Being a vegan in the corporate world can be difficult, especially if you live in an area where plant-based diets and respect for animals are not the norm.
Where I work, company lunches, potlucks and other opportunities to eat together, are not only common but are often used as motivation or given as a reward for a job well done. Yet for me, they are little other than a point of stress and I sometimes find myself looking for an excuse to avoid the event all together!
Since I’ve been with the same company for years now, my coworkers all know that I don’t eat meat, and some even know that I’m a vegan. Most are quite courteous in trying to choose restaurants with food they think I can order and they often try to make menu suggestions. But quite often the places chosen have nothing suitable to eat, which just makes for an uncomfortable situation.
If you are a vegan, it’s likely that you too will at some be put into a position where it’s necessary to eat with your workmates. If you find yourself facing an upcoming lunch or event, perhaps you can deploy some of these tactics that have worked well for me in past:
- Check with the meeting organizer in advance to get the scoop on the meal situation. Will it be catered in? Box lunches? Dining out?
- If you know you’ll be eating at a restaurant, ask for the menu is advance or find it online. That way you can take as much time as necessary to figure out what to order without holding up the order for the rest of the group and will know in advance if there’s not a good option.
- If the meal will be brought in, bring your own food to eat at the same time.
- Consider if there are likely to be snacks served (candy, cookies, etc. are common for all-day meetings) and bring something yummy for yourself plus enough to share with others.
- If the event starts with lunch and the program or activity will follow, ask if you can join the group after the meal has already been served.
- Use techniques one would normally employ at inhospitable restaurants such as ordering just a drink, appetizer, or other sides off the menu in place of an entree.
- Consider asking if you can place a special order, especially good to do if they have something explicit on the menu saying they welcome alternate requests. Note that this may not be a good idea if everyone is in a rush, since special orders often take more time.
- Make sure to have some non-perishable food with you, such as a piece of fruit or a packaged bar, in case things don’t go as expected. Sometimes even the best laid plans fall short.
While it would often be easier just to skip out all together, it is good to make an effort to participate in some fashion. Otherwise you may be branded as “not a team player” or miss out on some crucial bit of information. A lot gets discussed over lunch!
I am lucky to have had supportive and considerate supervisors during my time as a corporate vegan. If you are the manager of a vegetarian or vegan employee I’d extend the following tips to you:
- Don’t make a big deal out of the issue, broadcast an announcement or bring it up as a major discussion topic for the team.
- Understand your employee’s dietary preferences so you can make informed choices when choosing a location, restaurant or caterer for team meetings. Consider asking your employee for their input.
- If you are not making the choice, coordinate with the meeting organizer to determine the meal plan and give input if possible. This will save your employee some work and stop them from always having to feel like they are always the only ones asking questions or demanding special favors.
- When you are the one bringing the snacks, make sure to offer something that all your employees can eat. (It’s not as hard as you might think! Lots of junk food such as Oreos and Twizzlers are accidentally vegan, and you can always bring obviously vegan things like plain fruit or nuts.)
- Be conscious of the fact that people may adopt the veg lifestyle for wildly different reasons. Don’t presume you know your employee’s reason.
- Note that ethical vegans often hold deep-seated beliefs that extend to areas of animal welfare other than just food. You might consider this belief similar to that of a religious position in that it is a choice, but not one made lightly or to be discarded. In this vein, be aware of peripheral issues and things that may offend such as giving leather as gifts or wishing them a Happy Turkey Day.
- Appreciate the diversity their veganism brings to your team! Variety of thought is always a good thing.
And to add in a lofty and random request here for facilities managers too, please try to make sure there’s at least one vegan thing in the vending machine!! Since packages can’t show both front and back at the same time, Im thinking a vegan sticker or printed slide-in icon to go next to the price would be a great addition.
For any readers that might be out there, what’s your experience been like? Any additional tips to share?