Eating Vegetarian as a Guest

The recipe will follow in a few days for this delicious lasagna. Photo by Elle

The recipe will follow in a few days for this delicious lasagna. Photo by Elle


The Situation

One of the most difficult things about being a vegetarian is eating at the home of friends and family, especially for holidays. Try as hard as they may, unless they have dealt with eating outside the norms of the typical American diet, what you can eat seems as elusive to them as photographing a blue footed boobie or Big Foot.

My experiences of dining at other peoples’ homes has been as varied as the people themselves. I have had hosts who go all out, going online and culling through recipe books to find delicious and unique dishes that I can eat as a meal, and that they can serve as a side dish. I have also had the occurrence of being told I need to bring something for myself as my host ‘has no idea what you can eat.’  On this note, I was once told this upon being invited at the last minute, so I just grabbed something I had in the fridge and brought it, expecting it to feed only me. Imagine my surprise, and hunger, when I discovered my dinner had been eaten by several other guest as a side dish.

And of course, there is the stream of never ending questions from people who simply are bothered by the fact that you don’t eat meat. Long time vegetarians are familiar with  the questions: Why don’t you eat meat? No meat, ever? What do you eat? You can’t possibly be healthy eating that way? But you can eat fish, right? And on, and on, and on….

I was once offended by such questions. The angry tone in some people’s voice was disturbing, after all, why should they be upset? Were they watching everyone eat crawfish (a favorite from my pre-vegetarian days)?  Was the smell of searing meat making their stomach turn?  Was the fish smell so off putting that they couldn’t finish their dinner too? And then one day, as I answered all the same questions being posed by a business associate I realized that what angered many people was my resolve. I didn’t give in to social pressure to eat meat and I wasn’t angry, in fact, quite to their astonishment, I was very happy with my choice. And it wasn’t the choice that angered them, it was my determination and comfort level with my decision.


So what can you do when you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner and told to bring your own food? You have several options:

  • You could decline the invitation. This approach may make you feel great in the moment, but in the long run only serves to further alienates you socially. Trust me, I have taken this road before, it gets lonely, fast.
  • You could go and not eat, making everyone, yourself included, very uncomfortable. I have had to do this at restaurants as I have gone to a few that ONLY served boiled seafood. But using this tactic at someone’s home sets a bad example of what it means to be a good vegetarian. You should be happy in your choice not to consume meat and at times that means you’ll have to accommodate yourself.
  • You can pick up vegetarian take-out from your favorite restaurant. This is easy and convenient, especially if it’s a last minute invitation. I use this method for last minute or spur of the moment functions.
  • You can make your favorite dish bringing enough to share. This is the option that I choose 99% of the time.

You may ask why, especially since cooking something from scratch is time consuming. Choosing to be vegetarian is about many things: eating better, being more healthy, eating more responsibly, respect for animals, environmental concerns, and thrift, among many others. It’s also about inspiring people, not only to eat better but to be better. How better to teach others what it means to make a choice whole heartedly and to be dedicated to that choice than by sharing what I eat? It defeats my purpose to live in harmony with nature and others if I am angry or am resentful when asked to bring my own food.

Bringing enough to share also allows people who are unfamiliar with vegetarian fare to experience it first hand. And while I never expect that eating a veggie based dish will convert anyone, I have found that many people are usually surprised that they enjoy what I’ve made and ask more insightful questions about what it means to be a vegetarian because of the experience.

Bon appétit,





Copyright ElleVeg 2014