Trying Not to Offend Vegetarian Friends

by TTMK on June 17, 2013 · 28 comments

Non-vegetarianBeing open-minded is a good thing.  I try to be cognizant of differences in how people view things, and respecting their right to have an opinion different from mine.  It’s not something I’m perfect at, by any stretch.  However, it’s something I make a conscious effort to do.

This concepts applies to vegetarianism.  I’m not a vegetarian, and never have been.  I will admit that I’m making a genuine effort to try to eat less meat, for my own health benefits.  Now, it’s yet another thing I’m not perfect at, and I don’t plan to give it up entirely anytime soon.    Nevertheless, I respect the views of people who take pride in being vegetarian.  Some of these folks don’t eat meat because of health reasons, others due to feeling bad for the animals.  Whatever the case is, it’s all cool.

How far should one go, however, to show respect for the strong feelings of vegetarians?

This question comes to mind when thinking about a person I’ve known for a number of years.  When going out for dinner with a group of people, she and her husband would always want to order vegetarian options.  Thus, anytime they were included in a meal outside, the place had to have enough meatless choices for them to have a good experience.  To me, that’s totally fine and I get it.  It’s not a big deal at all to accommodate them.

However, they went further than that.  When going out to dinner, the woman would wince when others at the table ordered meat.  Her husband explained that just the smell of meat really bothers her.  No matter if it’s beef, chicken, fish, etc. – anything clearly non-vegetarian would not sit well with her.

She even mentioned her preference that people don’t order meat around her.  She did it very nicely, at another time that wasn’t dinner, in a separate conversation.  She commented how it goes against her beliefs, and in a roundabout way indicated would prefer not to be around it at the table.  She also mentioned how the smell of meat bothers her.  Again, she was very polite about it, and not “holier-than-thou” in her approach.

This is a tough one to approach, at least for me.  I’m not one of those people who just takes the approach that everybody should fit into so-called “normal” viewpoints, and that everyone should conform.  I do believe in respecting different points of view, and also accommodating different points of view.  Yes, this also means being cognizant of what could offend someone and trying to avoid doing such things around them.  We should make exceptions for people in many cases, as that’s an inherent part of living in the diverse society we have. The majority needs to understand that others who are not in the majority should be accommodated for different views.

Nevertheless, when it comes to dining with someone who’s a serious vegetarian, I think as far as I feel comfortable going to accommodate the person will be choosing a place with plenty of options for everyone.  I don’t think it’s fair for a non-vegetarian to be forced to alter their order, or making a food choice, based on what fits the other person’s belief.  In other words, as long as the other person can eat his or her own vegetarian dish, it shouldn’t matter if I chose a chicken dish for my own enjoyment.  We are all free to spend our money as we choose to do so!

I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic.

My Questions for You

If you’re vegetarian:

  • Do you get offended if people who are non-vegetarian order meat around you?
  • How do you handle dining out or cooking for friends or family that aren’t vegetarian?

If you’re not vegetarian:

  • How far are you willing to accommodate someone who is vegetarian, in terms of providing options for them when cooking or dining out?
  • Have you ever encountered someone who didn’t want you to eat meat around them? If so, how did you handle it?

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Becker June 17, 2013 at 7:58 am

I am not a vegetarian and I honestly feel like your friend’s request is unreasonable, however nicely she makes it. I do think, however, that there’s room for compromise. Maybe every now and then you can go to a vegetarian restaurant that will make her happy. That’s certainly a reasonable gesture. But to request that you never eat meat in front of her is no different than if you required her to eat meat. She has to respect you just as much as you respect her.

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TTMK June 17, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Well said, Matt. Mutual respect is an important part of human relations!

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Emily @ evolvingPF June 17, 2013 at 8:07 am

Well, if as far as it goes is “I prefer that people I’m dining with don’t order meat” and not into “Please don’t order meat” I guess that’s fine. It would be unreasonable to expect an entire dinner party of omnivores to order vegetarian at a restaurant that serves meat. What’s the next step, asking the next table over to leave off the meat as well?

