Vegan Cooking for the Unenthusiastic Omnivore

PanDogNote: This post contains discussion of meat, dairy, and eggs. If you don’t want to read that material, stop now.
Simply view this unrelated but excellent image of a dog in a panda hat (taken by Ms.TheVeganAsanaJr2, aka Emmie) and then go off on your merry way!

I’ve written before about the challenges of cooking for a multivore family, and that continues to be something that I get asked about frequently and that occupies my own attention, with a family that has vegans, vegetarians, and very committed omnivores. Luckily for me, my family has always been supportive of my vegetarian and vegan journey; however, I think that is partly because I’ve always treated it as my journey, not as a forced march. In this post, I offer some additional tips and thoughts on how to be the primary cook as a vegan in a household where other members are omnivores.

1. Recognize that your choice is about you.

When you first become vegan or vegetarian, you may find that you suddenly know things about factory farms or animal husbandry or meat processing that you never realized. You may begin to feel that if everyone knew these things,¬†of course they would be vegan. That’s wrong and not really fair. Lecturing family members (or anyone, really) about a vegan diet is no different than lecturing others about why they should convert to your religion. People don’t appreciate it and it likely won’t go well. You are the person that you have authority over. Choosing a vegan/vegetarian diet for you is a choice for you, unless the others in your house voluntarily go along (or you have children that you feel are too young to make a good choice).

2. Everyone has their limits. Know theirs. Know yours.

With six children in TheAsana house, we couldn’t afford (literally or metaphorically) for everyone to want a different dinner. So, that just doesn’t happen. But, everyone got a short list of three items that they just could not stomach in any form (we made an exception such that “meat” became a category that someone could say no to). Some people only had one item (i.e. the dreaded mushroom), while others used all three. But, this gave me, as the cook, a clear list of things that I needed to make substitutions for when they were a main ingredient, so that the naysayer had something to eat.

Similarly, if you have not always been a vegan/vegetarian in your current family, you may not be able to stop having meals with meat in the house entirely (particularly in a family that includes children). So, it is important to establish what your absolute limits are. Many vegans can eat at the same table as someone having a meal containing meat. Many can cook meat for others, as needed, but not consume it themselves. In my house, while I will still cook meals containing meat, I will not (can not) cook the “big dead bird” type of meals and limit meat preparation that requires extensive handling. I also can’t do it every day.

3. Be willing to negotiate. 

You probably have full stop no-can-do items (see #2), but after that, there is room for negotiation. If you can’t stand the idea of making hamburger patties, could you cook them if someone else made them or you buy them prepared? Is there someone else in the house who can do some meat prep on the weekends for ease later in the week? Can you establish some compromises on how often meat will be included in a meal? It may seem silly to actually hash it all out, but it really can be helpful in establishing expectations.

4. Get creative!

My grandmother told me that you can catch more flies with honey (or agave) than you can with vinegar. You can also win over more people to the idea of eating vegan food once you show them that vegan food tastes good. This can happen pretty easily if you start with foods where the meat/dairy/egg isn’t the focus and play to the strengths of a vegan diet. Vegan pancakes are lovely, and no one needs to even know until they finish eating. Spaghetti with marinara sauce, maybe even with some TVP thrown in, is a delicious and filling meal. Nachos with refried beans are a fan favorite in a lot of houses, as are bean burritos. And who doesn’t like biscuits and gravy (if it’s you, don’t tell me)? You can also make vegan items that have meat and cheese on the side for adding to the plates of people who eat them (ground beef and cheddar for nachos, sausage with the pancakes, meatballs for the pasta).

Basically, the goal should be that people don’t feel punished or shamed for not having made the choice that you made, and begin to see vegan food as a normal choice, not as an unattractive and overly health option that is primarily berries and leaves.

At the end of the day, there is one person whose eating habits you really get to control, and it’s you. You may be able to draw a line in the sand of not having meat served in your house or not cooking it, but you can’t make others be ok with that choice, any more than they can make you be ok with a non-vegan diet.