Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ms. Theologian advises disclosure (sometimes)

Dear Ms. Theologian,

I started at a new company that has a lot of company-sponsored meals and events. I'm a vegan, but the choices are always chicken or beef, as if the chicken is for the vegetarians. So do I disclose that I'm vegan ahead of time? In another job, I did this and the event planner freaked out, and when it was time for the meal I had a cold syrupy fruit salad, and couldn't even get the salad and bread that other meals came with. What would you do?

-Veganlicious

Dear Veganlicious,

Was your event at the Westborough Marriot? Ms. Theologian has also had a cold syrupy fruit salad as a meat-alternative, but it was at a wedding and accompanied by a scoop of rancid cottage cheese. She did not eat any of it after the rancidity was determined. She actually sent it back.

Vegetarians and vegans have a few tricks for workplace food functions:

1. Eat ahead of time This sounds like a cop-out, but it actually the finest in self-care strategies. If you eat ahead of time, even mixed nuts or a salad, you will make better food choices for yourself and be a civil human being regardless of what is served. (As an aside, Ms. Theologian thinks that often we slip into a college-mentality at the mention of free food at work functions, and gorge ourselves. Not a good idea for any number of reasons.)

2. Kindly inform Ms. Theologian has always made sure that she has told event planners in the workplace about both her vegetarianism and her willingness to help plan events, choose caterers, cook, bring her own food, and eat only salad. The fact that she did not sound like a "flakey vegetarian" or a "demanding employee" helped a lot.

3. Network with the other vegs There may be others out there. You may be able to figure out who they are by studying their food choices. (Do this surreptitiously.) Then see how they handle things. You may be able to band together to negotiate "chicken or beef" into "chicken, beef, or lentil."

4. Move to the coasts Ms. Theologian is only partially kidding. The food choices on the East and West Coast are far more vegetarian and vegan friendly than the area in between.

5. Consider not disclosing Yes, this strategy actually contradicts the second one. Here is what occasionally happens when Ms. Theologian discloses her vegetarianism: she gets a plate of cheese. But Ms. Theologian is also lactose intolerant, but chose not to disclose this as it made her sound like a neurotic mess. And much like your syrup salad, sometimes the "alternative" presented isn't much of an alternative. Ms. Theologian has found that sometimes it is easier to negotiate around the chicken or beef by just not mentioning vegetarianism ahead of time. This might be the passive way out, but it's also an option. Sure, you didn't have an entree or you ate around the chicken, but sometimes these battles aren't won on the battlefield (they're won in the planning stages).

Hungrily,

Ms. Theologian

P.S. If you'd like to write to Ms. Theologian, send an email to ms dot theologian at gmail dot com.