If she really can’t stand being around meat, she should 1) suggest that your group go to a vegetarian restaurant (I have done this with my vegetarian friends), 2) host a dinner party in her home that is vegetarian, or 3) stop going out to eat when she knows people will be ordering meat. But since she still goes out with you all, apparently it doesn’t go that far.

Frankly, I see this as a totally unnatural affectation (same as I would for someone who doesn’t eat vegetables). I definitely understand that some people have ethical objections to how animals are raised for meat. However, if that is really the reason, the distaste associated with those practices should not then be extended to hunted/wild-caught game or animals raised in an ethical manner. If you friend objects to every type of meat, there must be more to it than just ethics.

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TTMK June 17, 2013 at 7:30 pm

I think your solutions make sense. A person with strong convictions can handle things tactfully in that way, or can choose to opt-out of certain situations.

I would have to respectfully disagree with the last paragraph, as I don’t think it’s totally unnatural. In her case, I believe there is a religious component to being against eating meat. In that case, it wouldn’t matter how humanely or ethically the animals were converted to food for human consumption. There would be a very logical and legitimate reason for not eating meat, and everyone’s religious beliefs will get my respect. That being said, if I don’t share those beliefs (as in this case, where I do in fact eat meat sometimes), I think it’s possible to respect the other person while not being forced to capitulate to their demands. For example, I rather enjoy a nice grilled chicken dinner, healthy and tasty – and wouldn’t want to be made to feel like I’m doing something wrong by eating it around someone who sees it differently. As long as everyone respects each others beliefs and rights to be different, it should be okay!

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Emily @ evolvingPF June 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I don’t think you disagreed with my statement at all, actually! 1) You have pointed out that there is something more to her objection than mere ethics, which is what I deduced. 2) That her distaste stems from a religious belief IMO underlines that it is counter to our human nature! Lots (most?) of religious practices instruct us to act against our nature. If the practices were natural to us, they wouldn’t need to be codified. (I’m generalizing but I hope you see my point.) Her religious belief is that it is wrong to eat meat, but that is a stated belief because humans DO eat meat. I’m not trying to say that’s right or wrong or that is the only purpose of religion (I in fact believe that is not the primary purpose at all) but it is something I and many others have observed.

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TTMK June 17, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I see the point you’re trying to make, and it makes sense. I know I like to eat meat sometimes, so I can vouch for the fact that humans do eat meat 🙂

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AverageJoe June 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I find this woman annoying. If you don’t want meat around you, don’t go out with your friends.

I don’t know what it is with some people around religion, politics, and in this case, food. We think we’ll be happier when everyone is exactly just like we are….when in fact, you & I both know that if everyone did exactly the same thing, we’d all be miserable.

Have you heard the Jim Gaffigan piece about being a vegetarian? I think you’d love it. “I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat….except chicken….and pork…..and beef…..but not fish, because eating that’s just disgusting…..”

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TTMK June 17, 2013 at 7:34 pm

I think it’s about mutual respect. In her case, I’m pretty sure there is a legit belief of hers against eating meat, and I’m not going to blame her at all for it. It’s perfectly fair and okay for someone to have strong beliefs against eating meat. But, I don’t share those strong beliefs, and certainly would like the right to eat whatever I want to if I’m paying for it! Back to mutual respect, as long as folks respect each others’ rights to be different, it’s cool.

Your quote was funny…and actually, I’ve heard of people thinking that as long as someone isn’t eating beef or chicken, then it’s vegetarian. As if a fish is a fruit, grain, or veggie 🙂

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Edward Antrobus June 17, 2013 at 7:51 pm

If somebody gets upset about others eating meat around them, they shouldn’t go to dinner with non-vegetarians. I don’t eat meat for every meal, but vegetarian options are usually not much cheaper than meat-laden options at restaurants, so I will always indulge in my carnivorous tendencies there.
For the most part, I respect other’s vegetarianism, but only if they respect my non-vegetarianism. I can’t stand the holier-than-thou types that try to convert everybody. I’ll make doubly sure I eat meat around them. I’ll get the double meat option around them!

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TTMK June 17, 2013 at 10:15 pm

LOL. We all have the freedom to do what we want, and I can understand your preference for not dealing with holier-than-thou types.

