9 tips to ensure your event is vegan-friendly


salad-791891_960_720Today, I want to talk about a pervasive issue, one that has seen very little daylight, yet it affects a significant number of nonprofit professionals each year: Crappy, crappy vegan food at nonprofit functions.

Now, this post today is not trying to convert anyone to veganism, which is a diet free of all animal products, even though peer-reviewed studies show that people who switch to a balanced plant-based diet become on average 38% better looking to members of both sexes and are much more likely to win the lottery.

But, we vegans are getting very annoyed at the thoughtless shenanigans, insensitive malarkey, and boorish chicanery from our omnivorous colleagues (#OxfordCommaForever). For too long we have held back while the taunting at the office continued. “Can you hand me that stack of agendas and minutes? Oh, sorry, I forgot, you’re vegan, you have no strength, ahahahahahehehhaw.” (My board chair can be really terrible sometimes).

The worst, however, comes in the form of food, or what you omnivores think is vegan food. Last month I was at some sort of annual dinner. Now, no one expects fundraising food to be all that good. Oftentimes, it ranges from “tile grout” to “microwaved tv dinner.” On the rare occasion it is good, the entire table starts commenting on the miraculously edible food: “Oh my God, this salmon…this salmon is so good. This is the best annual event food I’ve ever had! I’m going to snap a picture and tweet this. #besteventfoodever #itsamiracle.”

Sure, fundraising food could be improved some in general (or else ground up and auctioned off as construction material). But dammit, at least you get to eat a filling meal. We vegans on the other hand have no idea what we will get, or even if it is going to be vegan. I sat at my table, bitter that my partner and I had paid $100 each to get three asparagus spears, a slice of zucchini, a slice of yellow squash, and a button mushroom, all covered in some mysterious sauce, atop maybe half a cup of quinoa. I would need like five plates of that to be full. Sure, we were there to support the organization, but it’s hard to think about the mission when I was so hungry and occupied with thoughts of raiding the kitchen for some peanut butter. 

We vegans are not going to go away. And in fact, I’m betting dollars to egg-and-dairy-free donuts that the prevalence of plant-eaters is much higher in nonprofit work than in other fields. Luckily, we are not all that hard to please. We are used to scavenging for food everywhere we go, so a little bit of consideration is always much appreciated and may prevent a vegan revolution, which will be coming if this keeps up. Here below are some tips on how to make your event or gathering more vegan-competent:

    1. When it doubt, make it vegan. The vegetarians who eat cheese and eggs might hate me for this, but vegan dishes are naturally vegetarian, but not the other way around. If you have a vegetarian dish with cheese or eggs, only a vegetarian can eat it, but not a vegan. If you have a vegan dish, both vegans and vegetarians, and heck, even meat-eaters, can eat it. Most vegetarians are fine with vegan food, and if they’re unhappy, you can always grate some cheese on top of their dish.
    2. Have protein. We are so sick of plates of just vegetables. Worse, just a salad. A salad is not an entree! Unless there’s some sort of protein, it’s not filling, and we’ll be angry the rest of the event. Tofu, tempeh, or seitan are ideal. You don’t need to be fancy. Maybe just season and fry them if you have no idea what to do with them. An ineptly cooked protein is still better than none. If you don’t have those, at least throw in some beans or some nuts.
    3. Double the portions on plates for the vegans. Vegetables don’t have as many calories, or cost as much as meat. We need to eat twice as much to feel full, especially if you don’t have a protein. Three asparagus spears on a plate looks pretty, sure, but that’s like 8 calories! We need more! 
    4. Stop eating our food. Several times at functions I’ve had to remain hungry because someone decided at the last minute that they would switch over and ask for the vegan option. Since caterers usually prepare only a specific number of vegan meals upon request, if you get one and you didn’t order it, that’s one fewer meal that could go to a hungry plant-eater.
    5. Order extra vegan food at your function. Because of the thoughtless omnivores above, vegan meal options may run out, so order five plates extra in advance, just in case. Remember, anyone can eat vegan food, which means they usually do. If you end up with extra vegan plates, just offer seconds to the vegans. 
    6. Don’t look at us funny. Sometimes, I end up hoarding the dinner rolls, because I know from countless experiences that the entrée will be three braised baby carrots and twelve chickpeas. I’m not being greedy, taking a roll each time the basket comes around. I just need food so that I have the strength to raise my paddle later.
    7. Have dessert. We may be vegans, but we are still human beings. Human beings! And we want dessert, especially if we paid $100! It’s just awful, sitting there at the table and everyone is eating their little chocolate cake or mousse, and all you can do is scrape the whip cream off the raspberry garnish. Two raspberries—that’s what we vegans normally get for dessert. It’s cruel. The decent thing to do is to have a martini glass of chilled mixed fruit (preferably marinated in orange liqueur) on request. And if you want to see an adult vegan break down weeping for joy, have some sorbet, or a carob-chip cookie, or anything beyond fruit. I nearly proposed to this one lady who brought me some soy ice cream.

