I recently blogged about food and beverage specialist Katja Morgenstern's month-long experiment as a vegan, and how she discovered that dining options for vegans at business events are pretty slim. She said that a lack of education about vegan needs among banquet staff seems to be a problem. This made me wonder, how much do meeting planners and suppliers really know about vegetarian and vegan diets?
Take my quick quiz to test your knowledge:
1. True OR False: At the very least, my vegetarian and vegan guests can eat the starchy sides like French fries and rice.
Answer: False. Satisfying vegetarian and vegan requirements mean you need to not just look at the food itself, but its preparation. Some establishments cook fries in the same oil used to prepare meat products. Or, the vegetable oil used to cook French fries contains beef or poultry extract for flavoring. Similarly, rice may often be prepared with chicken or beef broth to add flavor.
2. True OR False: Veggie burgers will satisfy the vegans at the annual company picnic.
Answer: False, sort of. Some veggie burgers use eggs as binders, and vegans don't eat eggs. Make sure to read the labels on veggie burgers, and other pre-packaged foods, before expecting your vegan guests can enjoy the cookout.
3. True OR False: Including a vegan selection in your meal guarantees you'll meet both vegetarian and vegan dietary requirements.
Answer: True. Though the diets mean different things, opting for a vegan dish ensures that vegetarians can eat it, too. This does not, however, always work the other way around.
So, would you have succeeded in putting together an acceptable meal for meeting attendees with these dietary concerns? I think one of the most important things to point out is that simply selecting non-meat items does not mean your event catering is vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. You need to look not just at the food itself, but also the preparation (e.g. avoiding meat broths or flavorings.)
Though Morgenstern found it difficult to get a good meal as a vegan meeting attendee, you can learn from her experience. Work with your caterer—more and more suppliers are becoming familiar with special dietary needs.
Also, as Cvent Meetings & Events blog reader Pam Kelley suggested in a comment on my last post, make sure to include custom questions on your event registration forms to find out if your attendees have special dietary needs.