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Special Diet Parties

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Fact: I like parties.  

People often ask how I deal with being the only vegan at a party: What do I eat? Do I make special arrangements ahead of time? And how do I react when someone brings up the topic?

I know many of you also eat “differently” than your friends and family—whether it be due to necessity (such as allergies) or choice. Hopefully this post will help some of you as well.

Social Gatherings: Dealing with being Different 

cookies4

In the above photo: Healthy Chocolate-Chip Cookies.

1. Plan Ahead

Make sure (beforehand) that there’ll be food you can eat. Oftentimes, this means bringing your own food. But instead of bringing a special meal just for yourself, think of a dish or two that you can share with everyone (cookies—like the ones above—are always a big hit with crowds). Nothing screams “weirdo!” as loudly as the girl hiding in the corner with her “special” food that no one else can sample. Don’t just tell people you can eat yummy things on your diet; show them!

2. Blend In

I think the most important thing you can do is not draw attention towards yourself. If you do not make a big deal out of your differences, others most likely won’t either. They probably won’t even notice! It’s just a fact of life that people tend to be consumed with their own lives and thoughts; we usually overestimate how much others notice our habits.

polentacasserole1

In the above photo: Christmas Polenta Casserole.

For our Christmas feast last year, I lined up with everyone else when it came time to make our dinner plates. I made a beeline for the polenta casserole first, to ensure I’d get enough before it was all gone. Then, I piled my plate high with a myriad of colorful sides until no one could say my feast looked sad and lonely.

3. Show Off

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In the above photo: Healthy Chocolate Cake.

Showcase your diet in the best-possible light by dazzling your fellow party-goers with incredible-looking (and tasting!) foods. For example, if you’re a vegan, you could bring a dish of plain, steamed veggies. But how boring is that? Instead, why not get creative? Flip through some cookbooks for ideas, and go gourmet.

4. Speak Up—if you wish

When someone at the dinner table commented that I “always look so radiant and happy” I just *had* to put in a good word for veganism. Only then did people take notice of what was on my plate (or rather, what was not on it). And you know what? Their reaction was pretty much all positive! I think it helped that we were—for the most part—a young crowd. I feel like younger people tend to be more receptive and accepting of a meatless diet, as it’s become a much more mainstream idea in recent years. (Thank you, Ellen Degeneres!)

One girl at the table didn’t eat red meat. Another said, “Oh my college roommate’s a vegetarian too! And she’s kind of been swaying me that way, lately.” Someone else chimed in with, “I could never give up meat completely, but I’ve been trying to eat it less because I keep reading that a lot is bad for your health.” And even an older guy at the table said he was cutting back due to high cholesterol. So although I was the only vegetarian, it turned out I was not the only one who appreciated the plethora of veggie options at our Christmas table.

5. But don’t preach

I was once embarrassed about my veganism.

However, those days are long gone, and I’m now a proud plant-eater. But that doesn’t mean I have a right to force my views on others. My diet doesn’t make me superior to anyone else; we all have different ways of making the world a better place, and some of the kindest, most amazing people are omnivores. I am not fit to shine their shoes. (Mother Theresa, I’m talking to you!) Now is not the time to get preachy and make others feel badly about their choices. Believe me, screaming “Grandma, you’re a murderer” will not win you any converts to your cause, and it certainly won’t make you any friends.

6. Change the Subject

If you’re feeling uncomfortable with the attention focused on your diet, or if the dialogue is turning hostile, casually push the conversation in a new direction. Or make an excuse (bathroom, need more food, want to check the football score, etc.) and get up from the table. Chances are that, by the time you return, the guests will have moved on to a new subject.

Question of the Day:

Do you eat differently from your friends?

If so, does that ever present a challenge at parties or family gatherings?

Tomorrow: chocolate-pumpkin pie!!

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. Awesome post–I especially like the “Show off” tip!

    I definitely eat differently than many of my friends and it can sometimes be challenging. They often order in wings or go out for burgers…both of which pose a challenge for a vegetarian and health food enthusiast!!

  2. Audrey says:

    Awesome post, Katie! This really resonated with me and I think I will use some of these tips in the future. I especially liked #5. It’s important (especially for me) to remember not to preach! Because veganism is something I feel passionate about I often find myself having to bite my tongue. But I think there are better ways and times of addressing the subject than at a holiday gathering.

