Yesterday I was at a vegan potluck with about fifteen people. Just in case you don’t know: a potluck is a meal where every guests brings their own dish, prepared at home. Now, the exceptional thing about this one potluck was that none of the guests (except for me and my girlfriend) were vegan and hardly even knew what vegan was. From the host, who wanted to give them a challenge, they got the assignment to bring a vegan dish, described as a dish without animal products. Nothing more.
From a vegan activist point of view, I thought this was a really interesting experiment: to have non-vegans prepare vegan dishes kind of forces them to look into it a bit deeper and hopefully gives them a “can do” attitude about it. Of course there’s a risk too: not only might they experience a sense of failure, but also dishes made by unexperienced people might not be tasty and be a turn off. Fortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case here.
When you attend as a vegan, a potluck where every dish is prepared by non-vegans is of course a bit of a tricky situation, because you’re not sure if the others have fully understood the concept. Now, I have repeatedly written (and I’ve been criticized, even attacked for it) that it’s good if we don’t act like food safety inspectors when we’re around other people who still need to be warmed up to veganism.
I prefer not to have anything non vegan in my mouth (even though the worst that can happen is a little disgust), but I think it’s more important to give people a good impression of vegans and veganism. I’m sure some other vegans would have done more due diligence work than I have, and be more selective in what they put on their plate. I did not. I was still a bit careful when sampling, but basically I went with the flow, and trusted what the other people had made.
It was not, I have to repeat, that I didn’t want to make people feel bad by questioning them or refusing their dish. It’s that I want to make veganism and vegans look good. And accessible. And doable. Let me illustrate what I mean with an example that I heard that very evening. Across me was a guy who said he hardly ate any meat. He appeared to really dig vegetarianism, but about veganism, he said that from having vegan friends, he knew how difficult it all was, as he saw them constantly check labels, inquire about everything etc… so he felt veganism was too difficult and he couldn’t do it himself.
Going vegan (not being vegan) can be difficult enough as it is, and we should do our best by not making it seem more difficult. Make being vegan look like the joy that it is. Of course I’m talking about social situations. I always check my labels when I do grocery shopping. But when there are other people around, especially people who made food for you, it’s different. Even if you don’t mind being inquisitive, even if you manage to ask questions in a very polite and friendly way, and even if you think you are “educating others” about veganism that way, I’m pretty sure other people will see all this as a very undesireable aspect of being vegan.