Vegetarian Discrimination

Last Updated Apr 11, 2011 10:41 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,

Every time we have an employee luncheon, or holiday party, or snack/mingle party at my office, there are NO vegetarian options.
I recently was offered the following at an employee appreciation lunch:
  • Italian submarine sandwich (meat, meat, meat)
  • American submarine sandwich (yes, more meat)
  • Turkey
  • Tuna
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Potato salad (covered in mayo)
  • Macaroni salad (same)
I've worked here for 5 years. It is a small company.
I've been told in the past there are "salads" and other things I can eat. There never are. I usually have to eat the snacks (chips, dip, fruit) or the garnishes from main dishes. At a Xmas party 2 years ago there were baskets of lamb chops, sliders, meat-filled quesadillas, and chicken satay. I was able to eat fried plantain garnishes, black bean salsa, again a garnish, and maybe some green stuff meant as a decoration.
When I brought this up to HR, I was scolded for "being nasty" and "making them feel bad".
As an employee, I feel slighted and not-valued.
Am I wrong??? And is it fair for me to buy my own lunch whilst meat-eaters get freebies?
Just what did you do that made the HR people "feel bad?" If you said, "Hey, next time we have a party, can there be some vegetarian options?" then these people are jerks. If you came in, hands on hips, demanding "I'm tired of this unhealthy slop. Animals are your friends, not food!" well, then you're the jerk. However, my vast experience suggests that the former scenario is far more likely.

Here is a secret inside tip: HR people hate party planning. Somehow we got stuck with it ("leading people" turned into "planning parties" somewhere along the line). They don't want to plan the dumb party so when someone complains about it (and party planning is a lot of work), they are naturally defensive. Still, they should make sure basic accommodations are made.

It is 100% impossible to accommodate every food request. You have vegetarians, vegans, meat eaters, gluten free, pork free, beef free, and people with allergies to seafood, nuts, kiwis, bananas, and chocolate chip cookies. Having a variety of dishes, however, should not be a problem. But, please, let me point out something: Macaroni salad and potato salad are vegetarian. They are not vegan, but they are (generally and probably in this case) vegetarian options.

Now, speaking as someone who finds mayonnaise about the most disgusting "food" substance on the planet, you have my sympathies. However, if you complained about the baskets of lamb chops last year, and so this year they made sure they had two very filling vegetarian salads, I can see why they were less than pleased with your complaints this year. And trust me, if the next party was 100% vegetarian, twelve people would line up to complain about the lack of protein at the party. (And yes, I know you can get plenty of protein from other sources, but people will use that word to complain.)

What should you do? Two options:

  1. Suck it up and move on with life. HR plans the parties. They will continue to have them meat focused. It is only a few days a year. This is what we call not a big deal. They don't determine your performance rating, bonus or annual increase. Pack a peanut butter sandwich and joke about it with your friends after work. If you continue to complain it won't help your career.
  2. Volunteer to plan the parties. As long as you approach this from a positive angle (i.e. "I love parties and have lots of ideas. Can you include me on the committee?") you'll probably be welcomed with open arms. In fact, you may find yourself as the head of the party planning committee. If you're not, see option 1 above. Make suggestions like this: "Ooh, last week I had this fabulous salad at Jim's Deli! It would go really well with the Italian Subs," not, "Oh my heck, can we please have something vegetarian?"
Either approach will solve your problem. In the first case, you are deciding that it isn't a big enough problem to be worth your time. In the second case, you make your own solution.

As for the fairness of it all, it's not fair. But life isn't fair. We do what we have to do and make decisions over whether something is important or not. You feel slighted, but look who is doing the "slighting." It's not your boss, or your coworkers--it's another department. Yes, they should know better, but it's nothing personal. And if you can get a more balanced meal at the next company party, others will thank you.

Photo by kevindooley, Flickr cc 2.0