Advocate: Encouraging Vegetarianism at the Office
By Jack Vegetarianberger
For reasons that will become clear in a moment, I am not going to disclose
the name of my present employer. The reason is as simple as it is self-serving:
I don’t want to be fired.
During most of my fitful waking hours, I work for a large publisher
in Manhattan. For the purpose of this column, I will give the company
a whimsical name: May
Day Media. Unlike many businesses, May Day is socially progressive. In the aftermath
of the recent tsunami, for example, May Day encouraged its employees to make
a financial contribution to a group of three disaster relief funds and promised
to match, dollar for dollar, all employee contributions. (Yes, I made a contribution.)
In all, May Day’s initiative raised close to $15,000 for tsunami aid.
To the best of my knowledge, of the several hundred employees at the May Day
offices in midtown Manhattan, I might be the only vegetarian. May Day occupies
several floors of a nearly block-long office building. On my floor there are
two food pantries, the east pantry and the west pantry, both of which are outfitted
with a refrigerator, a small kitchen, a pair of coffee makers, and so on. (I
typically frequent the west pantry because it’s the one nearest to my office.)
My vegetarian activism at work involves taking…ah, maybe I shouldn’t
discuss it in print—someone at May Day might read this.
Oh, what the hell! As you’ve probably surmised, the refrigerator in the
west panty usually contains a sundry assortment of meat products, even late on
Friday afternoon. I am not going to try to rationalize my behavior except to
confess that what I do, when I am alone in the west pantry, is in the best interests
of my co-workers’ health. Some of them don’t know any better. Others
might not care about their own well-being.
When I am alone in the pantry and I can hear that no one is approaching, I open
the refrigerator, survey the tuna sandwiches, the plastic containers filled with
chicken leftovers or thick slabs of meaty lasagna, the frozen beef cuisine, and
quickly remove as many meat entrées as possible and dump them in the garbage.
I don’t do this every day. Or at the same time of the day. I think it’s
important to be unpredictable. Sometimes I view my behavior as being my good
deed for the day. Other times I think of it as a dietary intervention.
Okay, I’m pulling your leg. I DON’T touch other people’s food
at work (just as I wouldn’t like them to mess with my food). Yes, I have
fantasized about being the Food Police at work, but I like my job.
The two worst problems with being a vegetarian at a non-vegetarian workplace
is the smell of cooked animal flesh in the office during lunchtime and occasional
insensitive remarks from carnivores. Regarding comments from meat-eaters, one
supervisor at May Day asked me, when we were ordering in lunch once, “Are
you a vegan?” When I answered no, he replied, “Good. Otherwise, I’d
have to fire you.”
Likewise, on a recent Friday afternoon, Nancy (not her real name), who, like
everyone who has worked in our department for any length of time, knows I’m
a vegetarian, returned from her cigarette break and loudly asked, “Who
has the McDonald’s? I smell McDonald’s.” She repeated this
refrain, or a slight variation, several times without receiving a response. Then
she said, “Who’s got the Big Mac? Is it you, Jack?” I offered
up a sarcastic “Yes, I can never resist a Big Mac,” and Nancy announced
to the group of half-dozen men who recently joined our department, “I have
to tease Jack because he’s our resident vegetarian.”
Combating insensitive remarks at work can be a challenge, and at times you wish
for back up, which is all the more reason to expand Team Vegetarian.
My vegetarian activism at work is personal, one-on-one. I have worked at May
Day Media for a year, and my vegetarian diet is frequently a topic of conversation
during meals, especially when our publisher treats us to lunch, which we usually
order in, or when we go to a restaurant and eat dinner together as a social event.
Co-workers ask me the same questions about being a vegetarian that I’ve
been fielding from carnivores for the last few decades. I tell them, in a non-threatening
manner, why I am a vegetarian (ethical reasons), what I usually eat (mostly Indian,
Italian and Mexican food, just without any meat), and I try to convey how much
I enjoy being a vegetarian.
Also, I have helped two women at work move closer to being vegetarians. When
I started working at May Day, Jessica was very interested in vegetarianism, but
she didn’t know any vegetarian recipes. So, I loaned her several vegetarian
cookbooks, such as my wife’s battered and partly singed paperback copy
of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook.
And one day I unexpectedly received an email from Carol, who I had pegged as
a die-hard carnivore, in which she complained that she was bored with her diet
of mostly chicken and fish and requested some simple vegetarian recipes. I suggested
Debra Wasserman’s Simply Vegan: Quick Vegetarian Meals and The
Vegetarian Cookbook, both of which I thought would be appealing as many of the
recipes require little in terms of time and effort.
Carol is eating less meat. Jessica is now almost a vegetarian. Also, she has
informed me that, due to her influence, “several of my friends have become
vegetarians.” Change happens.