Being Vegan in Public

Today I will recount the painful tale of my worst experience being a vegan in public. This story is meant as a cautionary tale to vegans and non-vegans alike that there’s nothing wrong with having one eating habit or another and to emphasize the importance of being a good host and a good guest.

I went to a surprise 30th birthday party at a friend’s Mom’s house. I called the week before to RSVP and warned her mom that I’m vegan and gluten free, knowing that the cake was from Rachel’s (name changed to protect the innocent) favorite Cheesecake Factory and ice cream. Her Mom sort of hemmed and hawed until I offered, “I’ll eat beforehand and bring a snack.” She seemed enthused about this compromise so I proceeded as normal.

On the day of the party, I showed up, did the surprise and entertainment business and mingled with mutual friends. Finally it was cake time and I sat down with a plastic baggie of trail mix and a bottle of tea and began to contentedly munch away. Her mom made a bee line for me, locking onto my non-cheesecake, non-ice cream and non-soda snack and asked what I was doing and wasn’t I going to have any cake.

Me: (confused) I called you ahead and told you I’m vegan and gluten-intolerant.

Her: That’s just one of those weird fad diets. You’re not even fat. It’s okay just to cheat this once.

Me: No, I’m afraid it’s not.

Her: Don’t you know it’s bad luck if you don’t eat birthday cake?

Me: It’s bad luck for me to eat gluten, dairy, and eggs.

Her: Come on, it’s a special occasion.

Me: No, thank-you.

Her: Seriously, you’re not going to have any cheesecake.

Me: No, thank-you.

Her: Well, please put your junk food away. You’re making a scene.

The entire room was completely silent and everyone was looking at us. The birthday girl, sitting adjacent to me was bright red having heard the entire conversation. I put my snack in my bag and fought back tears. Rachel excused herself, grabbed her bag and LEFT the party. Her mother shot lightning bolts from her eyeballs at me once more, heaved and exasperated sigh, reminiscent of distant thunder and left to serve herself a generous slice of cookies n’ cream cheesecake. I started worrying that I had upset my good friend and ruined her very special day. Fellow uncomfortable party goers tried to smooth things over, asking me questions like, “Can’t you have the soda?”, “Why don’t you just eat the top part of the cheesecake?” “Ice cream isn’t dairy, is it?”  and so forth.By this time my appetite was completely gone and I had actually begun to feel sick.

About 15 minutes later, the birthday girl reappeared. She dug into the depths of her handbag and handed me a pint of Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream. I gave her a huge hug and thanked her and apologized for making so much trouble. She apologized for her mother who openly admonished Rachel for apologizing, leaving the party and letting her guests [me] make a scene. I felt slightly less small but knew I would never forget that day.

I suspect most vegans will have a story like mine or this one. I hope that you can use your experience to strengthen your resolve and stick by your decision. If you’re depressed after reading this, feel free to check out defensive omnivore bingo . This is a game that can make just about any party or family gathering bearable.

This is Christie, signing off.

11 thoughts on “Being Vegan in Public

  1. THANK YOU for sharing this. Man, I almost started to cry reading this because the way you were treated was so horribly disrespectful.

  2. veghotpot says:

    I think I haven’t been vegetarian long enough to have a similar story (I feel so sorry for you from yours but what a lovely friend you have!) however I am so fed up of people saying “Oh why don’t you just have some meat we won’t tell” or “your just going through a fussy stage” etc. I would never sit and preach at someone for their dietary choices so why do we need to defend ourselves.

    My husband has said I should just answer “because I want to” everytime instead of trying to explain properly as theres always an answer back to my reasons but you can’t argue with a nice short “because I want to” xx

  3. My jaw is hanging open!! I’m so stunned by this person’s insensitivity – it’s just mind-boggling. What a sweet friend you have, however. I’ve gotten the usual teasing and mild harassment, but nothing like this. At a wedding recently, a friend (who knows I’m vegan) asked me if I was going to have a piece of cake and I said, no, that it contained dairy and she said: Oh go on – just this once! Very mild, but it rankled nonetheless. My being vegan is not a whim or a fad or about being picky. It’s an ethical and health choice.

  4. Kinenchen says:

    Thanks for the thoughts. It was words like yours that reassured me I hadn’t done anything wrong that fateful day. I hope nothing this bad ever happens to anyone else ever!

    I think there’s a tacit moral high ground in being vegan/vegetarian (read: not stealing from or killing animals). That makes some people feel judged, uncomfortable and can make them do not-so-nice things like being dismissive or pushing you to join in the offending act so they’ll feel less guilty. I definitely go into “No, thank-you” mode when I encounter recalcitrant omnivores but I do like “because I want to”. I may steal that. 🙂

    Anyways, yeah. “Rachel” is an AWESOME friend. I would clone her but the world can’t handle that much awesome. 😉

  5. Nina the Heartbeat says:

    wow, this is a story full of impotency 😦 I haven’t been in any situations like this one; all of the handicaps I’ve lived are very mild, but time by time…

    I’m so sorry for the ignorance and the bad behavior of the people… I even feel embarrassment and I can’t tolerate this kind of attitudes. Anyway, I wish you’re OK and this is the worst situation you have to live.


  6. Taylor says:

    Wow, that’s absurd. For some reason people seem to feel threatened by others who live an overall healthy lifestyle; I think this may be due to insecurities of their own. Stick with what you believe in and do what’s best for your body. =)

  7. luminousvegans says:

    Wow, the mom has no manners to speak of. Sorry you had to go through that. I agree with Taylor…her rudeness is probably a reflection of her own insecurities. Rejecting food that is offered is often taken as a personal attack by many people b/c of the strong ties between food and comfort/family/etc. In some cases, I think that people actually feel that the food they eat is part of their identity, so when the food is rejected they feel like it is them that is being rejected.

    Some time ago, an aquaintance of mine always felt that whenever I ordered a vegan dish, it was like I was saying to them, “your food choices suck”, which of course was and is not the case. But they would always react passive aggressively in such instances and say things like, “oh, whenever I’m around you I feel like I need to order more meat to make up for what you’re not eating”. WTH?

  8. Melissa says:

    I love you and your veganness. Always.

  9. LoveyouChristie! says:

    Christie, I am so sorry to hear that, but thank you for sharing!! My favorite is when I tell people, I’m thinking about going vegan. Whether they are my co-workers, clients, or close friend, they seem to respond, I couldn’t do without (insert your favorite animal product here). Do they I think I am judging what they eat? Or that I care? Anyways, it seems to be the universal response, aside from the blank stare.

  10. Kinenchen says:

    I would be lying if I said I didn’t judge what people eat (like watching my relative who had just had a stroke wolf down a generous portion of three cheese lasagna or a friend lamenting their corpulence while chowing down on a jam smothered hunk of baked brie). I often worry about friend’s and family’s health and happiness and find their eating habits are inconsistent with their goals (e.g. lowering their cholesterol or getting in shape, invariably goals that might bring them some happiness if not a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction). I would *hope* that my choices will make people think twice about theirs but I’m not about to offer my judgments unless people ask: most of them already have a good idea of what I think by brining up animal welfare and health all on their own.

  11. Erin says:

    I think you handled yourself beautifully in this case, as did your friend. I am always amazed that vegans are judged for not consuming something – no one seems to judge omnivores for eating meat or dairy, do they? I wish everyone could just live and let live when it comes to our food choices.

    I’ve just discovered your blog today and am enjoying it, especially all the recipes! 🙂

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