I’ve been eating meatless for a very long time now. So long in fact, that I sometimes forget that there are non-vegans out there. Until I go to work, where I am reminded how very unvegan the world can be. Until recently, I worked in an office environment and I know all to well that the workplace can be a strange place for vegans. I have navigated through it for so long that I think now that I’m working at home, I may actually have a handle on it.
Depending on the maturity and sensitivity levels of your coworkers, you may not have any problems being vegan at work at all, but chances are that you will. Years ago, I had a job where I was constantly harassed about my food choices. I regularly heard, “There’s Dianne eating her bean sprouts” when someone saw me eating lunch (that got old quickly), and once I got “Ewww… what are you eating?” while I was snacking on chips and hummus. Yet whenever there was a company catered meal, I would have to rush over to the food that was specially ordered for me, because if I didn’t it would be gobbled up by everyone else, probably because it looked more interesting than everything else.
A few years later I started a new job, and since I was wiser and more experienced, I was determined to squash any of that bad workplace behavior before it started. I first won my new coworkers over with cupcakes (Thank you Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero!). After that I started making healthier raw desserts, and even worked my way up to kale slaw and quinoa salad. I gained a reputation as a good cook through my cupcake baking, so they all figured if I had made the dish, it must be good!
Here are a few things that have worked for me in the unvegan workplace:
Be a shining advertisement for veganism
It’s very possible you are the only vegan some of your coworkers know, so try to set the best example for veganism that you can. You want to make sure that if it comes up in conversation when they’re not at work they say something like “There’s a vegan girl at work and she’s really sweet,” not “There’s a vegan girl at work and she’s pretty angry and sick all the time.” Try to look good and keep yourself healthy and cheerful.
Have a sense of humor
It’s inevitable that people will joke and make comments about your food. As difficult as it might be at first, try to take it lightheartedly and join in on the joke. This will make things easier on yourself, because fighting back takes a lot of effort and who wants to be angry all the time? Of course, if it gets offensive or turns to harassment, you need to talk to the person. Be firm, but don’t get angry, and tell them that they’ve gone to far and it needs to stop.
Share your food
People used to always tell me that my food smelled really good when I was heating it in the office microwave, so I often let them taste a bite of it. It was inevitable that they would ask for the recipe. I often brought in extras of what I was eating for coworkers to try too. I was able to get my whole office hooked on my chili and cornbread pretty easily.
Be the office baker
Offer to be the baker for office birthdays and celebrations. Use your most decadent recipes, because it’s very possible you will be serving your coworkers their very first vegan cupcake or cookie. I earned the title of Cupcake Queen at my old office, and I once saw my boss eat one of my cupcakes in just two bites. By baking, you’ll not only make yourself popular, you’ll be showing people that vegan food actually does taste good!
Join in the celebration anyway
If you were not the baker for a particular celebration and the cake isn’t vegan, don’t hide in your office. Be social and either bring your own treat, or just join your coworkers for a cup of coffee or tea.
Help plan events
At the first Christmas luncheon at my last job, the only dishes I could eat were the side salad and bread, even though I had planned ahead by talking to the person who was ordering food and requesting some vegan items. She requested food for me, but the caterer didn’t understand what vegan was and put cheese on everything anyway. After that, I volunteered myself to be the person who ordered the food. If you don’t want to be an organizer, ask the person who’s in charge to see a menu and suggest something that you can eat. Make sure you let people know that eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt and cheese are not vegan, because believe it or not, there are still a lot of people out there who don’t know what vegans do and don’t eat.
Call ahead when eating out
If you have to go to a meeting or event outside of the office, try to suggest where to go. If you are not able to suggest the restaurant, call ahead and tell them that you’re vegan and will be eating in their establishment. Restaurants want their customers to enjoy their meal, so most will be happy to make something special for you, if they don’t already have vegan items on the menu.
Keep vegan literature on hand
Your veganism will probably create curiosity in your coworkers, and some might decide to delve in veganism themselves. I always kept a folder with vegan brochures in my desk, because people often asked for information, not only for themselves, but for family and friends too. People decide to go vegan every day, and you may very well be influencing the people who work with you to join you on your vegan journey!
Image courtesy of Flickr