  3. Janice says:

    I’m celiac and can no longer have dairy either. But I Loooove your recipes…you’ve taught me. Thank you.

  4. This post speaks to me too! I’m not a big meat eater (not a vegetarian either) but most of my friends love meat! So parties and gatherings always mean that 9 out of 10 dishes are meat!

  5. Val says:

    Love this post!! Some Great advice!!
    There isn’t much I won’t eat… but I have a lot of friends on “special diets” and I love trying to create yummy dishes that they can enjoy too. And they really appreciate it when they have the fudgy looking brownie or cupcake too!! And to be honest, I get most of my recipes from you!!

  6. I loved this post! I don’t follow anything specific like veganism, but I just happen to be friends with a lot of people that are not super healthy conscious and I used to feel so alienated by my different food choices and not being like everyone else. I would cook food for others that I wouldn’t eat myself, but I have found that If I just make the things I enjoy, everyone else ends up liking it too and appreciating it in the end! :)

  7. Great post! Oooh I am excited for that pie recipe :)

  8. Dakota says:

    I eat incredibly differently than my friends AND my boyfriend, which can sometimes be hard. I get really self conscious at times especially when people make comments about my rabbit food or how I’m probably not getting enough protein. Generally I find that the mean spirited comments stem from people thinking that by eating the way I do, I’m judging them or criticizing them. You just have to be open with people and make sure everyone knows that you’re not condemning their choices.

    As always, the best way to impress and make things comfortable, though, is DEFINITELY to share. When I make enough to share, everyone around usually eats (and loves) at least a portion of it (even though it’s vegan). Also taking your share doing the hosting of parties can be great too. It’s a chance to make a handful of things and broaden the minds of your friends. =)

    1. My favorite answer to the protein question is to tell people that elephants and gorillas are vegan. No one could say they’re scrawny! 😉

  9. Megan says:

    This was an insightful and helpful post! Just yesterday I was at Thanksgiving gathering with friends and brought lentil dal to have instead of meat. I didn’t mention it and no one noticed it was on my plate! I also brought a big salad as a dish so I knew I would have veggies to eat. You are so right about people not noticing! I eat differently than my friends in that I don’t eat meat and I tend to eat more veggies and balanced meals. I agree that we all have our ways of helping the world! One of my friends is the volunteer coordinator at the North Texas Food Bank; regardless of her diet, that rocks! In conclusion, thanks for the post and I look forward to tomorrow’s recipe!

  10. Angela says:

    The healthy chocolate cake link is defunct!

    1. Uh oh… it’s working perfectly for me. Can you tell me what error message you’re getting?

      1. Also: Is anyone else having a problem with that link??

        1. Melissa F says:

          I got the “You 404’d it. Gnarly, dude.” message when I clicked on that link.

          1. Ok, I *think* I fixed it! Thank you all SO much for taking the time to let me know it wasn’t working. If anyone gets a chance, let me know if the links are working now. (You might have to clear your cache.)

            Sorry for all the trouble :(

  11. Angela says:

    “You 404’d it. Gnarly, dude.
    Surfin’ ain’t easy, and right now, you’re lost at sea. But don’t worry; simply pick an option from the list below, and you’ll be back out riding the waves of the Internet in no time.

    Hit the “back” button on your browser. It’s perfect for situations like this!
    Head on over to the home page.
    Punt.”
    Eh, it’s probably just me…

  12. Moni'sMeals says:

    Great post Katie, I am certain this will help many others. :)
    I think eventually people come around and finally accept things.

  13. Good post! I recently found out that I am gluten and soy intolerant, so I’m a little nervous about going home for the holidays. My cousin, who is cooking thanksgiving dinner, knows this so I know she will try to make some accommodations, but she’s pretty set on her menu. I did offer to bring another veggie dish: Brussels sprouts! My biggest concern though is people feeling bad for me since I can’t eat half the menu (and most of my favorites). I don’t pity myself and don’t want that from them!

