On Moving Toward Vegetarianism: the Social Contract

social contract photo

photo by Robert Ouellette

We are quickly approaching party season and people are starting to think about their events. Personally, I love giving dinner parties and twenty or more people is no problem for me at all. I realize that I'm a bit unusual in this and many people find entertaining quite stressful. It can, of course, be stressful for the guests as well, especially if you don't know the hosts or other guests that well. Here are a few things to think about it if you are hosting or attending a dinner party where vegetarians and meat eaters will be sharing the table.
If you are the guest:

Let your host know you are vegetarian when you accept the invitation. Waiting until you arrive at the doorstep may find your host unprepared and you may find yourself pretty hungry at the end of the night.

I'm always surprised by people who break out in a cold sweat at the thought of making a vegetarian entree (my mother and mother-in-law come to mind), but there are lots of them out there. If your hosts seems unsure when you tell them you are vegetarian, you might offer to bring a vegetarian entree as your contribution to the dinner.

I read, write and talk about food and eating all the time and I'm always interested in the food choices that people make, so I was a bit taken aback by the number of people who commented on last week's post about feeling affronted when asked about their vegetarianism. It seems to me that polite discussion about some of the issues would be interesting, so go ahead and talk about it.


Don't lecture your host and their other guests on the evils of eating meat. You are in someone's home, not at a PETA rally. If you really can't stand to be at the table when people are eating meat (and I'm sure there are many, many of you out there), then perhaps you should just politely decline the invitation.

If you are a meat eating guest at a vegetarian's home, don't make jokes about hippies and brown rice, it isn't funny.

cheese plate photo

Photo by Robert Ouellette
If you are the host:

If you are at a total loss when your guest lets you know they are vegetarian, graciously accept if they offer to bring a dish. It might make you both relax a bit.

Check whether or not your guest eats eggs, some vegetarians do, some don't. If you aren't sure, then don't use them in your vegetarian entree.

If you are making appetizers, have some vegetarian options. This is the opener to the dinner party and sets the tone for the evening. It's awkward if some guests are eating and others are not, and will likely make your vegetarian guest feel like a pariah.

Cook a specific vegetarian main course dish and make sure it is large enough to accommodate everyone at the table if you are serving "family style". Preparing a separate entree for one or two people makes them stand out at the dinner table as different. If you are plating the dinner before serving, make sure all of the guests have some of the vegetarian dish. Maybe those non-vegetarians will be pleasantly surprised.

Have the dish fit in seamlessly with the rest of the cuisine you are serving. Making an Asian tofu dish when everything else is Italian is also going to make your guests feel different. If you are making a dish with a sauce, you can cook tofu using the same ingredients.

Remember the hidden ingredients. Use vegetable stock or water for soups or sauces rather than chicken or beef stock.

walnut mushroom pate photo


Don't make the assumption that your vegetarian guests can make do with your side dishes. Serving a plate of potatoes and a salad is not providing dinner.

Don't make a big issue about the vegetarian dish. It's just another thing on the plate.

Don't serve mock meat. I'm sure there are people out there who eat tofurkey, but who knows if your guest does. I think vegetarian meals should be just that, rather than attempting to replicate the look and taste of meat. I think there is something perverse about stuff like vegetarian "pork" ribs. It's making the assumption that vegetarians really secretly covet the look and taste of meat and I find that pretty hard to believe.

If you are the vegetarian host with meat eating guests, don't apologize for the lack of meat on the menu, it's your house.

Here's an easy dish that is elegant enough to serve at a dinner party. Pomegranates are in season now, so they should be readily available at your grocery store

pomegranate tofu photo

Okay, here is Andrea's original photo from her website, used with permission. Much better than mine, no question.

pomegranate tofu image

Pomegranate Braised Tofu

1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil, like canola
1 lb firm tofu
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
Fresh pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)

1. Halve your brick of tofu into two long bricks, then slice each into 1/4" rectangular pieces. Fill an oven-proof dish with the pomegranate juice, soy sauce and the crush garlic (whisk in the pomegranate molasses if using). Arrange the tofu pieces in the pomegranate marinade. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

2. Once the tofu is marinated, remove the slices from the dish, reserving the liquid. Heat the tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan. Once the oil is hot enough to shimmer, brown the tofu pieces on each side until golden. Make sure your oil is hot enough, the tofu should sizzle when it hits the pan. Once the tofu slices are browned, return them to the marinade, which now becomes the braising liquid, and cover the dish.

3. In an oven preheated to 350, cook the tofu for about 30 minutes. Once the tofu comes out of the oven, you can plate it and garnish it with fresh pomegranate seeds, a bit of green cilantro or chives and a spoonful of the braising liquid on top.

From the website Cooking Books
This week's challenge: Invite a friend over and prepare an all vegetarian dinner.

Related Posts
Make it Vegetarian
Getting a Green Date
Happy World Vegetarian Day!
On Moving Toward Vegetarianism

On Moving Toward Vegetarianism: the Social Contract
We are quickly approaching party season and people are starting to think about their events. Personally, I love giving dinner parties and twenty or more people is no problem for me at all. I realize that I'm a bit unusual in

Related Content on Treehugger.com