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April 2005
Vegetarian 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.

Team Carnivore

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.

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 New Farm 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.



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