How to Eat Vegan with Omnivore Friends

All too often, those who attempt to follow a plant-based diet find ourselves with friends at a full service restaurant that prefers to serve a litany of animal-infused products. We’re stuck with a double order of vegetable sides, which requires the awkward, unsavory task of asking our server to withhold the butter poaching. You can opt for the always available, previously frost-bitten, then oil-scalded, potato spears, attempt to be filled by the toddler’s fistful of sad leaves that they insist is a salad, or try to take some precautions.

Unfortunately, most of the people we know don’t think twice about what they stuff into their faces. For many, the criteria for food while eating out is: served quickly and not taste outright terrible. This qualifies at least ninety-eight percent of America’s food service establishments (approximate estimation). Although our friends and the prospective eatery may genuinely desire to accommodate us, they usually will be poor equipped. Vegan and vegetarian options are usually paltry and lack satiation that meat eaters take for granted.

Enough of this nonsense. No more first world suffering. Take control of animal product abstinence into your own vegetabled hands. Unless you want to eat exclusively with strict vegans in plant-based purgatory, it’s high time we increase the statistical probability that you won’t ingest another satisfaction-alleviating cloud burger stuffed with nothingness in front of your guffawing, meat-adoring friends.

1. Get involved with the destination discussion

Don’t sit idly back, then hem and haw when you sit down at Fiendly’s or Applebug’s. Those places suck, and for good reason: you can find all their food in the frozen aisle in any major supermarket. Who wants to pay a premium on having someone microwave your food for you? Your friends, apparently.
Suggest places that you know are vegan friendly (without saying they actually are). Unless your friends express explicit interest in trying an all vegan restaurant, it’s only considerate to choose something that has options for everyone. Whether they’ll admit it or not, for them a meal isn’t a meal without meat, and they’ll feel cheated when they pay a premium for a tofu taco.

It’s rare these days that there aren’t one or two meatless options on the menu. Be wary, for these are likely not designed to be a satisfying meal. A place with a vegetarian section on the menu will be better equipped at creating something satisfying, and the concept won’t seem alien to them, as they’ve clearly have enough awareness/customer base to build it into their menu. Even gluten-free friendly places are more likely to have vegan options, as these demographics have huge overlap. Which leads to…

2. When in doubt, go for the vegan friendly culture

Fortunately for Americans, our country is a veritable amalgam of ethnicities, and our dining options are multiples of myriad. Even more fortunate, there are cultures with a deep history of vegetarianism, or at least a familiarity. And even more so, there are cultures, like the Nepali or Tibetans, who have retained their predominantly plant based diets despite the advent of western affluence and their accompanying lethal non-communicable diseases. Most of the world does eat vegan, most of the time.

Some cultures do so more than others, like almost anywhere in East or Southeast Asia. With significant Buddhist populations, meatless cuisine abstinence is not a new idea in East or Southeast Asia. Even this has transpired over to Americanized ethnic foods. Every Chinese takeout menu has a vegetable section. And if you take one step up in quality, like a bistro, there’s always noodles, rice, and noodly rice, with veggies, tofu, seitan, with an obnoxiously named but likely platable sauce on top. Also, with the exception of western influenced desserts, they don’t really eat cow’s milk (more so Southeast Asia, as I’ve had lots of coconut milk desserts that were not made with vegans in mind). So eastern vegetarianism is practically veganism.

Also a very veggie friendly shout-out to the Middle East. Falafel, babaganoush, tabouleh— you’ll be hard pressed to find a meal that excludes veggies.

You may wonder why India isn’t included. To quote an Indian coworker “Cream… CREAM. They put cream in everything.” And if it’s not cream, its yogurt, milk, or ghee (clarified butter). Naan? It’s got milk. Sorry (they’re not). Argue with that at your own peril. For some of us, the exception breaks a moral code and the only consequence is a guilty conscience. For others, including myself, the exception breaks our gut with painful bloating and insufferably potent expulsions of the gaseous kind.

However, if your current location is sorely lacking in diversity, but you have a home with a kitchen…

3. Invite people over

Don’t always let people insist on eating out. Invite them over and cook them a meal. Not confident in your vegan cooking skills? A great place to start is here.

If you are confident in your vegan cooking, start writing those invitations. Cook them something simple, not too fancy, over rice, or noodles, with a salad, and you’re all set.

Know your audience. Regular meat and dairy eaters are not easily impressed by substitutes. Try making a meal that wouldn’t have dairy or meat, but still has that satiation. Stir fried eggplant over jasmine rice and a salad will feel extravagant. Use richer oils with neutral flavor, like refined coconut. Season with a bit more salt and sugar, as they’re used to this from caramelized meats. And make a lot. Planet-based vegan food is much less calorie and fat dense, so you’ll want them satisfied, which means providing higher volume than they are used to.

If all else fails…

4. Skip the meal

Often, dinner is planned as a precursor to the main event. More often than not, our friends are enamored with a chain restaurant endorsed by a make believe chef, and insist we trade our money worth several hours of labor for a paltry 30 minutes of uninspired novelty (this does not include wait times).

So gently tell them you can’t make it and will meet them after.

If this keeps happening more than you like…

5. Get new (additional) friends

I know, this sounds harsh. I’m not saying to drop your old friends. Invite those ones over for dinner (see above). But you like eating out vegan, right? Find friends who think that’s worth their hard earned cash too. Eat with those friends. Don’t drag along reluctant omnivores or carnivores for an herbivore’s favorite dinner. I frequently say: don’t make someone watch a movie they don’t want to see. You’d think this reasoning is obvious, but how often have we dragged someone to something they don’t want to do (ahem significant others). You’re bound for disappointment. So that’s my compassionate plea. They wouldn’t invite you to the Brazilian Steakhouse. And you wouldn’t ask to be.

how to eat vegan with omnivore friends
All plant-based french patisserie. Her included.

I didn’t realize how intertwined eating was with socializing until I made the transition to a plant-based diet. Yes, some of you may say this is obvious, but adopt any strict diet, and see how many social events you can go to without hassle. All you want to do is be healthier, and all your friends want is to not to have their eating habits challenged. Even without saying a word, the action of abstaining from culturally ubiquitous food products will profoundly affect you and your friends. So try to consider everyone and their feelings, but don’t forfeit your health in doing so.

How to Eat Vegan with Omnivore friends