When it is Rude to Refuse Food…

Posted on July 19, 2010


Nothing offends a host like refusing to eat their cuisine. Of course, it is best  to avoid this situation in the first place by letting the host know beforehand that you have dietary preferences, or by arriving armed with a dish of your own.  Unfortunately, life cannot always be so carefully prearranged; therefore it is useful to have some skills at hand to avoid getting off on some unfriendly footing with your host who also was unprepared to have someone on a plant-based diet in their midst.

In the past, whenever I found myself in this predicament I would attempt to explain that I am on a vegan diet and that it does not include animal products. This never goes over well with an unprepared host, even under the best of situations. Doing so invariably sparks an awkward dialogue about the unacceptable ingredients in the host’s dish. That’s when I start mentally cursing how I managed to get myself into this predicament and begin looking for an emergency escape route. Not being able to make a run for it, I am stuck answering questions that bring yet more unwelcome attention to my eating habits; all the while the host is wondering what is so wrong with their carefully prepared food that I am willing to go to such lengths to avoid. Suffice it to say, this situation NEVER ends on a positive note. The good news is that over the years, I have figured out a few ways to alleviate this scenario. Maybe you will find some of these useful for you or your family.

Scenario #1: You unexpectedly arrive somewhere and are offered a non-vegan dish:

If you wish to avoid unintentionally offending your host, your best bet is to place the onus of awkwardness upon yourself.  One way to do this is to say something like “This food looks very carefully prepared but you will have to excuse me. I am on a special diet that doesn’t permit certain foods.” Then move on and quickly ask a flattering question about something else – anything but food – to change the subject.


Scenario #2: Something non-vegan is served to your children:

Basically the same technique (as #1) works when you find yourself unprepared with your children present. You can say, “That is so kind of you to provide something so for the kids! If we weren’t on a special diet we might be tempted to gobble it all up (depending on what it is). Where did you get that cute outfit your son is wearing?” And of course, you have an EST handy for the kids.*

Scenario #3: At a barbecue or buffet type of situation where someone directly serves your plate:

Politely refuse what you wish, then follow it up by requesting the “delicious-looking salad,” bread or whatever you find that appeals to you.

Scenario #4: When offered food at a park or other neutral area (not at someone’s house):

I will usually say in a friendly tone, “Thank you for offering but I am a big health nut and prefer to stick to these instead.“ Gesturing to my snacks, I will add “Would you like to try some?” If questions arise about healthy eating, that’s okay because the playing field is level since neither of us are in the position of being the host.

It is a good idea to teach the kids to reply with something similar when they are old enough to do so. They can say “No thank you. I am on a special diet.” Generally, adults are more forgiving when it comes to children’s food tastes.

The goal of these suggestions is to provide a graceful way out of an awkward scenario. Depending on the situation you find yourself in, use the method that you figure will work best. Of course, the optimum scenario is to have vegan fare of your own which then gives the host the opportunity to taste something new…or to get even by refusing to sample your dish.

There are some who think that it is better to be blatantly honest and use moments like these to educate others on the benefits of eating a plant-based diet.  Although education is important, it is not in good taste to do so at your host’s emotional expense. This is particularly important when visiting folks in or from another country. What is more helpful to keep in mind is a saying I made up for my family:

When it is rude to refuse food it is right to be polite and seek opportunities to educate others in a gentle manner.

**See blog entry “No Thanks, My Child Cannot Have an Ice Cream.”

© Jill Powers and The Feel Good Vegan 2010.

Photo courtesy of Microsoft