYC2010 228

Cute or what?!

Are you always prepared with food in your purse?
And have you ever had a restaurant meal specially made for you?

I always carry some sort of energy bar, fruit, or nuts in my purse or backpack. My friends love me for it; when they get hungry, they know where to turn. Unfortunately, that means I have to routinely remember to restock!

Katie is the baker, photographer, and author of the popular blog Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating a balanced diet that includes dessert every single day. More about Katie—> 
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  1. I do keep food in my purse — for “emergency” use only.

    I’ve never had a whole meal made specially for me — I really just need to watch my dairy intake (as in not have any or a very very small amount) — and I can do that easily with any menu. For weddings I almost always choose fish since chicken can sometimes be smothered in cheese.

    What are these “famous vagina lollipops”?

    1. Oops, lol I thought they were famous! But judging by your comment and some of the others, maybe it was just a Bryn Mawr thing. Here’s what I wrote to Tori (another commenter):
      They’re just something someone made up to go along with The Vagina Monologues, I think. When schools put on that play, they make vagina lollipops. Or maybe that was just at Bryn Mawr lol (where I went, freshman year).

  2. Tori says:

    Vagina lollipops? What the heck? I must have missed that post! Haha!

    1. LOL no, it’s not my recipe. They’re just something someone made up to go along with The Vagina Monologues, I think. When schools put on that play, they make vagina lollipops. Or maybe that was just at Bryn Mawr lol (where I went, freshman year).

  3. Stefanie says:

    I always have a nutrition bar handy and bring snacks with me when I go to school. When I am going to a party or what not I try to eat a nice meal/snack before I leave so I am not starving when I get home if there is nothing to eat.

    During my recent trip to Disney World the chefs were nice enough to make me a special meal so I had something to eat at the resturant. They were good and hearty meals for being put together on the spot. I feel bad when I do not give them a 24 hr notice but it works out in the end.

    Those measuring spoons are cute. 🙂

    1. I’ve heard that Disney is really accommodating… that’s good to know, because I haven’t been in years and years, but I used to love that place and would love to go back!

  4. Laura says:

    The favorite meal anyone ever made special for me was at an inn my husband and I used to love before I went veggie. They are super gourmet, yet very meat heavy. But they made me a dish of roasted root veggies with black lentils and chestnuts baked inside a sugar pumpkin. It was vegan and beautiful. Everyone in the whole restaurant wanted one, but it wasn’t on the menu!

    Another great time, I was at a wine tasting with my Dad, with just a select few (we owned a wine shop). These things are notoriously meat heavy, but the chef happened to love cooking vegetarian, so he made me a six course veggie meal. Not vegan, but really great. Everyone kept eating off my plate.

    I don’t generally take food with me, just because I end up munching on it randomly instead of at meals. I end up trying to make do with whatever’s being served, just eating the veggies or something, then having something a little more satisfying when I get home.

    1. “Everyone in the whole restaurant wanted one, but it wasn’t on the menu!”

      That’s what always seems to happen to me when I get a special meal somewhere! In fact, one place in Pennsylvania now has a certain rice-and-lentil dish on their main menu because so many people wanted one after seeing mine! 🙂

      1. Laura says:

        I know, even at that wine tasting where they were all eating duck and foi gras, everyone started taking bites off my plate. Mine was better!

        I also often take a dish to a family gathering as an offering. Even their attempts at providing options for me are usually just sweetly misguided. My stewed chickpeas, sort of Moroccan style with apricots, sun dried tomatoes and red wine, went over big at the holidays last year!

  5. Jennifer - jcd says:

    Oooh, what a nice meal! Great tips here. I’ve used them for many years as well. Having snacks stashed in your bag is definitely a MUST.

    As for calling ahead, we get mixed results but mostly positive. No, canneloni stuffed with cheese is NOT vegan, thankyouverymuch. Pasta and red sauce, not exciting, but it will do. But it has also worked out marvellously. Two years ago at an elegant Thanksgiving (aka turkey) party we called ahead and ended up with a stellar meal that made everyone jealous: 7 mushroom soup (sans cream); organic fresh salad with pears, grapefruit, and onion with a lovely raspberry dressing; and the main course was something my tastebuds will never forget: curry squash, baslamic glazed portobello, marinated peppers, and the most amazing soft and flavourful red cabbage. It looked so pretty and every bite was incredible. That chef certainly knows how to impress vegans!

