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What's in your potluck lunch?

Q. At the office I work at, we have weekly potluck lunch meetings where everyone brings a dish to share while we discuss office matters. I work for a small business so there are only five of us who attend these meetings. Two of these people are vegetarians. I sometimes feel awkward bringing a meat dish to the meetings, particularly since sometimes the other two meat eaters don’t come. I don’t always know ahead of time who will be there, and I feel greedy when I end up bringing a dish that only I can eat. Should I make an effort to bring vegetarian dishes that everyone can enjoy?

M. H., Kew Gardens Hills, NY

A. May I come to lunch at your office? The simplest way to accommodate the vegetarians at the table and still be able to enjoy a meat dish is to prepare dishes in which the meat can be added at the time of serving. A chef’s salad can be fixed on site with meat added after the vegetarians have served themselves. A vegetable-based soup could be made with the meat cooked and saved in a separate container. After the vegetarians have taken their portion, the meat could be added for you and your meat-eating colleagues. Sandwiches pose no problem as you can either provide the ingredients or prepare both meat and meatless ones. What you wouldn’t want to do is bring in pre-made meat sandwiches. For some vegetarians, the fact the meat had been in the sandwich would make it inedible even when the meat is removed.

Some dishes need the meat to cook in the dish to really blend the flavors. In this case make two versions of your dish—one with and one without meat. Take chili for example. You could start by making a pot with enough for all without meat and then divide that pot into two pots. Add meat to one so it can simmer and blend the meat flavor into the chili while keeping the other pot free of meat for the vegetarians.

Of course another simple solution is simply to bring in a vegetarian dish and avoid the issue altogether.

Another option is to suggest to your colleagues that you continue to have your lunches together but instead of potluck, each person brings his or her own, and therefore different eating styles are accommodated.

At Emily Post we have a monthly meeting followed by lunch provided by the company. With a couple of vegetarians on staff we are always aware of being sure a dish can accommodate both meat –eaters and vegetarians. With a little forethought we have excellent lunches, and everyone can enjoy food prepared the way they want it.

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