June 15, 2011

Bean blues

My husband and I attended a benefit auction for a wonderful organization. The event included a dinner, and through a series of detailed conversations, we arranged a vegan meal with the event organizer. The auction/dinner was held at a community college with a well-regarded chef program, so we thought we were in good hands. When we arrived at the event, we even found little place cards at the table that said "vegan" on them under our names.

The appetizer table contained the usual cheese and crackers, but also a bowl of hummus, and carrots and celery. It was a good sign. The first course was a salad with an un-vegan piece of garlic bread, but the bread was easily removed. No problem. For our main course, we were brought plates of grilled fish. Um, this isn't vegan, we said, politely. We were then brought the same salads we'd just had. I was thinking we should just eat them, but the other people at the table, all omnivores, were upset and told the waiters we'd already had salad. Then they brought us chicken. Next came what you see above — a plate of mushy, inedible, overcooked string beans — and a message from the cook that this was the best he could do. Fortunately, there was still a little hummus on the appetizer table, so we went and got some of that.

Oh well. I really don't get too upset about this sort of thing, but I was surprised that the cook couldn't have at least stir fried a few veggies for us. Everyone else had potatoes, and I would have been happy with a plain baked potato and a salad. The plate of unpalatable beans was the strangest vegan meal I've been served in a long time, and was a reminder that although it often seems that vegan diets have gone mainstream, this may not quite be the case.

What was the most uncreative vegan or vegetarian meal you've been served at an event?


  1. That "vegan meal" you were served was just pathetic! At my son's rehearsal dinner (which I pre-arranged with the restaurant owner) I was served a sad looking plate of spaghetti noodles in olive oil that was covered in cheese. The waiter noticed the mistake as soon as he set the plate down, and said he was taking it back to the kitchen. So then I was served a plate of pathetic noodles in olive oil. That was it. There were no herbs or spices to flavor it. And none of the veggies that I was expecting and that the owner promised would be served (there were several vegetarians but I was the only vegan.) Ugh. Very disappointing. And I know the owner.

  2. Oh man, that's dire! Honestly, I don't know how people can call themselves "chefs" when they can't even cook up some food that simply doesn't include any animal products...it betrays a lack of imagination and resourcefulness to say the least.

    And overcooked string beans??? You'd think the cook would have been embarrassed to serve that. It was nice that the omnivores stuck up for you though.

    I don't go to many events, but at my work cafeteria (where I never eat, but like to have a look at what they're serving from time to time) I don't think they can imagine a world without cheese and meat...even the vegetarian food is always covered in cheese.

    They handed out a survey at one point, asking for feedback and suggestions...I had some good ones, like adding hummus to the sandwich bar and some sort of marinated tofu or tempeh. Also suggested some vegan options at the hot food bar would be nice...but sadly, I don't think they know what vegan means.

  3. That's truly terrible, especially since you'd pre-arranged a vegan meal!! I've fortunately never had such an experince although I've only been vegan a year. I anticipate I'll have to face some awful meals in the future!

  4. Personally, I think you were being way too polite! What a jerk! If you don't know how to cook vegetables, you are most certainly not a chef. Your composure in this situation is to be admired. I surely would have been more aggressive. I probably would have asked to speak with the chef. To each his or her own. Perhaps now that the event is over, send a letter to the chef with some recipes? You know, so the next unsuspecting vegan stuck at an event with this terrible chef as the caterer has something to eat.

  5. What idiots! This is also why I get mad when people say they are vegan then settle for this stuff. It confuses everyone. I would have been pretty mad!

  6. Elizabeth,
    That's awful that it happened at your son's rehearsal dinner! I once had a small, sad plate of luke-warm spaghetti at a wedding, but I knew the bride had tried hard to arrange vegan meals, and I didn't want to make her feel bad on her special day, so I just ate it.

    I agree with everything you said. I often wonder why ordering some chickpeas or tofu, and cooking a few veggies is beyond the reach of so many "chefs."

    I'm sure at some point you'll encounter a poor excuse for a vegan meal. But I hope you don't. :)

    Good suggestions. I used to be (slightly) more aggressive but prefer to just laugh and make the best of it.

    In many of these situations the people who end up feeling bad are the hosts and organizers who really tried to do a good job, and I would hate to make them feel worse. In this setting it didn't seem appropriate to make a scene.

    In other situations (once, at a wedding) I did speak to the chef and he created lovely dinners for the three vegans at my table.

    I'm glad you make the effort to educate people about how to cook for vegans!