  14. Kit-Kat says:

    I do, and my friends think I’m weird, but they understand at the same time, because I’m allergic to dairy anyways. I love being a vegan, and I promote it, but if my friends havev zero interest in it then I won’t talk about it.
    My veganism presents a pretty big challenge at parties and gatherings, because my friends’ parents cook casserol dishes that are not vegan to parties most of the time, and the only vegan sides are either slices of fruit (mainly apples) or raw veggie trays. I can’t just eat that at a part without someone saying “you on a diet? You’re already super skinny”. It’s impossible to bring my own dish when my family visits a French family we know well, too. This French family serves meals the traditional French way (very elaborate and fancy), and to refuse everything is to be rude. They understand me a little, because on of their neices is dealing with anorexia, and she visited them not too far back. I don’t want to be labeled as an anorexic, though. I want to be known as a happy healthy vegan!

  15. Melissa F says:

    This is a very inspirational post, Katie! I’ve been vegetarian all my life. When I was a kid, I was sheltered from all the questions for the most part because my parents were vegetarians too and so were all the people we hung out with!

    After I left home, I had to learn how to respond to a lot of questions about vegetarianism, and some of them were very personal!! LOL But I soon learned that humor helps tremendously! And I needed to bring stuff to share at parties and dinners. Also, I noticed that most people were open and supportive. :)

    Still to this day, the question I get the MOST often is: What do you eat at Thanksgiving? My answer usually is: Oh MY!! The question should be ‘What do I not eat?’ Then I’ll start listing all the things I love to eat at Thanksgiving that doesn’t involve meat. They soon get the picture!!!

    Oh, and by the way, Dakota – I really like your comment “Generally I find that the mean spirited comments stem from people thinking that by eating the way I do, I’m judging them or criticizing them.” And I totally agree! If someone makes snide comments about the way I eat, it’s usually because they think I’m going to criticize them – and I NEVER do! However, if they continue to be “mean”, sometimes I just say “You know, that cow you’re eating was a vegetarian!”

    1. Haha I struggle with that question on ANY day! “What can you eat?” Oh goodness, people don’t really want to know all that I eat… I actually eat a MORE varied diet now that I’m a vegan, oddly enough.

      1. Kellie says:

        I do too – it’s funny, because I feel like even though I’m “excluding” all meat and most eggs and dairy, I still eat a greater number of different species, on a regular basis, than many of my friends and most of my family. And YES – Dakota is SPOT-ON… most of the hostility I encounter (or even just most of the awkwardness) also stems from my companion at a meal assuming that I’m going to judge them for eating meat. People have all encountered at least one super-preachy sanctimonious vegetarian or vegan, and nobody wants to be guilt-tripped for how they eat. People have a tendency to get either hostile or (more often) immediately jump in to making excuses for themselves, because they’re afraid of either offending me or of being unfairly judged by me. It helps to assure them that that how I eat is a very personal choice – and so is how THEY eat! I’ve had so much more success convincing people that my plant-based diet isn’t boring or restrictive when I have simply cooked for my friends and family, rather than trying to debate or explain it to them. Once they see that I can eat all kinds of really delicious stuff, and that I’m not going to beat them over the head with a zucchini if they still enjoy meat, they realize that vegetarianism/veganism isn’t that big of a deal, and that not all vegetarians are a pain to hang out with. :)

  16. Sonja says:

    Great post, Katie! I do eat differently from most of my friends and family because I’m a vegetarian and try to cut down on dairy, too. It’s not a real problem but people often ask me about my diet. Especially older ones and I have no problems in telling them about vegetarianism but have to remind me sometimes that I don’t want to preach :-)

  17. Having a wheat allergy makes this hard!! Every Friday evening my high school marching band has tailgate before the football game. It was weird because I always had to bring my own food and could never share the desserts even. But one day I brought wheat free blondies for everyone in my flute section and they all loved them and were convinced that wheat is actually not necessary for something that tastes good. :)

  18. –You. Rock.

    Love this blog.

    Love your recipes.

    Love that Chocolate Cake., WOW.

  19. Great advice. I’m heading to my first Thanksgiving as a vegan this week, and I’m expecting everyone to be good about it. Of course, some of my big meat-loving uncles will probably make comments, but whatever. I’m obviously going armed with some majorly delicious dishes!

  20. Amber K says:

    With my numerous food intolerances I have to bring my own food if I want to be able to eat something that won’t upset my stomach. I try and bring something that everyone can eat and share. But I usually get a little bummed watching everyone eat a plethora of different foods while I’m usually stuck eating the one thing I brought.