An argument for nonprofit events to be vegan

[Image description: Some sort of noodle dish, made with what looks like eggplant noodles and a creamy sauce, garnished with pomegranate arils, a lemon wedge, and a sprig of mint, on a black plate.]

Hi everyone. This coming Saturday, the RVC team will be hosting a fundraising dinner. It will be a roast. Of me. They’ve invited people to come up on stage and deliver scathing insults, some of which, I can only imagine, will involve digs at my hair, general clothing choices, and rabid devotion to the Oxford Comma. Several foundation staff have signed up to do the roasting; it was actually a little surprising how fast they all said yes. “Vu, I heard you’re getting roasted. Sign me up, I’m in! The foundation will have 2 tables. Do you need other roasters? I know at least 39.”

Bring it on! But if you’re going to aim your arrows at me and my perfectly rational hatred of infinity scarves and fear of opening lethal cans of bake-at-home biscuit dough, you better remember these two things: First, I get to counter-roast. Second, the entire event will be vegan. And that is why it is called The Vegan Roast.

Which brings us to today’s topic. A few months ago I wrote “Meat Me Halfway: Veganism and the Nonprofit Sector (aka, Worst. NAF Post. Ever).” This was my most controversial blog post yet. However, it sparked great conversations, with thoughtful arguments and counter-arguments, and we need to have more of that. So this post is a follow up, nudged by my colleague Tomomi Summers. Please take several deep breaths.

This year, the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, Screen Actors’ Guild, and the Oscars served all or mostly plant-based meals at their events. This upset many people, most of whom were never invited and thus were not affected in any way. Not all of us are fans of Hollywood, and what the rich, often-out-of-touch folks do there is not always relevant to the rest of us. But I do think it is good for us to look into this and seriously consider if this is something we should do.

I know from the discussion after the last post that consumer choice is not everything, and that corporations have significantly more influence and impact than you and I, and we must look to change systems. Pure veganism, due to health, income, availability of food, and other reasons is not possible or advisable for everyone. I also know that many of us are exhausted and suffering from compassion fatigue, and there’s only so much energy we can put into things. I feel tired and helpless reading news about the plastic in our ocean, and wonder what bringing my reusable shopping bag or avoiding packaged products is going to do. Probably nothing, I don’t know.

But that is not going to stop me from trying to reduce my excessive consumption of plastic. Or using public transportation when I can. Just like I won’t stop fighting alongside others in our sector to make the world better, even though I am not sure what sort of dent I am making, probably not much. We can each focus on the systems, take account of our personal situations, and still do what we can as we are able to.

Almost every organization out there puts on breakfast, luncheons, and galas. Having the meals be plant-based will not save Australia from burning or the glaciers from melting or millions of people and animals from being displaced. But here are some arguments for nonprofit events to go vegan (I already covered general arguments for all of us to reduce meat consumption when we can, so won’t include them):

It will raise consciousness and discussion: Whether or not you agree with Hollywood’s continuing trend to have plant-based meals at their events, the reality is that it does make people think about something they may not have thought about before. Snapping people out of their routines is what we do. We bring attention to causes that people don’t want to think about. We can agree and disagree on mono-cropping, consumer culture, big agriculture, etc., but it’s good to have these discussions.

Plant-based cuisine has advanced significantly: It’s a common complaint among us vegans that omnivores keep taking our food. Because it’s gotten much better lately. The rise of plant-based eating means that chefs and caterers have become more creative and excited about exploring new dishes. Let’s stop joking about the “rubber chicken” plates when we have endless flavors to experiment with.

People, especially donors, love to be surprised: I’ve attended hundreds of events now, and they can be so routine. No wonder so many people hate galas! As long as the food is amazing, few people have issues with it being vegan. Use it at an opportunity to surprise donors and other attendees with an experience that’s new. Let them try something they’ve never had before (Wild mushroom ceviche? Beet and blood orange tartare with Pop Rocks and microgreens?). Combine it with a message designed to spark conversation about their role in creating a better world. That’s kind of what we do.

May help with cultural and religious considerations: A challenge with events is being thoughtful of people who are keeping kosher or halal. Vegan meals, which use no meat or dairy, are naturally more likely to be suitable for everyone, as long as you’re careful about dishes made with alcohol, or vanilla or soy sauce (which may have alcohol).

I know I’ll probably get a whole bunch of flak for this post. This issue is never simple. There are many factors to be thoughtful about. Having plant-based events may not be possible at your organization for various valid reasons, just like it may not be possible for you personally to reduce your meat consumption. But the trend in society is toward more plant-based meals. These conversations are being had. And our sector should be at the table.

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