  7. wow, that's totally crazy. i can't believe they brought you chicken and fish, and then those beans, ugh. how insulting.

    i've had some lame spaghetti experiences, too, but the worst specialized vegan meal i've been served was at my college orientation. they gave me two dense, lukewarm polenta patties that were completely inedible. like they literally took one of those shrink-wrapped rolls of premade polenta, sliced it, nuked them for a few seconds and put them on a plate. my dad was there and he was so impressed that they catered to me, he strongly encouraged me to choke them down so i wouldn't offend the event organizers. seven years later i still can't eat polenta, it disgusts me so completely. i'm feeling sick just thinking about it.

  8. Wilted lettuce with a wedge of lemon, although I've been served plenty of un-vegan things in the past, so my husband gets to just go to vegan restaurants. Although I will go with him to sushi and just order cucumber rolls :)

    I HATE it when people call themselves vegetarian and add "I eat fish." I don't necessarily care whether or not you eat fish, but if you call yourself something, know the definition. It's pretty insulting to those of us who go to great pains to research where our food is coming from and what we choose to consume.

  9. Okay, you may not believe this, but at my high school reunion a couple of years ago, the dinner was at an Italian restaurant and they served meatballs, spaghetti with meat sauce, lasagna--with MEAT sauce, etc (you get the idea). So when I asked for a gluten-free, vegan meal, I was brought. . . A PLATE OF GREEN BEANS. True, I swear!! Except mine appeared to be CANNED green beans. So while everyone else pigged out on pizza, pasta, garlic bread, etc., I ate what you ate the other night. Yum. And I can't believe they didn't know that fish & chicken ARE NOT VEGAN!! It's so sad it's funny.

  10. We have a lunch at work once a month and there is never any vegan food. I've gotten used to eating before the lunch, but it really irritates me.
    The picture of those green beans really stirred some memories. I was a vegetarian in college and there wasn't a vegetarian menu in the cafeteria. So I lived on their soggy green beans. Yuchs!

  11. Emily,
    I'm not sure you meant to be funny, but your description of the polenta made me laugh out loud. I can't imagine what it must have tasted like but it's sad to think it ruined polenta for you. Polenta is one of my favorite foods, and when done right it's so delicious. But I know how a bad experience with food can really influence your brain. I can't get myself to eat green beans, even if I know they won't be mushy and gross. And after a particularly awful first asparagus experience, it was years before I was brave enough to try them again. Even the smell made me want to puke.

    Wilted lettuce with lemon? I wonder if they used a recipe for that. :)

    If you had told me about the green bean dinner two months ago, I would have been amazed, but not anymore. Though I am kind of surprised that more than one person thought a plate of green beans was a good dinner to serve. I don't ever want to see a large plate of green beans in front of me again. Bleh. "So sad it's funny" pretty much sums up my reaction.

    I can see why you'd feel irritated. I was really lucky in that my co-workers made an effort to make sure there were always things I could eat at staff events. People brought vegan food to potlucks and ordered vegan food for special events. Even at "pizza meetings," one pie was always ordered without cheese. Have you offered suggestions about how to modify the lunches so you can share them?

  12. Andrea,
    I'm so impressed by the support of your tablemates!

    I went to a swanky restaurant a few years ago with a non-vegan friend. He had called in advance to make sure they could accomodate me. The menu had all kinds of delicious veggies on it, so when the waitress told me that my dish was already being prepared, I was excited. Imagine my surprise when I was served a bowl of exactly 15 alternating slices of un-seasoned squash and zucchini, drowning in olive oil. Charge? $35!!

  13. I'm glad the omnis were annoyed on your behalf! That was just appalling! It makes me feel bad about moaning that EVERY year our meal at John's school prom is stuffed peppers. Very expensive stuffed peppers...

  14. Abby,
    Why do you suppose people think vegans don't season their food? And what is it about olive oil?

    The stuffed peppers sound great compared to mushy, unseasoned green beans. Very expensive green beans to be sure.

  15. Wow. I am seriously shocked. Sorry you had such a pathetic plate served to you but I guess it's good you aren't letting it get to you. I really don't like to eat out, partially for reasons like this but also because I'm paranoid that something served that says "vegan" might actually not be. Like if people actually think that chicken and fish are vegan (?!?!) then who's to say that they don't serve a delicious looking plate of sauteed vegetables only to find out they've been cooked in butter? I guess you could say you lucked out that everything that wasn't vegan was easily identifiable as so, and you weren't slurping down a stir fry made with fish sauce, only to find out later? Ah well. That's really all you can say sometimes. Ugh.

  16. Foodfeud,
    My preference is to go to to vegetarian or vegan restaurants but that's not always possible, so I just do the best I can to eat only vegan food. If something goes awry, then as you said, "ah well." The decision to not eat animals is too strange and complicated an idea for some to grasp.