    Usually we get somewhere in the middle. The last cruise we went on didn’t always have (interesting) options for us (boo) so we got clever and started ordering curries from the crew mess – all made with oil; yummy! (The head waiter didn’t quite understand what vegan meant, we think.)

    Oh, and a Disney chef made us some sort of chocolate mousse sundae one night. It was too sweet for me (my husband loved it) but so thoughtful and creative. They also have vegan ice cream and milkshakes and cookies if you just ask for them. Mmmm…

    1. I remember you mentioned that chocolate mousse once before. I never forgot that comment; you can be sure that if I ever go on a Disney cruise, I am insisting they make me one. Chocolate mousse = favorite food. I think I could live a long and happy life on just that :).

  6. Justine says:

    I don’t have problem’s at restaurants, but more so at family gatherings. When it is just my father’s side of the family getting together for a celebratory meal, I usually just bring a dish for everyone so that I can enjoy myself as well. As for when my mother and I go to Wichita to visit her family (for a number of days) I usually just bring most of my own food and have also found a nice little organic market that is near their house. It isn’t just that they eat meat up there, but a lot of the foods that they eat are process and I am pretty sure that even the best of Latin student’s couldn’t pronounce even half of the ingredients in some of them. I am usually a little embarrassed as they are always like, “so….what are YOU eating?” as if it some alien form of food. I try not to be offended by it, though.

    Love your tips though- calling ahead is so underrated!

  7. I used to work at a country club that hosted weddings all the time! I know the chefs were happy to accomodate different diets when someone called ahead of time. Sometimes they would argue over who got to do the “special” dish!

    1. I always try to tell people that when they worry about being a nuisance to the chef if they ask for a special meal. Chefs get so bored cooking the same thing day in and day out; they’re usually happy for a challenge!
      (Of course, that only holds true if you call ahead. It’s not fair to expect them to make you a special dish with no fair warning. They might not even have suitable ingredients on hand.)

      1. I’ve found that; that some chefs are so proud of their gluten-free creations, they don’t mind at all! But I agree with you that it’s always worth calling before… I went for dinner with a group of friends the other night, without ringing in advance, and it turned out they couldn’t guarantee anything was safe for me!
        I ended up with a bowl of olives for dinner which is ok, I like olives, but as I’d already picked at some on the table AND eaten a few at my friend’s house, I was all olive-d out half way through 🙁
        Definitely a lesson for the future!
        Eleanor

  8. veganhomemade says:

    I take the same approach you do for weddings, Katie – I hope for the best and bring snacks in my purse! I’ve been to a few weddings where a special meal was arranged for me (without me requesting it, even), and had lovely food. At the last wedding I went to, I ate dry salad and french fries for dinner and that was fine, because the food just isn’t what’s important at the time.

  9. Iris says:

    I always wonder about who I should talk to…Do I call the bride or groom and add something else to their list of things to do? Do I call the caterer and just let the bride know I’m going to do so? Do I call the caterer and not even mention it to the bride? Or do I just bring a snack in my purse and grin and bear it?

    1. Definitely don’t call the bride and groom. You’re right; they have a lot on their plates lol. I called the catering hall, itself. Good to go right to the source! No need to mention it to the bride at all.

      1. Iris says:

        Thanks for the tip, Katie and Jennifer!

    2. Jennifer - jcd says:

      I’ll second Katie; call the venue and let them know! (The catering staff will usually inform the bride and groom at their next meeting.)

  10. My gma was in town and my family decided to eat at the “Club”, ie the clubhouse in their neighborhood. Nothing on the menu was vegetarian, much less vegan. I emailed the food director and the chefs actually put together a mini menu for my bf and I to select from that was vegan. I was pretty impressed. I thought they’d just put together one dish and call it a day, but they came up with 3. Not too shabby.

