When it comes to planning events, most hosts are hip to food allergies and know to provide a few options for the more health-conscious crowd, but many have fallen short when it comes to providing for their vegan guests.
“I think it’s funny that vegans sometimes get this reputation as people who only eat ‘rabbit food’ like lettuce leaves and celery sticks. It might look that way at some of the parties you see us at, but just because it’s the only food our hosts have made available for us to eat,” said Jennifer McCann, author of “Vegan Lunch Box.”
“We have appetites and enjoy sharing a good meal with friends just as much as everyone else, but sometimes there are very few foods a vegan can eat when they get to a party.”
Her book was born from a blog of the same title, which was born out of a desire to show the masses the bounty of vegan food choices.
“My blog started out as a chronicle of every lunch I packed my son for his entire first-grade year,” McCann said.
“I wanted to show what an enormous variety of foods vegans can eat and give other vegan moms ideas on how to pack colorful, well-balanced lunches for their kids. It’s not just peanut butter sandwiches every day.”
Veganism takes vegetarianism a step further. In addition to abstaining from consuming meat, vegans avoid all animal-orginated products. This includes items like butter, yogurt, chicken broth and even honey.
“I first went vegetarian when I was in my teens and have been vegan off and on since the age of 23. I’m 40 now,” McCann said.
“When I started out as a young adult, my vegetarianism and veganism was purely ethical — I did not want my food choices to cause animal suffering. As I got older, I began focusing more and more on the health implications of eating a vegan or mostly-vegan diet.
“Eating a plant-based diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains is a great way to improve your health and lower your risk of obesity, high blood pressure and even some types of cancer. So it’s a real win-win for us and for the animals.”
Although it may take a little more thought, the good news is that vegan-friendly dishes can also be crowd-pleasers.
“The best thing about vegan dishes is that everyone can eat them — meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans,” McCann said.
“We all hear in the news how we should be eating more fruits and vegetables, so including a wider variety of vegan dishes can be good for all your guests.”
And they can be tasty, too. In his cookbook, “Vegan Soul Kitchen,” chef Bryant Terry creates vegan-friendly versions of classic comfort foods — from gumbo to potato salad and candied yams.
When you’re cooking with your vegan friends in mind, make an effort to include more than just side dishes.
“If you’re hosting a dinner party, plan for a dish that can serve as the vegan’s main course. For example, cook up a big pot of vegetable-bean soup or bake some acorn squash halves stuffed with a hearty filling,” McCann said.
“Sometimes it’s possible to make a vegan version of the main dish you plan to serve. For example, a vegan marinara sauce can be passed along with the meat sauce for the pasta. Or you can make a portion of your stir-fry with tofu cubes instead of chicken.
“Fresh fruit is wonderful for dessert, but make sure you don’t toss your fruit salad with whipped cream, mini marshmallows or honey. Those sweeteners will make it non-vegan.”
Bryant’s recipe for Open-faced Grilled Eggplant, Red Onion and Heirloom Tomato Sandwiches could be just the ticket for Mother’s Day and summertime cookouts.
McCann, also has a number of ideas for backyard barbecues.
“Keep a portion of your grill meat-free and toss some veggies on. If you’re making burgers, you can try one of the many veggie burger patties that are available in the freezer section, but I recommend grilling some large portobello mushrooms for your vegan guests to make their burgers with,” McCann said.
“I’ve found that everybody loves grilled portobello mushrooms, so make extras for the meat-eaters to add to their burgers, too. Or they may be all gone by the time the vegans make it through the line — this has happened to me.”
It’s little menu tweaks that can keep your vegan guests from feeling like party outsiders and more like welcomed friends.
Offer vegan hummus, guacamole or salsa alongside your dairy-based dips. Or leave the chopped egg off the salad and roast potatoes with olive oil instead of mashing them with milk and butter, McCann says.
Guests can also do their part to make everyone feel welcome.
“Another issue I run into a lot at parties is the awkwardness that can occur when people bring up the subject of food choices while people are eating. I find that people notice when you aren’t eating like they are, and sometimes they point it out,” McMcann said.
“This can be fine if everyone is respectful, but food can be a sensitive subject for some people, especially if they’re in the middle of eating it. A dinner party or other social occasion isn’t really the time to ask someone to defend their diet, or that their food looks disgusting, or to tease them and try to get them to eat ‘just a bite’ of something they don’t want.
“Of course, this applies to both meat-eaters and vegans: describing what goes on at the slaughterhouse while your friends are eating ribs will put people on the defensive and make for a very uncomfortable party.”