How Vegans and Omnivores Can Coexist in Dallas: A Guide to Eating Together
Contrary to popular belief, being a vegan in Dallas is not a wholly miserable experience.
Catherine Downes There's no butter on it. That makes it vegan, right?
We don't get spit on while walking down the street, nor do we have to wear big red Vs pinned to our clothing. These days, most people in the restaurant industry know that vegans don't eat any animal products of any kind, which is clearly a sign we are hurtling towards the godless socialist society of Michelle Obama's dreams. But on a more practical level, it makes ordering a much simpler process than in years past.
Once you figure out what to eat when you go vegan, the main challenge becomes a
social one, because you live in a city that thinks you are crazy. A city that thinks you are vitamin/protein/fun deficient and could pass out from fatigue at any minute. Some of your friends understand, but the rest are only tolerating you. Eating with co-workers, acquaintances and the dreaded new person can still be a precarious and awkward experience.
Being a vegan means agreeing to an unspoken, unwritten social contract dictating the
rules of eating and living in Dallas, especially when omnivores are involved. This contract helps vegans get food they actually want while not alienating everyone they know.
Vegetarians are left out of this social contract because of the magical gift of cheese.
Cheese is the linchpin that holds most vegetarian dishes together -- think veggie sandwiches with cheese, cheese plates, pizza, quesadillas and salads. But take the cheese off any of these plates and you end up with a pile of vegetables and some bread. And the holiest of meals, brunch, is not a problem because you have the egg to lean on. Once I actually started crying because negotiating brunch had become so tenuous. And then I hated myself for crying about brunch.
So here they are: the unofficial rules of engagement for vegans and omnivores that help hold the fabric of society together. This contract governs behavior for vegans and people who are less than 95 percent sure what to do with vegans. This second group includes:
1. People who think vegetarians still eat fish.
2. People wholly convinced that all vegans are preachy and difficult.
3. People who worry about the nutritional well-being of vegans.
4. People who are afraid of accidentally offending vegans in any number of ways.
It should be noted that parents with vegan children are exempt from these social norms because there is a whole lot of other psychological baggage going on there that I'm not going to touch.
Rules for Vegans:
1. Not unlike the judiciary system in Mexico, the burden of proof lies with you, the vegan, to show everyone you ever encounter that your way of eating is a legitimate one. It's not fair or right, I know. But I didn't write the rules, Dallas did.
2. Never appear hungry. A lot of people already assume you are starving all the time, so don't give them any anecdotal evidence to support their theory. As far as they are concerned, your gas tank never dips below half empty. Ever.
3. Have a restaurant suggestion for every potential dining situation. Know what bars and pubs serve hummus. Have three take-out options on standby. Know which upscale restaurants will make you an off-menu vegetable plate. Have a go-to restaurant in every neighborhood in the city. As the eating anomaly, it's your responsibility to be prepared. Too much on-the-spot menu research is poor form and reinforces the idea that veganism is difficult and time-consuming.
4. Don't engage in dietary questions over dinner. Even if someone else started it, there is a really good chance they don't want to hear about why you don't eat meat, dairy and eggs while they are shoving meat, dairy and eggs into their mouths.
5. Know the difference between people who are genuinely curious and people who are trolling you. Always be gracious; never be defensive. Again, this isn't fair, but it is your best defense. Plus it is fantastically Southern.
6. If an omnivore opts for a vegan or vegetarian meal, don't let them order the faux meat under any circumstances. It's not meat, and they will totally notice because they probably ate the real thing within the past 24 hours. And you will have convinced them that all vegan meals are a shell of a real meal. Plus, what are you doing eating that stuff anyway? Gross. It should only be used in very rare meat-craving emergencies.
7. Take up a calorie-burning hobby because if you look even the slightest bit unhealthy some people will contribute it to your veganism, not your being an American. It is on you to represent an entire group of people of varying backgrounds who are vegans for a multitude of different reasons.
8. Always have a snack with you because at the end of the day we all die alone and you can't trust other people to look out for you and your dietary needs.
Rules for Omnivores:
1. Don't ask a vegan to "just try it." They aren't children (usually). There is a good chance they have had ham before. You didn't just invent the culinary wheel or anything.
2. Understand that the idea of the vegan asshole is a myth. If someone is preachy or unbearable it is because their dad didn't love them enough or deep down they are filled with unending self-doubt or whatever, not because they don't eat animals. If you think about it, you probably know a few meat eaters who are difficult to be around too.
3. Don't ask a question unless you really want to know the answer. This is related to Vegan Rule # 4.
4. Don't suggest barbecue as a dining option when vegans are involved. This can push a vegan into panic mode because the only thing at the end of that road is pickles and sliced bread. Not that I know from experience or anything.
5. You can eat meat in front of a vegan. It's okay. They can handle it. And if they can't, they should self-select out of the situation. Vegans that make scrunchy faces around meat are moving into "alienating everyone you know" territory. In Texas, we are all free to eat how we choose, and that includes you.