As an enthusiastic food fan, I’m also a bit of a fan of the Bravo series Top Chef. It’s always interesting to see what the cheftestants come up with to meet each challenge and how the judges react to the food.
A couple weeks ago, a Thanksgiving episode was run. The cheftestants had to break into two equal teams and make Thanksgiving dinner for the Foo Fighters and their crew. They were required to use the band’s rider to help them figure out what would be best to make (For those unconnected to the business, the rider is a list of personal requirements the band has such as those infamous ‘no brown M&Ms’ demands). One of the notes in that rider? There were eighteen vegetarians in the crew.
Among the dishes served by the winning team were a green salad, a vegan dressing, green beans, and a hearty potato dish. The losing team? Had a choice of turkey, roast pork loin, or mac and cheese with bacon(!) for main dishes. They didn’t show a single green vegetable. Basically, all the vegetarians could eat was roast potatoes or yams. Oh, and dessert. And those potatoes? According to the judges, they came out a bit al dente. Not something you want in a roast potato.
But that got me thinking. During this season, there are a lot of celebretory meals, and all too many meat eaters panic at the thought of feeding someone who chooses a vegetarian – let alone vegan – route. If you’re a meat eater nervous about feeding a vegetarian for the holidays (or, indeed, any day) here are a few good tips.
Make sure there’s something meatless on the table. This should be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many people don’t stop to think that using beef broth as a base for the soup or sprinkling a bit of bacon over the geen beans means that your vegetarian friends and family members can’t eat them. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your roast, but remember to keep the sides mostly meatless.
Vegetarians do not live by salad alone. Really. Vegetarians and vegans can eat hearty dishes, hot dishes, and desserts. They can nibble on snacks. Make sure there’s something they can eat other than a green salad.
If there’s hidden meat or animal products in a dish, quietly let your vegetarian or vegan guest know before they bite into it. A lot of dishes include stock or broth, milk, cheese, and other ingrediants that may not be immediately obvious. Don’t assume it will be okay if they don’t know it’s there. And really, really don’t try to trick them into eating something they find offensive. That’s not okay.
Remember that there are sources of protein other than meat. Think about providing a dish that includes beans, lentils, tofu, or soy beans. Most people will do just fine if they miss protein for a meal or two, but it’s just good manners to consider and do your best to meet the dietary needs of your guests as completely as possible.
Don’t make a huge deal out of the whole thing. It’s never polite to put the different guest on public display as different. Quietly take your vegetarian or vegan friend/family member aside and let them know about any potential landmines on the table. Don’t sit everybody down to the table and then go down the list of what (s)he can and cannot eat.
If you aren’t sure what they can eat, ask before planning your menu. Some vegetarians eat some seafood, others don’t. Vegans have more restrictions than vegetarians. Trust me, they won’t get offended if you ask what is and is not okay. You’re showing a willingness to understand their needs, and that’s always a good thing.
Whether your big celebration is for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, someone’s birthday or anniversary, or just the hell of it, a little thought and a touch of sensitivity will allow everyone to enjoy the meal.
And isn’t that what a good celebration is all about?