By Tonya Abari, adapted from an article by Demetrius Bagley in the African American Vegan Starter Guide
When I first went vegan, socializing was a challenge. Attending family gatherings or going out to eat with omnivore friends and having little to no vegan options was stressful. And then there were the work events full of smoked meats and cheese platters. Not to mention the quizzical looks, barrage of questions, and the infamous “They have a salad.”
One too many of these instances made me question how I could ever make socializing while vegan sustainable. So what was a new vegan to do?
Well, I finally realized that it’s up to me to make sure I have vegan food available – and to be comfortable taking care of my needs in social situations with ease and grace. And once I changed my mindset, a lot of the stress went away. The reality is that some of your friends and family will understand your choice to go vegan – and some will not. But that certainly doesn’t mean you should stop socializing. It’s up to you to feel confident with your new vegan lifestyle and know that you can manage social situations just fine with some practice and consistency. So here are some practical ways to get the most out of socializing as a vegan:
Expand your network. If the village ain’t vegan, you’re going to have to build one. Get to know other vegans and vegan happenings through sites like Grazer and Meetup. It’s a great way to meet a variety of vegans—whether activists or foodies, newbies or veterans. Another added bonus of finding your people: eating vegan free from explanations and being on the defensive is so much more enjoyable and relaxing! Part of being vegan, after all, is living with a greater sense of peace.
Explore locally. A great place to meet other vegans and find vegan foods are at your community’s green or farmer’s markets. Along with buying fresh produce directly from the famers, you’ll often find small businesses selling a variety of vegan goodies. Also, think about attending vegan-friendly festivals. A few popular national festivals include Black Vegfest in Brooklyn, Vegan Soulfest in Baltimore and Vegan Street Fair in Los Angeles.
Suggest vegan establishments. Recommend vegan restaurants for your meetup or gathering. It’s an inclusive option because almost everyone eats plant-based foods, whether they’re vegans or omnivores. You can search for vegan restaurants in your area using HappyCow.
Eat before you go! Sure, breaking bread is part of the ultimate social experience. But if vegan options are questionable, it’s best to eat before you go. Showing up with a content belly makes it easier to turn down non-vegan offerings. And just remember, there can be many reasons why people choose not to eat at gatherings, so be comfortable with your choice.
BYOVF (Bring your own vegan foods). There’s no shame in bringing your own food to an event. Some might consider it rude, but remember, we’re all at different places when it comes to food, so be confident about meeting your own needs. If you know the event won’t have vegan options, pack a bag lunch (breakfast or dinner) full of your own vegan treats. Also, you can also bring vegan food to share with others. The key is to know your host and audience. Providing something sweet, like a fruit salad or a pan of homemade vegan brownies, is an easy and crowd-pleasing choice. Healthy drinks, like fresh smoothies, juices or lemonade, can also be refreshing to share.
Attending picnics, potlucks, cookouts or any other food-focused events with omnivores can feel tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying your social life as a new vegan even more.