  17. That is downright outrageous! Good on you for keeping it together in such a situation; I would have been viciously ranting and raving. I mean really, that's not just ignorance but plain stupidity. I'm shocked to hear that people in a food service setting are still so incredibly uninformed about veganism.

  18. Oh, honestly. That's bad. That's REALLY bad. I could understand if you hadn't given them any prior notice or helpful guidance, but you had! I could understand if the person who prepared the meal were an in experienced omni friend or neighbor, but it was a chef! (Allegedly). That's appalling. The one positive thing I can find in your experience was the supportive reaction of your non-veg tablemates, which was great! But I agree with everyone that something like this not only has the potential to confuse non-veg folk ("fishes and chickens are vegetarian?"), it also reinforces the common notion that being vegan is too hard, a hassle, and an exercise in deprivation. Which it may have been for you that night, but certainly need not have been and usually isn't!

    I'm equally appalled at some of the experiences your commenters have had. My worse experience has been vegan airline food, but "bad airline food" is redundant, vegan or not! ;-) Most of my experiences have been just the opposite - restaurants and friends going out of their way, and doing an incredible job (sometimes on very short notice) to prepare delicious vegan food.

    My best experience was the morbidly obese cook (and his very overweight family who assisted him) from Idaho who cooked for a wagon train I rode with for several days in 2001. Gary had no clue about veg (or healthy) cooking and food, and was none to pleased too meet my vegan self. But when I made it clear that I was happy with just a couple of baked potatoes with a little olive oil on them, or a peanut butter sandwich, and I thanked them profusely and complimented my food while everyone else complained constantly and loudly about theirs, the most amazing thing happened. Gary and his family not only made an extra effort to procure ingredients for and prepare more elaborate meals like vegan stews and hash brown scrambles for me, the idea of using a separate griddle and serving utensils occurred to them without my saying a word! And when they'd put out a pot of meat-based stew and "my" pot of vegan stew (they only knew how to cook in huge batches, lol), guess which pot always got emptied by everyone? :-) But the best part was that on the wagon train's final evening, Gary took me aside and said the experience had made him think about the food he cooks and about healthy cooking, including for himself and his family, and asked me to recommend some resources (which I ecstatically did!)

    Anyway, I didn't mean to take up your comment section with my own long story, I just wanted to say that if Gary could do all that, anyone can. And that the pathetic performance of the "well-regarded chef program" at that community college was an EPIC FAIL! There, I said it. :-)

  19. Hannah,
    Sad but true. And this was in the food-aware city of Seattle!

    I think cooking vegan was too hard for the chef. He was visited in the kitchen by one of our thoughtful and kind table mates, to no avail. Maybe a week with you would have done the trick. :D Seriously, I loved your story, and it's the perfect example of how kindness works better than anger.

  20. I've had this experience way too many times. :( I'm sure it is usually a baked potato or iceberg lettuce, and I honestly hate wasting calories on something that doesn't taste good. I'd rather sit and visit, but when I don't eat, it makes my husband feel uncomfortable or embarrassed or something. So that's an issue. I don't get too worried about it, I think because it's happened to me so much I'm used to it. And I hate looking like the high maintenance vegan. But I also hate NOT speaking up for the sake of the vegans who come after me. It's always hard to know exactly what to do.

  21. Jenny,
    The dilemma of looking like "the high maintenance vegan" versus "speaking up for the vegans who come after" is exactly the problem. Plus I hate to hurt people's feelings or make them feel bad after they tried to do what they thought was right. So I eat the taste-free, lukewarm pasta with sauce from a can, while everyone else digs into a plateful of fancy animal parts and vegetables, and am polite. Usually.

  22. I'm a lactose intolerant vegetarian. My Christmas dinner 2 years ago was vegetables. Just vegetables, I couldn't even eat the potatoes as they were cooked in goose fat.
    Needless to say I don't go to my grandparents' house for Christmas dinner any more.

  23. Anna,
    It's sad that you can't enjoy a family dinner because of food issues. Can you offer to bring a dish or two to share? Or explain how easy it would be to make a few of the dishes vegetarian? I remembering helping my mother plan a few dishes that I'd be able to eat, and she was surprised at how easy it was.

    I remember being a guest at a neighbor's Christmas dinner where every single dish had an animal product. Even the green beans were cooked with bacon and the salad was filled with crumbled cheese. It was awkward, to say the least.

  24. what a great site, someone else doing a vegan blog. and all such yummy food. I want to try ALL the recipes!


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