    If I’m not sure about the food situation, I pack Larabars (though these days I’d probably just make some myself). I was at a conference last year and packed a bunch just in case the free food wasn’t veg friendly.

    As a side note, when the food is vegetarian friendly, I notice they like to smother it in cheese. My bf and I discussed this the other night when he returned from training and all the “veg” food was smothered in cheese. Are caterer’s so lacking in creativity that they cannot think beyond cheese?

    1. Honestly! And is there no other flavoring in this world aside from cheese? Last I checked, there were hundreds of spices/seasonings in this world. Why only use one?! Borrrrring!

  11. Nicole says:

    Katie, when you’re at a party or any kind of gathering with food, and not sure what is in the dish, do you ask what are in the ingredients before you eat it? My problem is that i assume most people i know cook just about every dish with some type of animal product in it. I decided to become vegan for health reasons so i know every once in a while a small dish or two at a party won”t kill me. But i’m curiuos on how you handle this type of situation. I also bring snacks with me where ever i go (especially larabars).
    Thanks for such a super blog! It’s my highlight of every morning at work!
    Nicole

    1. Hmmm… I can’t think of a situation off the top of my head where I didn’t know what the ingredients were in a certain dish or someone didn’t tell me without my asking (i.e. they made the dish special for me). With things like grilled veggies, veggie plates, fruit salad, hummus, etc, it’s easy to tell without asking. Oh wait, once I was at a party and there was some pumpkin soup. I just pretended I was very interested in the recipe and asked after her preparation. Usually people are very excited if you ask them about a recipe. (Turned out the soup was made with chicken stock, so it’s good I asked.)
      Thanks for your sweet words, Nicole. 🙂

    2. Jessica says:

      I have some of the same concerns! By now, though, my family knows and is (thankfully) willing to accommodate. My mom says “everything except the meat is vegetarian” – her clever way of saying the vegetables and side dishes don’t have meat. In less familiar situations, though, I sometimes ask if there’s chicken stock in the soup, etc. I agree with Katie – people will be happy to tell you what’s in their dishes and generally helpful.

  12. I always call ahead in situations like that because, if not, I will totally stress about not getting enough to eat the entire time. For me, food (not friends, family, or fun) is the most important thing at any event … because I’m obviously a food addict. So if Bianca doesn’t get to eat good food, Bianca will be a cranky bitch the entire time and ruin everyone else’s good time. And nobody wants that! So I call ahead and pack my purse to ensure everyone stays happy. 🙂

    1. LOLOLOLOL!!! You do know that the funniest things come out of your mouth, don’t you? I can’t see you ruining anyone’s good time; quite the opposite. I can see them saying, “This party’s really boring. Where’s Bianca when you need her?”

  13. I found from experience that when people are hosting a party, etc., they feel better knowing that they can accomadate everyone. They want everyone to have a good time and if they find out that you are not eating because of being vegan or something they always say “you should have told us”. Your meal at the wedding looks really good.

    I’ve been to a few events where I’ve had to let them know I was vegan and last Mother’s Day we let the chef at the restaruant know my son and I were vegan and we had an awesome meal! Just last spring my husband and I went to a 5 course vineyard luncheon and my vegan meal was actually better than everyone else’s. I got lots of ooohs and awes! My husband said he should have requested a vegan meal as well.

    Your party idea sounds like so much fun!

    1. People always say that to me too! (that they wished they’d ordered the vegan meal)
      I think part of it has to do with the fact that regular meals can be prepared by just anyone, but usually the head chef will take care of the special orders, meaning they’ll be superior ’cause they were made by the best! 🙂

  14. One more thing: Speaking of weddings, my vegetarian BFF Sheridan is getting married next spring, and she’s asked me to make her cupcakes just because she wants me to be able to eat cake! Isn’t that awesome? She’s not vegan so she could just order a cake, but she’s letting me handle it so I can have cake too. I love Sheridan!!

  15. Albizia says:

    You and your cousins have the most beautiful smiles – the proof that you’ve all had a good time at this wedding 🙂 .

