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November 23-29, 2005

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Surviving the Holidays

By Elisa Camahort

The season is here. The season of travel, eating out, company functions, holiday meals and other opportunities for vegetarians to see mountains of food--but very little they can eat. Here's a little advice for vegetarians and people who host these events.

Let's start with simple advice for air travel. BYO--everything. Most airlines no longer feed us, but let's face it: even in the glory days, the vegetarian meal you ordered often wasn't actually on the plane. All the low-blood-sugar arguing in the world couldn't make it appear at 30,000 feet! So bring supplies. And get to know airports. Some terminals are cornucopias of food choices. The JFK JetBlue terminal, for example, will satisfy any hankering (albeit at terminal prices).

At catered functions, whether business or personal, buffet or sit-down, it would be nice if invitations asked about food requirements, but they often don't. Proactivity gets results. Call the venue and let them know a vegetarian will be in the house. Let's say you forget: Are you stuck eating a hunk of meat? Absolutely not. I have never had waiters refuse to accommodate me after I notified them that I was a vegetarian. Often you'll make table mates envious when your plate shows up. But you must ask.

Eating in someone's home can be touchy. There are people who cook a meal and take it personally if you won't eat part of it. Giving the heads-up to a host who may not know your eating habits is good. Asking if you can bring something is better, especially if they can't imagine a meal that isn't meat-and-potatoes-oriented.

That brings us to the nonvegetarian host. How can you show vegetarian guests you care? A host can bear in mind that there are ingredients that are, surprisingly, nonvegetarian:

  • Gelatin, and gelatin-based products like marshmallows or light yogurt
  • Anchovy-based products, like Worcestershire sauce or caesar salad dressing
  • Asian oyster sauce
  • And remember vegans don't eat dairy, eggs or honey
  • Feeding a vegetarian needn't include cooking separate dishes. I went to a dinner party and realized I had forgotten to tell the hostess I was vegetarian. "That's OK," she said, "I always assume there will be one." And she pulled out a package of prepared veggie sushi rolls from the supermarket. I thought she was so considerate. It is the thought that counts--not the number of minutes spent slaving over a hot stove.

    With a mix of proactivity and flexibility, vegetarians and hosts can make it through the busy eating season with principles and friendships intact.

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