A Vegetarian's Coming to Dinner
I remember watching a favorite sitcom as a child. The young man invites his girlfriend to dinner. The mother spends the evening stressing out about making it perfect. And then the girl arrives, and doesn't eat anything. (As I recall, she can't even drink the water, since it comes from the tap.)
Obviously, the episode was exaggerated. But, like all good comedy, there is more than a grain of truth. We can identify with both the host and the guest. And none of us ever want to be in either's shoes.
Before we discuss what vegetarians eat (and how that might work into a meat eater's menu), it's important to understand why, exactly, someone would choose this lifestyle. After all, the meat eater enjoys meat. If you've nver had any food restrictions, the idea is baffling. (And if your only frame of reference is allergies, the concept of choosing a restriction might be a little bit confusing. After all, it's hard to be different. It's hard to restrict yourself. Why would vegetarians choose to?) Unfortunately, while the question is easy, the answer might be a little more complicated.
Why Would Someone Choose to be Vegetarian?
A vegetarian chooses their lifestyle for a variety of reasons. The most commonly cited reason seems to be that some people simply object to consuming meat. They might have read "Charlotte's Web" or been to a dairy farm. They may just feel a kinship to animals and prefer not to eat them. They may have more complicated spiritual beliefs, and you can get more information on those from them personally.
Some people choose vegetarianism as a form of ethical eating. They may not object to the concept of eating animals, but they do object to the treatment of factory farmed animals. These vegetarians occassionally abandon their 'vegetarian' lifestyle when free range, small farm raised and butchered meat is available.
Some people choose vegetarianism out of a desire to create a better environment. They feel that the process of raising cattle for meat is detrimental to our environment for a variety of reasons. They may also feel that in our overcrowded society, a vegetarian lifestyle is more sustainable. After all, the land used to grow vegetarian food can be farmed repeatedly throughout a lifetime, whereas the grazeland for cattle can require quite a long recuperation time. Plus, overcrowded ranches or factory farms can lead to contaminated water supplies and soil. These individuals avoid meat when they can, but don't often object to little slip ups like chicken boillion instead of vegetable, or veggies that were touching the meat.
Some choose vegetarianism for health reasons, which vary. These individuals may need to watch cholesterol, or they might simply have spiritual beliefs regarding their body and what they should ingest. They may be the least comfortable discussing their choices because they are in a continual process of redefining them.
But What do Vegetarians Eat? (Or Not Eat?)
There are two major branches of vegetarianism. Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products and vegans, who avoid any product that requires an animal's cooperation or coercion.
A vegetarian is easy to feed. They eat bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables and legumes. They eat cheese and yoghurt and eggs. They'll even drink milkshakes. Vegetarians avoid all red meat and pork products. Most also avoid poultry and fish.
A vegan is slightly more challenging. They avoid all meats, poultry, fish and eggs. They also avoid dairy products like milk, yoghurt and butter. And the more devout vegans also avoid gelatin and honey. Luckily that leaves all legumes, fruit, vegetables and grains. You can serve them bread and jam, fruit platters, vegetables with hummus, and most bean dishes with rice or pasta.
What do vegetarians eat?
There are a lot of things that vegetarians eat that the rest of the world eats too. After all, for vegetarians it's more about what they don't eat than what they do.
If you're really stuck for dinner ideas, try a few of the following to jumpstart your creativity.
- Macaroni and cheese: It's perfectly safe if they aren't vegan
- Spinach lasagne: Again, the perfect meal for vegetarians who eat cheese.l
- Beans and rice or enchiladas: these are great even for vegans. Just serve them with guacamole.
- A variety of soups (Gazpacho, lentil, potato leek...)
So What Can (or Can't) I Serve When a Vegetarian's at the Table?
Since there are different levels of vegetarianism, it's difficult to know what to serve. The safest course, of course, is simply to ask your guest. This is the menu I have planned, are there any adaptations that you would like, or will it work for you?
Most vegetarians do not require the entire table to be meat free. And most are perfectly satisfied to fill up on side dishes. Just because a vegetarian is coming to dinner doesn't mean you need to eat Tofurkey. You can have vegetarian stuffing, green beans, potatoes, salad, and whatever else you usually put on the table alongside your roast chicken. Just serve the gravy to the side.
If you plan to grill out, it's simply courteous to set aside a part of the grill for the vegetarian items. Luckily, there are quite a few acceptable vegetarian alternative meat-style proteins available. Tofu pups and Sunshine Burgers are a few of our favorites. But a vegetarian doesn't have to have a dog-shaped item or a burger. Many are happy to make do with lettuce, tomatoes, and a toasted bun with cheese. After all, that way they can fill up on more potato salad, fruit and macaroni.
When you invite someone over for dinner, or a party, don't put too much emphasis on the food. Remember that you aren't inviting people over just for the pleasure of feeding them. The food is just a part of the atmosphere. It enhances the evening. The real point of socializing is to socialize. If you're inviting a vegetarian to dinner, put on some music. Serve some drinks. And be glad that the worse you can do is offend them. It could be worse. They could have food allergies.