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Grayson @ Debt Roundup June 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Tough decision, but I wouldn’t go too far. Yes, I wouldn’t mind going to a place that has vegetarian options, but I will still eat what I want. If she can’t handle it, then she shouldn’t go. What if someone couldn’t stand the smell of one of her vegetarian meals? Should they request that she not order it around them? I think she should respect other peoples opinions as they do hers.

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TTMK June 17, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I agree, that it goes both ways. We should all respect each other’s views, and if we can’t handle certain other views, just don’t put ourselves in those situations.

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Andrew@LivingRichCheaply June 18, 2013 at 9:09 am

I’ve also been trying to cut down on meat for health reasons after a friend recommended a documentary. When I go out to eat with friends who don’t eat meat or certain meats, I try to accomodate them by picking a restaurant that has plenty of non-meat options. That is the extent of the accomodation…and my friends only ask for that. I think the friend you mentioned is being unreasonable. Not to sound harsh but if she has the expectation that others not eat meat in her presence then she should probably be dining alone or with other vegetarians. Unless it was her birthday, I think it would be unfair to everyone else.

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TTMK June 18, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Hard to disagree with what you’re saying!

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Stefanie June 18, 2013 at 9:52 am

I’m a vegetarian and I would never expect my non-vegetarian friends to avoid eating meat around me- that seems a bit ridiculous.

One thing that bothers me though is when people complain about there being a lack of meat. I know people who’ve had vegetarian weddings and some guests are flat out rude about it. It’s not like they’re subjecting you to eat some bizarre food, it’s pasta and vegetables for goodness sake.

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AverageJoe June 18, 2013 at 10:49 am

I agree. That’s too far in the other direction.

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TTMK June 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Very good point, it does go the other way too. A non-vegetarian doesn’t have to be provided with meat choices, I agree. And I’m a non-vegetarian!

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Jules@Faithful With a Few June 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I would respect how they eat, but I wouldnt expect to have to avoid eating what I want.

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TTMK June 18, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I agree Jules

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A Blinkin June 18, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Since I’m a jerk, I would probably order the biggest slab of meat. I think it’s unreasonable to ask another person to cater to your beliefs instead of their own.

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TTMK June 18, 2013 at 8:54 pm

We should all have the freedom to follow our own beliefs, as long as we aren’t harming another’s!

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Brent Pittman June 18, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I would probably appease the friend once, but then they wouldn’t get another invite-nor would I accept another night on the town with them. Hey, I don’t smoke so I don’t go out with a bunch of smokers.

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TTMK June 18, 2013 at 8:55 pm

We all have to get along, right?

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DJ - MoneyforCollegePro June 19, 2013 at 5:16 am

My grandmother recently asked me if I was a vegan. I laughed because she had served, and I had eaten, roast beef for dinner. She had no clue what it meant, but I think rather associated it with some new age hippie movement (of which I am not either…). An off topic comment, but yes, I think everyone has the right to be vegetarian or vegan or eat meat for breakfast.

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TTMK June 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Funny story!

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Tushar @ Everything Finance June 20, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Meat is admittedly very bad for you, but it’s not like smoking where people around the eater of it will end up having to consume it by association. It sounds like the person you are referring to needs to respect other people’s eating habits. It’s not harming her!

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TTMK June 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Tushar – I can agree with your comment on the person needing to respect other people’s habits. In this case, I 100% respected her habits, and have zero problem with it.

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TLH November 30, 2014 at 3:20 pm

I’ve been a vegetarian for a little over a year, and really my only “requirement” in going out to eat is that there is something vegetarian on the menu, or something that can be made into a vegetarian meal. With the exception of maybe one place I’ve been, I haven’t had any issue just finding something I like.

I would never ask anyone to order something different because of my preferences. The way I see it, I would be offended if someone asked me to not order a glass of wine because they don’t drink or not have dessert because they don’t eat sweets. I will somewhat agree on smelling meat though: barbecue pulled pork is my biggest weakness, and almost immediately brings out carnivorous desires! I also hate smelling fish though, and still would never think of asking anyone to not order something because it’s too tempting/I don’t like the smell of it.

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