“Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
Hi friends! Whew, it’s been a busy week!!! For those of you who follow @veganspin on Instagram, you know I was away at my company’s educational seminar for our financial advisors in Hot-lanta, GA. The only dark spot in an otherwise amazing trip was that the food at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center was, predictably, not vegan-friendly or gluten-free.
The Asking Activist
Early on in my veganism, I would have stuck with eating an unsatisfying salad for every meal in order to not make veganism seem “high maintenance”. Nowadays, I’ve learned the value of voicing my needs. For one, everyone watching me eat unsatisfying salads every day reinforced the perception that veganism is hard and a sacrifice. Secondly, I was hungry! I wanted a real meal!
So towards the end of the second day, I talked to the event coordinator and then the head chef. I was friendly and polite, just told them that I was having trouble eating with what was being provided and asked if I could special order something. Chef Shawn, the head chef, was super-friendly about it. He told me I could have anything I wanted so I asked for some potatoes with vegetables and ended up with this:
I was so happy! Everyday after that there was a vegan, gluten-free option on the buffet for each meal AND I was invited to special order anything I wanted, anytime. Every time I’d come into the buffet area after that the servers would all say, “Hey! Vegan girl! How are ya?! We have food for you!” and Chef Shawn would ask me if I was happy and give me a big smile.
The best change was that the staff put up a sign on the chef’s area that said “Vegetarian and Gluten Free Options Available”. The staff also started labeling which buffet items were gluten free. A bunch of people attending the conference noticed this and thought it was great, I got a lot of positive comments about these changes (since everyone knew who the changes were made for!).
It was a powerful reaffirmation that the simple act of asking can create radiating ripples of change. Being silent in an effort to make veganism seem easier prevents people from being aware that there is a need out there. I might have been the first vegan or gluten-free person to ever attend a conference at that hotel, but I highly doubt it. Much more likely is that my predecessors felt uncomfortable saying anything. By being vocal and friendly, I put a face to these needs. I forced them to look at what they were providing in a new light and, because their staff/management is smart and proactive, they responded by doing more than they had to to accommodate me and make me feel safe and welcomed.
This happens to me a lot now that I speak up. Staff will know me, chefs will come out to speak to me directly to ask how my meal was, managers will remember me and prepare ahead for my arrival. Instead of being a burden to everyone, I’m someone they are happy to take care of. A lot of this is, of course, in my approach. I am not apologetic while making these requests, but I do make them gently and with great appreciation. But also, people naturally want to feel useful, they want to be helpful. If you can frame your request in a way that shows them a need and then tells them exactly how to help you, they’ll jump at the chance. Every time they see you, they’ll know how to make you happy, and that will make them happy. Then, you have a new friend!
So next time you find yourself faced with a similar situation, speak up! Not everyone is as gracious as the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center, but even if they are not friendly about it, you’ll be one more person asking. It’ll be one more time they hear “vegan” and the more times that word gets out there, the more people will realize it’s something that needs to be offered, just like vegetarian options are offered everywhere. This is how we got vegan options at Chipotle and Subway, this is why we are seeing the rise of vegan establishments, this is why when I say I’m vegan, fewer and fewer people think it’s weird. Asking is powerful. So go on, Diva! Demand Brussels Sprouts and kale chips in your dressing room!