People choose to be vegans for all sorts of reasons. For some, the decision to eat no animal products is driven by health concerns, as diets higher in these foods are associated with higher risk of heart disease, weight gain, and certain cancers. Others may be motivated by the ethical problem of animal cruelty. Still other folks may go vegan to reduce their environmental footprint.
Whatever the motivations, a growing number of people now identify as vegan. In fact, according to one study, 9.6 million Americans fall into this dietary category—a 300% increase in the last 15 years. That said, if you’re the point person for frequent catering orders, there’s a high likelihood you’ll need to order food for a vegan. (Maybe you already have!)
Navigating the world of animal-free catering can be a challenge—and the hidden ingredients in restaurant foods don’t always help. We’ve got you covered with the lowdown on how to order appropriate, satisfying meals for the vegans in your crowd.
Vegan vs. Vegetarian vs. Plant-based
First things first, what exactly do vegans eat? (And how is it different from what vegetarians or “plant-based” dieters eat?) A vegan diet is defined by what it excludes—namely, anything that came from an animal. For some vegans, this no-animal-products philosophy extends to clothing, skincare products, and household materials.
Vegetarians, on the other hand, don’t eat the flesh of any animals (including fish) but in general will keep eggs and dairy on the menu. Meanwhile, the definition of a plant-based diet is a bit harder to pin down. For many people, eating “plant-based” simply means trying to swap veggies for meat most—but not necessarily all—of the time.
Foods Vegans Don’t Eat
Not surprisingly, there are quite a few foods that don’t pass muster on a vegan’s plate. These include, of course, meats like chicken, turkey, beef, and pork, as well as any seafood, like fish, shrimp, crab, scallops, and lobster. Beyond meat itself, vegans have to watch out for meat byproducts like broths and gelatin. Vegans also don’t consume eggs and egg products, or dairy products like milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt.
For strict vegans, insect-derived foods are another no-go. You may know that most vegans won’t eat honey for this reason, but some food dyes (like carmine, which turns foods red) also come from insects and are therefore not suitable for vegans.
Foods Vegans Can Eat
Despite its restrictions, a vegan diet can encompass a wide variety of foods. Essentially, if it came from a plant, a vegan can eat it. Plant-derived proteins that are a-ok for vegans include tofu and other soy products like tempeh or edamame, beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, and quinoa—just to name a few! To stand in for dairy, vegans can opt for plant-based milks and their byproducts. These may include nut milks like almond or cashew, rice milk, hemp milk, or coconut milk.
Vegans can always fill their plate with fruits, veggies, and grains. And for sweetness, maple syrup, cane sugar, molasses, and date syrup make vegan-friendly choices.
Making Sure Your Order Is Vegan
When ordering catering for a vegan colleague, it’s best to go to the source—the person him- or herself! Whenever possible, ask a vegan eater about his or her own food preferences. (Some are more strict than others about which foods they consume.) If this isn’t an option, use the foods listed above as a guide for ordering.
When in doubt, you can always ask a restaurant’s manager which menu items contain no animal products, too. (Or let your CaterSquad rep do the legwork for you!) We’re willing to bet the vegans in your group will be thankful for your efforts. The more you order vegan catering, the more familiar you’ll become with making the right choices for your plant-based co-workers.