Dining with Omnivores

Recipe for bean and avocado salad. Go light on the onions, heavy on the avocado and cilantro and hot peppers, and don't fuss too much about the types of beans.

Recipe for bean and avocado salad. Go light on the onions, heavy on the avocado and cilantro and hot peppers, and don’t fuss too much about the types of beans.

It’s amazing how quickly some people lose their shit when I tell them I don’t eat meat. I make a real effort not to get into that conversation unless it’s absolutely necessary. But this past weekend, I went with a friend to her sister’s cabin for a girls’ weekend with my friend, her sister (whom I’d only met once for under a minute), and two of her sister’s friends (total strangers to me).

In situations like this, I try to be self-sufficient, food-wise. I don’t feel comfortable saying “Hey, stranger, thanks for inviting me to stay at your lovely cabin. And by the way, here’s how you have to rearrange your food plans to accommodate me!” I knew my friend was taking along great buckets of produce from her garden, so I made a massive bean-avocado-cilantro salad to meet my own protein needs (with enough for all). A couple of servings of that a day with whacks of veggies on the side can definitely see me through a weekend. I also packed some granola bars and bananas because I didn’t know what their meal schedule would be like and I a) was on antivirals that have to be taken with food and b) turn into a right bitch when my blood sugar gets too low.

Captain Awkward answered a question last week from a part-time vegetarian and I spent quite some time reading the comments today (459 comments so far; as I said, people just lose their shit). A lot of the comments made me laugh or snort in recognition, like the way people suddenly think they’re dieticians and quiz me about the source of all my nutrients, protein, amino acids, trace minerals, etc. Or how they wail “But what about the baaaaaaaconnnnnnn?!?!” as if my choice of what to eat is personally and pointedly directed at THEM.

But one scenario in the comments was something I dealt with this weekend (among the trace mineral interrogations, the surprise that I won’t eat pie made with lard or perogies fried in bacon fat, and the multiple offers of fish) (none of which really mattered because I had brought my own main dish so they could just cook however they wanted to): the dreaded restaurant scenario where everyone wants to order a bunch of starters and split them.

I really hate this. We were a group of five, and they wanted to get four dishes, only one of which was vegetarian. Which always means that by the time everyone has taken their “fair share” of all the dishes, I will get one-fifth of one dish. One of the Captain Awkward commenters calls it the “Pizza Problem” (go check it out; it’s a good example of how this plays out).

What I try to do is to simply order my own dish and let the omnivores share what they will. So for that meal, I looked at the two vegetarian starters on the menu (nachos and bruschetta) and decided to get the bruschetta (because garlic!). When the others asked what dish I wanted in the communal order, I said “Why don’t you just go ahead and order whatever you like? I’m just going to get the bruschetta for myself so we don’t have to worry about it.” And three of the four nodded and turned back to their menus, but the Control Freak (CF) sitting beside me (who was otherwise a lovely person but, um) dictated that the table would get the crab dip, the dry rub pork, et cetera—and that I would get the nachos because they were easier to share!! (Exactly like this: “—and you’ll get the nachos.” I kid you not.)

I felt a wave of rage at this blatant disregard of the wishes I had just carefully and politely expressed. I felt the physical and mental hyperalertness I get when I think I am going to have to fight. For so many reasons, having someone do this to me is incredibly triggering. But I have worked very hard on anger management over the years, and I have learned how to get what I need in more effective ways than just lashing out. So while the others made their final decisions, I looked out over the lake, tried to breathe calmly, and waited for the server.

When the server appeared to ask if we were ready to order, there was that pause a group gets while they all make eye contact with each other to see who the spokesperson will be. I jumped right in and said “I think all of them are going to share a few dishes but I’d like the bruschetta for myself, please.” And then CF jumped in with a faux-shocked and disapproving tone: “I thought it was going to be the nachos!” I turned to look directly at her and said “I’ll get the bruschetta for myself. That works better for me.” And then I just stared at her with a blank face until she looked away and placed the order for the rest of them.

I had no interest in a fight or even a conversation about it. I was a guest in her friend’s cabin; I was the new addition to the group; I didn’t have my own ride home to Winnipeg. I was trying to find a way to mind my manners, while also getting my needs met, while also not giving in on this same dynamic that always happens with omnivores in a food-sharing setting, while also communicating my displeasure very clearly to CF, while also not drawing the attention of the others to it.

Well, there was no happy ending where CF and I became the best of friends and she showed great respect for my right to make my own dietary decisions, but at least things didn’t get worse between us. I think she’s just used to getting her own way, and mistook my polite introversion for pushoveryness.

The other thing that bugs me is when people push for my reasons for not eating meat. I generally start with part of the truth (which is that it is health-related). I’m trying to learn that I am not actually required to answer when people ask personal questions. Because telling another part of the truth (which is that it’s an ethical decision) mostly generates defensiveness, anger, or argument. On a post unrelated to the one I linked to above (I think it was the one about people prying into the meanings behind the letter writer’s tattoo), another Captain Awkward commenter suggested that a good reply to intrusive questions is “Establish your need to know.” I like that one a lot. It can be delivered in different tones depending on the situation, and I am going to try to practice it.

 

 

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17 thoughts on “Dining with Omnivores

    1. nissetje Post author

      I guess I just find all of it particularly irritating because I go out of my way to respect the food choices and preferences of others. If I’m sitting next to someone in a restaurant and they’re eating a particularly smelly meat (like lamb or venison), it can sometimes make me feel nauseated and put me off my own food. But I figure a bit of discomfort is a small price to pay for the pleasure of that person’s company, and I would never make comments about what they choose to eat, regardless of how I feel or how it affects me.