    I am not vegan but I am really picky sometimes and if I know prior to the event that I won’t eat the food, I bring something with me. If I don’t know, well… I just don’t eat. In the end the food isn’t the most important thing there 🙂 .

    And yes, those measuring spoons are super cute. They look like a great present for a celebration of love.

  16. I always call ahead, too. I know some people are worried about being annoying but I think a lot of time the host wants to be helpful and give you something you’ll like so I let them know no matter where I’m going, if it’s a wedding or a small dinner party.

    Apples are my fave to-go food!

  17. I always have snacks in my purse since having kids. 🙂 You seriously could make a meal out of my purse at times: pistachios, Lara Bars, cheerios are a staple and there is often a small apple or banana too. Oh, and a dum dum. Yes it’s candy, but it can do wonders in keeping a squirmy two year old in the cart so you can finish your grocery shopping, after the iPod has lost its novelty.

    I like your attitude about food not being the most important thing. In your situation, the wedding was the most important thing at that moment and I’m so glad you weren’t going to let a meal keep you from enjoying the celebration. Lucky for you, you got a great meal to boot!

  18. janetha says:

    We had all vegan groomsmen and a lot of vegan guests at my wedding, so we had vegan options in the meal and also vegan versions of each dessert! I think it is important to accommodate all diets. My vegan friends typically have to settle to eat little to nothing when we go places with set menus. I didn’t want them to have to do that!

    1. Melissa says:

      1) you’re awesome!

      2) my friends who’ve gotten hitched since I’ve been vegan and my brother all made sure there was vegan food for me at the reception. I was very touched that they even bothered. I wouldn’t have expected it but it was nice. The meals were okay. Very small and mostly the oh so common Grilled Vegetable Plate (’cause that’s all vegans eat…) No vegan dessert, of course, but that’s what a purse is for! I actually flew to Jamaica for my bestie’s wedding with chocolate, Clif Builder Bars, Laras and some cookies in my luggage. A week without something baked and/or sugary sweet is NOT my idea of a good time. LOL. I can only eat so much fruit before it starts to affect my tummy.

      Also, Katie, your post reminded me of this blog:
      http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/04/down_with_the_gvp.html

      I do agree with him and will rant at length about how some caterers/chefs are just completely sad and uncreative when it comes to cooking for vegans(!) Honestly, we settle for very little. Usually I’m just like “yay! hot food I can eat!” *devours plain baked potato* Shouldn’t chefs be raising the bar? It’s not hard to make really good vegan food with common kitchen ingredients! I’ve had chefs really go all out and make FANTASTIC vegan dishes and I’ve had some truly sad, pathetic attempts that made me a bit grumpy. I dunno, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that when I go to a restaurant, I can eat! And not in tiny bird-like portions. 😉 Events like weddings are different, IMO. Food isn’t a huge deal and you can always eat in the hotel room or after the event.

      1. Usually I’m just like “yay! hot food I can eat!”

        Too cute, Melissa! But too true, as well. It doesn’t take much of an effort to make us happy. Any attempt at an effort makes me think, “Wow, I’m touched they really thought about me,” even if the thought is as simple as thinking to bring hummus to a party along with a cheese dip so I’ll have something too.

  19. mckella says:

    Trail mix and peanut butter packets are lifesavers when you don’t have a lot of control over what you eat. Trail mix is also great for sprucing up salad!

  20. Sagojyou says:

    The spoon is so cute!! Did you get it from a friend??
    Yes, I always have some sort of bar (usually luna or lara), because I’ll never know if I can find food!
    I’ve never had a restaurant make something special for me. I don’t eat out often, so that saves the hassel 🙂
    I have a question for you. How strict of a vegan are you? Do you cut some slacks from time to time? (ie: you eat butter if it’s smothered on that bread that you ordered) I’m seeing so many vegans who are like that recently, so I was wondering what you do! If you can answer this for me, that’d be very helpful. Thank you! <3

    1. The spoons were the party favors.
      I guess I’m pretty strict in that I wouldn’t eat something like buttered bread or the cake. But if I accidentally eat something non-vegan (i.e. they told m it was vegan, but they were wrong), I won’t fret about it too much.