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  • judy

Oh, my! Meat eaters coming for dinner!

What should vegetarians serve guests who eat meat and few vegetables? Not a simple question for many of us who eat no animal products. A woman whose in-laws were meat-eaters posted the question on the Forks Over Knives website last week. Nearly six hundred people quickly responded.

Their answers? All over the place. Many suggested she serve a well-made plant-based dinner, with a variety of sides. They pointed out plant-based eaters often fill up on sides when they are guests at dinners featuring meats. Others advised telling her in-laws in advance what she was going to serve, and if they replied they must have meat, suggest they bring a prepared meat dish for themselves. A few advised her to cook meat for them if her values allowed it. They saw it as an act of kindness and tolerance. Some were horrified at the thought of cooking them meat. Several told of guests who took the opportunity to try plant-based meals, and expressed gratitude afterwards because they felt much happier and healthier.

Personally, I’ve tried several approaches to the problem. At one family get-together I set up “make your own pizza” stations. None had meat, but people could choose dairy cheese or non-dairy cheese among the toppings. Another time I didn’t tell guests that vegan “frankfurter” slices were in my baked beans, to avoid complaints from meat-eaters. When several people skipped the dish, I asked them why. To my surprise, they told me they didn’t eat meat. I told them it didn’t have animal meat in it, and I vowed to tell the truth about non-meat dishes after that.

In comments on the Forks Over Knives website the word “rude” was frequently mentioned. It was used either to refer to a guest who wouldn’t try any food except meat, or the opposite, a host who refused to provide meat to a meat-eater guest.

Rude? I know what rude is. It was my meat-loving mother and brother pounding on my dining room table and repeatedly yelling “Where’s the beef?” Outcome? That evening they gobbled down my vegan chili and cornbread. And they stopped being … well … rude, although they may have thought their misbehavior was funny. Over the years, Mom even came to request my husband’s scrambled tofu dish. She brought her own cooler of roast beef when she visited, and perhaps influenced my older son to value meat above other foods. I wish she’d simply spoiled him with cookies.

So, what to do when you’re tasked with feeding meat-loving family and friends? Among ideas I have used successfully are recipes with some kind of dough or noodle covering. For instance, a meatless pot pie, shepherd’s pie, or lasagna. You can make good fillings with softened, ground nuts, cooked lentils, and/or meat substitutes. Various patties also go over well. Try a mid-eastern style dinner with chickpea patties (falafel), tabbouli (parsley/onion/tomato salad), and whole wheat flatbread (tandoori.) A variety of salads, from green to potato and chickpea salad, accompanied by a selection of rolls, breads, and crackers, goes over well.

If, despite your best efforts to cook them tasty food, they ask why you don’t have meat on the table, tell them you had some, but the dog ate it. Or tell them the truth, like I learned to do.

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