You get an E-Mail. It's an invite to a team dinner. As you have only recently joined this team, it's going to be your first. How exciting! You look forward to get to know your new coworkers better and socialize outside the office. They are nice and friendly people and you are sure it's going to be a great evening. However, you also have a distinct feeling of anxiety and dread in you. Because you know, the first dinner with new people also means you are going to have the conversation again. You know it will come up, whether you want to or not. Because you had it a thousand times - because you are an Omnivore.
You quickly google the place your manager suggested. "Green's Organic Foodery". They don't have a menu on their site, but the name alone makes clear, that meat probably isn't their specialty, exactly. You consider asking for a change of restaurant, but quickly decide that you don't want to get a reputation as a killjoy who forces their habits on everyone just yet. You figure they are going to have something with meat on their menu. And if not, you can always just grab a burger on your way home or throw a steak into a pan when you get back. You copy the event to your calendar and continue working.
At six, everyone gathers to go to dinner together. It's not far, so you decide to just walk. On the way you get to talk to some of your team mates. You talk about Skiing, your home countries, your previous companies. You are having fun - they seem to be easy-going people, you are getting along well. It's going to be an enjoyable night.
You arrive at the restaurant and get seated. The waiter arrives with the menu and picks up your orders for drinks. When they leave, everyone starts flipping through the menu. “You've got to try their Tofu stir-fry. It's amazing”, Kevin tells you. You nod and smile and turn your attention to the booklet in your hand. You quickly take in the symbols decorating some of the items. “G” - safe to assume, these are the gluten-free options. There's also an “O” on a bunch of them. Also familiar, but ambiguous - could be either “Omnivores" or “Ovo-lacto” (containing at least dairy products or eggs), you've seen both usages. There is no legend to help disambiguate and quickly flipping through the rest of the menu, you find no other symbols. Ovo-lacto, then. You are going to have to guess from the names and short descriptions alone, whether they also contain any meat. They have lasagna, marked with an “O”. Of course that's probably just the cheese but they might make it with actual minced beef.
The waiter returns and takes your orders. “The lasagna - what kind is it?”, you ask. You are trying to avoid the O-word as long as you can. “It's Lasagna alla Bolognese, house style”. Uh-oh. House style? “Is it made from cattle, or based on gluten proteins?” (you don't care how awkward you have to phrase your question, you are not saying the magic trigger words!) “Uhm… I'm not sure. I can ask in the kitchen, if you'd like?” “That would be great, thanks”. They leave. Jen, from across the table, smiles at you - are you imagining it, or does it look slightly awkward? You know the next question. “Are you an Omnivore?” “I eat meat, yes”, you say, smiling politely. Frick. Just one meal, is all you wanted. But it had to come up at some point anyway, so fine. “Wow. I'm Ovo-lacto myself. But I couldn't always eat meat, I think. Is it hard?” You notice that your respective seat neighbors have started to listen too. Ovo-lactos aren't a rarity anymore (Onmivores a bit more so, but not that much), but the topic still seems interesting enough to catch attention. You've seen it before. What feels like a hundred thousand times. In fact, you have said exactly the same thing Jen just said, just a year or so ago. Before you just decided to go Omnivore.
“Not really”, you start. “I found it not much harder than when I went Ovo-lacto. You have to get used to it, of course, and pay a little more attention, but usually you find something. Just like when you start eating cheese and eggs.” At that moment, the waiter returns. “I spoke to the chef and we can make the lasagna with beef, if you like”. “Yes please”, you hand the menu back to them with a smile. “I considered going Ovo-lacto”, Mike continues the conversation from the seat next to Jen, “but for now I just try to have some milk every once in a while. Like, in my coffee or cereal. It's not that I don't like it, there are really great dairy products. For example, this place in the city center makes this amazing yogurt. But having it every day just seems very hard“. “Sure”, you simply say. You know they mean well and you don't want to offend them by not being interested; but you also heard these exact literal words at least two dozen times. And always with ample evidence in the room that it's not actually that hard.
“I don't really see the point”, Roy interjects from the end of the table. You make a mental check-mark. “Shouldn't people just eat what they want? I don't get why suddenly we all have to like meat”. It doesn't matter that no one suggested that. “I mean, I do think it's cool if people eat meat”, someone whose name you don't remember adds, “I sometimes think I should eat more eggs myself. But it's just so annoying that you get these Omnivores who try to lecture you about how unhealthy it is to not eat meat or that humans are naturally predisposed to digest meat. I mean, you seem really relaxed about it”, they quickly add as assurance in your direction, “but you can't deny that there are also these Omni-nazis”. You sip on your water, mentally counting backwards from 3. “You know how you find an Omnivore at a party?”, Kevin asks jokingly from your right. “Don't worry, they will tell you”, Rick delivers the punchline for him. How original.
”I totally get Omnivores. If they want to eat meat, that's great. What I don't understand is this weird trend of fake-salad. Like, people get a salad, but then they put french dressing on it, or bacon bits. I mean, if you want a salad, why not just simply have a salad?”. You know the stupidly obvious answer of course and you haven't talked in a while, so you decide to steer the conversation into a more pleasant direction. “It's simple, really. You like salad, right?” “Yeah, of course“ “So, if you like salad, but decide that you also want to eat dairy or meat - doesn't it make sense to get as close to a pure salad as you can? While still staying with your conviction to eat meat? It's a tradeoff, sure, but isn't it better than no salad at all?” There's a brief pause. You can tell that they haven't considered that before. No one has. Which you find baffling. Every single time. “Hm. I guess I haven't thought about it like that before. From that point of view it does kind of make sense. Anyway, I still prefer the real deal”. “That's fine”, you say, smiling “I will continue to eat my salad with french dressing”.
Your food arrives and the conversation continues for a bit, with the usual follow-up questions - do you eat pork too, or just beef? What about dogs? Would you consider eating monkey meat? Or Human? You explain that you don't worry about the exact line, that you are not dogmatic about it and usually just decide based on convenience and what seems obvious (and in luckily, these questions don't usually need an answer in practice anyway). Someone brings up how some of what's labeled as milk actually is made from almonds, because it's cheaper, so you can't even be sure you actually get dairy. But slowly, person by person, the topic shifts back to work, hobbies and family. “How's the lasagna?”, Jen asks. “Great”, you reply with a smile, because it is.
On your way home, you take stock. Overall, the evening went pretty well. You got along great with most of your coworkers and had long, fun conversations. The food ended up delicious, even if you wish they had just properly labeled their menu. You probably are going to have to nudge your team on future occasions, so you go out to Omnivore-friendlier places. But you are also pretty sure they are open to it. Who knows, you might even get them to go to a steak house at some point. You know you are inevitably going to have the conversation again, at some point - whether it will come up at another meal with your team or with a new person, who you eat with for the first time. This time, at least, it went reasonably well.
This post is a work of fiction. ;) Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Also, if we had "the conversation" before, you should know I still love you and don't judge you :) It's just that I had it a thousand times :)