Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sadly, sadly, or: I well

I've had my first vegan food related cry.

I'm not an emotional person and as a rule my teary moments are restricted to funerals and times of self-induced self-pity. It's just not something that comes easily to me and I try hard to keep a publicly positive demeanor most of the time. I don't well up and I don't sob.

A recent work retreat had me otherwise. A number of factors contributed to a bittersweet few days, including the departure of a good friend and colleague across the ditch, but it was really the food that got me.

Last year we went to the same venue and I only attended for one day. The buffet lunch was not vegan-friendly but ever prepared, I had brought my own green bag full of Saladas, Nuttelex, Vegemite and Tofutti slices which kept me full. This year, staying for two days, I knew that our branch's efficient and thoughtful EA had already arranged a vegan menu for me (thanks Sarah) , including an excellent looking dinner, and I was more hopeful of a better spread at lunch. Just in case, Scout-like, I still brought my little green bag.

And I needed it. Nothing on the buffet was ok except for some dried apricots and dates (and the ubiquitous mixed green salad). Some items were labelled and vegetarian and gluten free, and I assumed that if they went to that trouble, then anything vegan would also be labelled. Bucking up, I ate my Saladas and Vegemite at the table once again.

I returned to my room feeling downhearted, but confused about why I was taking it so hard. I'm more than used to having limited options; indeed having made my choices it's not something I really like to make a fuss about. I'm used to eating different food from everyone else at the table, and I'm used to being prepared and BYOing. And then I realised that I was embarrassed.

It was a shock. I am not embarrassed of my veganism - I am proud and happy to talk about it until I'm blue in the face. But I was embarrassed to sit at the table amongst my friends and colleagues and have to pull food out of my own bag and make it in front of them. I was embarrassed that I had nothing nice to eat. I was embarrassed to be the centre of attention. I was embarrassed to be receiving stares and comments. I was embarrassed to have to explain why I couldn't eat the roast vegetables (butter) or bread (milk solids, whey, egg). I was embarrassed that people would think that vegans never get to eat good food and that it must be so very difficult, when I really try to tell people that it's not.

If it was a problem to cater for me, then I wouldn't have minded, but I would have made sure that I had something proper to eat.

I wrote a lengthy essay on the feedback form. I went to dinner and was pleased to have a separate dish from the vegetarians that was filling and well made. I spoke to Sarah, who had already spoken to the organisers, and they had said that there were vegan options at lunch and I should just ask about them. I put the feedback form in my bag and decided not to hand it in.

At lunch on the second day I did as I was asked and spoke to one of the staff about which buffet options were vegan. I was hoping it was the rice paper rolls.

She went to the kitchen. It wasn't the rice paper rolls or the mashed potato or the roast vegetables or the tomato soup or any of the other hot meals that I thought might be ok. She returned with a bowl of green salad. With cashews and sesame seeds. And that was it.

I like green salad; I'm all in favour of green salad; and it was certainly a big serve. But it was a green salad, and it should be a side dish, not a main meal on a cold day with twenty other options on the buffet table.

I ate some of it, went outside by myself to eat the rest of my Saladas and Vegemite, and got a little bit teary.

Again, it's not that I expect a full three course meal. It's not that I demand to be fed a gourmet alternative. It's that I want some honesty about what the kitchen is and isn't prepared to make for me, and a green salad, even with cashews, just doesn't cut it. I don't think I should be put in a position where I have to rely on food brought from home when my work has paid for all my meals. I don't think I should be so upset and embarrassed that I have to leave the table to eat on my own. I don't think that an international standard conference centre should think that a bowl of pick'n'mix salad is an acceptable meal. I would have happily driven into the nearest shopping centre to arrange my own food if catering for me was a problem, but that option wasn't given.

And so I welled up, and I left that feedback form where they'd find it. I hope they ring me because I would like the opportunity to explain in person why I am so upset. I would like to explain that vegan food is easy and tasty. I would like to explain that I was made to feel like a pain in the arse and unimportant. I would like to explain that I feel really really sad.
I would like to explain that they should refund my workplace for my two lunches.


Mandee said...

Oh Rach, I totally understand feeling upset, embarrassed and being watched by everyone else while you eat your own food. There really should have been a better lunch option for you and if they couldn't do it they should have told you in advance.

Amy K said...

I can completely understand...and when they dont try to make you something half decent it really makes you look like the weirdo.

Its so hard to explain to non vegans that we get to eat EVERYTHING they do, pretty much! One just has to know how...

Rose said...

Sounds terrible. I know exactly how you feel, its like people think all we eat is salad! And im completely sick of it too. People dont understand that vegan food isnt different to what they eat, just minus a few ingredients, pretty much every meat dish can easily be made suitable for vegans and meat eaters alike. One thing that annoys me is that people think if they are a meat eater they cant or shouldnt eat vegan food...?
I do feel embarrased too, being made a fuss of when im out at an eatery, people not understanding or caring what my choice of diet is, having no options (at most places) but a salad.
But after 15 years as a vegetarian and 1-2 years as a vegan, i have gotten very use to it, unfortunately.
I do hope they contact you regarding your feedback form.


Miss T said...

Mmm, I often wonder if people think that all they eat is salad, if they then also sit around wondering why I am not the size of a lettuce leaf myself!
I've been vegetarian since early 1991, and am about to celebrate my second veganniversary - but this is the first time I've ever got sniffly about it!

A xx said...

Oh I left a comment but don't know if it saved! Thanks for inviting me to potluck, I'd love to come :)

Can you please send the deets to my gmail - annabananabomb at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Maybe next time instead of taking Saladas etc you could take a big bag of ingredients and implements and take over the kitchen? Make them give you a gas burner and then you can make hot food to your heart's content, and know that it will be much better than any non-vegan cook will be able to manage (except me).
Love, Miss T Junior

Polka Dot Rabbit said...

Interesting issue, the big thing I'm finding as a new vegan is most catered vegan meals have absolutely no protein. Twice I've ended up with plain vegetable rissotto, and at a conference centre for work recently, every snack and dessert was plain, slightly under ripe fruit! Like you I would have been happy to cater foir myself, but expected something a bit more thought out in both instances... particuarly as I got really drunk unintentionally at one meal due to the sheer lack of quality food!