Thursday, August 7, 2008

Being vegan while visiting friends

So one of the reasons I decided to go to Germany again was because I have some friends there who I hadn't seen in two years: Joey, who was an exchange student at my high school my senior year (my fellow female-playing-a-male actress in The Crucible...yes I was a drama dork), and Kadda, a floormate from the Studentenwohnheim (dorm) I lived in during my Austauschjahr (exchange year) in college. (Sidenote: Did I mention I graduated? Woo!)

I miss them very much when I'm in the states. Both of them are the kind of friend that you can just pick up a conversation where it left off years ago and start talking again.

Both Joey and Kadda were kind enough to invite me to stay with them for a few days during my last week in 'Schland. I was VERY excited to see them but a little nervous, as last time I'd been in the country, I was the very antithesis of veganism. So how do I do the whole food thing without being a pain in the ass, I wondered?

Here's how you do it, Holmes:

1. Tell your guests in advance. In this case I didn't have to because I broadcast it enough here and on Facebook and such, but if your guests don't know, then they'll probably feel weird and/or slighted. Which relates to number 2...

2. Offer to cook! I brought veganism up (just in case) like this: "Oh by the way in case I hadn't mentioned it before, I'm vegan, and I'd LOVE to cook for you while I'm there, if that's alright!" Both nights that I cooked for people (in both cases it turned out to be a group!), I made the Chili Sin Carne Al Mole (or a loose version of) from Vegan With a Vengeance (which I've made so many times now I can do it with my eyes closed), because it's "American" (well North American anyway) and I wanted to share something that German folks perhaps didn't eat that often. Both batches got rave reviews from omnis, even with the tofu! Joey and I wanted to make something for dessert that wasn't too time-consuming, so we bought a box of Dr. Oetker brownie mix that was vegan, and used mashed banana as an egg substitute. The brownies were a bit banana-y, but the tops were nice and browned and they were chewy on the inside, and one friend of Joey's even said that it was as good as the egg version!

If you offer to cook...

3. Offer to pay for at least half the ingredients. I know, I know, we're all poor and shit, but you're eating too, and it's worth it for the chance to talk about veganism with people who might otherwise never have encountered it. Also, it's polite, especially if you're making something that uses ingredients that the people you're cooking for wouldn't normally buy. If they're good friends, they'll cook for you someday. :)

4. Answer all questions about veganism politely and honestly, whether from the host, friends, parents, etc. Surprisingly, the most common question I received while in the 'Schland wasn't "Where do you get your protein? You iz gonna die rite?" or "But why aren't you skinny?" (grr), but "Do you feel healthier?" and "So why are you vegan?" The disparity between the immediate judgement I get from strangers in the states vs. the curiosity I got from strangers in Germany is fascinating to me. Why do you think that is? Maybe it's because veganism isn't as popular in Germany and it's kind of weird/exotic rather than interesting, but either way, cool beans.

I had the most random conversation with a friend of Kadda's who was (a) a carnivore and (b) a hunter. We definitely had COMPLETELY different views, but it was still interesting (keep in mind all of this was in German!). And he said I didn't come off as a crazy psycho vegan like some do, which made me feel good. I always try to answer questions as patiently as possible, because if someone had answered rudely the stupid questions I asked in the beginning, I would have been completely turned off to the whole idea of being vegan.

I've always really enjoyed Colleen's wonderful advice to "speak your truth" when talking about veganism. What moves people isn't always the latest scientific facts or the health studies or statistics - it's what veganism has done for you as an individual. I tell people, truthfully and sincerely, that veganism has made me healthier, happier, more compassionate, more in touch with animals (both nonhuman AND human), more joyful, more willing to consider the plight of others, and more open. And a pretty savvy cook/baker. ;)

5. And last but not least, keep an open mind! Surprises come where you least expect it. Kadda's mom made us lunch one day, and I was kind of nervous because I hadn't really talked about vegan food with her, but Kadda had, and lunch was this really yummy potato, mushroom, onion, garlic and zucchini stir fry with soy sauce and black pepper. It was amazing and I can't wait to try to replicate it! Kadda and I also went out to dinner at a Southwest-style restaurant. I requested the salad with a different, non-dairy-based salad dressing and without the shrimp. Many people would have simply left the meat off, but our waitress suggested that the chef replace them with yummy sauteed mushrooms! Mmm!

The take-home lesson is, people can be wonderful and accomodating if you just give them the chance, and be friendly and accomodating yourself. This doesn't mean you have to compromise your veganism at all; just be NICE! Remember, humans are animals too...everyone just wants to be happy. :)

Now, off to look for a job...anyone in Berkeley hiring?


sinead said...

wow. that's really damn good advice.

herbstsonne said...

Thanks! :3

Mihl said...

Your observations about the difference between Germans and Americans asking about veganism are very interesting. When I think about it I think I made the same experiences with Germans (Ha, the only Americans I meet are vegans and I meet them online). Yesterday for example I mentioned my veganism to a new colleague and after she had asked me what a vegan exactly was, she wanted to know why and then asked me about my eating habits. I could see that she was really interested and wanted to know a bit more about it. It was a really nice conversation.