There you go. Please hand this list over to your Development or Annual Event committee so they can tell the caterer. In the meanwhile, here are two tips when going out with your vegan coworkers:

    1. Stop eating our food, or order extra veggies. When meals are “family style,” invariably everyone will partake in the vegan dish, leaving little for the actual vegan. Knowing this, as soon as my dish comes out, I will scoop half of it onto my plate. This is effective, but it draws dirty looks from the rest of the table. Well, dude, that’s all I can eat, all right? You’re lucky I’m even sharing. If you love vegetables, order some!
    2. Stop splitting checks evenly when it’s clearly not even. One time, for dinner, I went to a steakhouse with some friends (I didn’t want to seem like an asocial a-hole by refusing). Knowing there would be little I could eat, I ate ahead. At the restaurant, I had an order of fries and some mushrooms while everyone else got their steaks or lobsters. At the end, the bill was split evenly and I had to pay $67! Not wanting to rock the boat, I paid it, but it still haunts me to this day.

If we can all observe the above guidelines, then perhaps vegans and omnivores can work together in harmony. If not, there is a group of us who are preparing our pleather shoes and granola bars for the long march toward culinary equity for plant-eaters everywhere.

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  • Elliot Destiny

    That splitting the check story rings so true! When I’m out with that sort of person today, I want to order extra drinks – so my cocktails make up for my tiny dinner. It’s just hard.

    • Stacy Ashton

      That is the best solution on so many levels!

  • Tammy L

    It’s also not sustainable for animal flesh to be served. Even Bill Gates is promoting plant-based eating now. Agree with above.. will add, this is especially hard when it’s an animal rescue charity – saving some animals while serving up others at their fundraisers. Argh. Agree with all your points.. except I wouldn’t have subsidized the meat-eaters and when eating out with non-veg people, even at a family style restaurant, I pull my dish off the lazy susan as soon as it arrives. In my defense, I get really grumpy when I’m hungry. 🙂

  • Lillian Karabaic

    Oh my gosh. Yes. So many fundraisers where I have had nothing but a glass of wine and snappeas. The worst is salads with pre-drizzled ranch/other dairy dressing. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SO EASY TO EAT IF YOU HADN’T SMOTHERED IT.

  • This is certainly an issue that should be discussed more. I work in an office that has two vegans and a gluten-free person. While they are kind to think of us by providing fresh fruit (and donuts for everyone else)… everyone eats all the fruit before we get any. Seems to me if people like the fresh fruit so much, why bring in donuts at all? It has happened at every place I have worked. They’ll order 3 veggie burgers for the company BBQ, and that’s what everyone wants.

  • C Jackson

    I will never forget attending a fundraising event and having them totally unprepared for a vegetarian (not even a vegan). Well after everyone else got their meals, I was brought a steamed head of cabbage on a plate – without even the side dish that came with everyone else’s meal, which I could have eaten! This was 20 years ago, and I’m still pretty irritated.