      But maybe I should? Maybe next time someone whines “But what about the baaaconnnn?” I should point at their plate and say “Your food makes me want to puke.” Ha! Okay, no, that’s not good conflict resolution. But it’s fun to think about.

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      1. honestme363

        Maybe you can reserve that comment for those who ask you why you are vegetarian. It would be a suiting reply. If vegetarianism was a religion, do you think people would still question your belief?

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        1. nissetje Post author

          Hm, that’s a good question. I think people who feel entitled to ask intrusive or overly personal questions are going to feel that entitlement across the board, whether it’s about food or religion or why someone doesn’t have kids. But maybe that’s not the case?

          I find it interesting that it’s usually people who have taken the more beaten path who ask those questions… Like omnivores ask me about my food, but (in my experience) it’s less common for a vegetarian to get nosy about “Why do you eat meat? What made you decide that? But how do you cook it? Don’t you know it’s full of fat? Where do you get your vitamins?”

          Or it’s not the child-free people who ask multiple questions about “But why did you have kids? What made you decide that? But don’t you regret it? Don’t you find it kind of a selfish decision?”

          I think rude people are just rude no matter what the topic is. But I also understand that people have different boundaries around talking about these things. My beef (ha, see what I did there?) is not with people who ask about it. It’s with the people who don’t back off, who assume they know my needs better than I do, etc. Does that make sense?

          What do you think? Do you think people would be more careful if it was a religion? Based on how I see the dominant religion treating other religions, I don’t think there’d be much respect, but it’s likely I’m only seeing the jerks because the polite people are all just getting along and minding their own damn business, haha!

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          1. honestme363

            Haha on the beef 😁 and yes, that makes complete sense. I imagine they immediately ask you how you get protein etc? As if meat was the only source and as if you haven’t reasearched your dietary needs and how to meet them. I have to say I agree with you. If a person is prone to being an asshole than they will do it no matter what the context is in. Some people just want their opinions heard above everybody else’s. P.s. thanks for the recipe☺

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            1. nissetje Post author

              I try to eat that salad within three days before the avocado gets too slimy. Tossing it in a generous amount of lemon juice before you add it to the rest of the salad helps a lot. I’ve used lime juice when I was out of lemon juice and it was just yummy as well.

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  1. princessbutter

    You have written down my life story here. I am a converted vegetarian since 15 years almost, partly because I am a hindu(we aren’t supposed to eat meat but these days barely anyone follows that) and mostly because of ethical reasons. I try to work so much for animals that it would be hypocritical to kill and eat them.
    The food sharing thing, gosh, is such a huge issue! People have utter disregard for the fact that even if they can eat my dish, I cannot eat theirs. The other if issue is the constant stream of questions and ‘but this is soooooo goooood! How can you not eat it?’ I hate the attention I get. I want to just scream ‘leave me and my food alone!!!’

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    1. princessbutter

      Oh, I forgot to mention one pet peeve. ‘Oops, sorry I forgot to order lunch for you. Can’t you just take the chicken/beef/fish out and eat the salad?’ I have decided to give them a bowl of pasta with strands of hair and say the same to them.

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      1. nissetje Post author

        Hahahahaaaaaa! I love it! “Just pick out the meat!”

        About a year and a half after I stopped eating meat, there was an autmun article in the local paper about different chicken soup recipes, and my first thought was “Ew, who eats CHICKEN?” And then remembered “Oh yeah, everybody else!” It was a laugh-at-myself moment!

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    2. nissetje Post author

      Yes, I remember the day I looked at one of my beloved dogs and thought “I eat meat? I eat MEAT? I eat YOU?” It was weird.

      And also yeah, I wish people would just be like “oh, she doesn’t eat meat, okay someone pass her the lentils” and that would be the end of it.

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  2. lolabees

    People are so funny, aren’t they? I’m by no means a vegetarian, but I do have several other food restrictions that I impose on myself, and people do get weird about it too. If we could only learn that it’s not our job to control other people’s experiences… I actually think some friends don’t invite us over anymore because they don’t know what to do with us. It’s ok, I understand as long as they respect my choices. Sounds like an awkward moment for you, but good for you for being clear about what you wanted.

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  3. La Quemada

    A colleague has this sentence posted over her desk: “What other people say to you is their karma, but your reaction is yours.” She and I were talking today about how long it takes people to realize (if they ever do) that they can’t dictate how other people live, and there’s plenty of work involved in figuring out how you yourself want to be in your life. I wonder what is the karma for spending your life asking intrusive questions of other people that imply their way of living is bizarre or misguided or just unacceptable. Perhaps they will be reborn as a gluten-intolerant, dairy-free vegetarian on some Midwest farm and be destined to eat alone in their own kitchens for their entire lives.

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    1. nissetje Post author

      Aaaaaahahahahaaaaa! That would be a truly hilarious outcome!

      I have a note posted at work that says “What others think of you is none of your business.” I think that’s my way to manage my reactions, as in your colleague’s post. Interesting the touchstones we have.

      There’s one I have at home, a quote from bell hooks, that says “We may know in fragments.” It was in the context of language, that it is okay to only partially understand things sometimes, that we don’t always need nor are we always entitled to full understanding. I find that one very comforting when I become fearful of my own ignorance.

      Aaaand that was yet another ramble. 🙂

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  4. Pingback: By the way, the lake was wonderful… | Barking Back

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