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.