Reading through my journal entry for the fourth day of work on the 2001 build-a-thon, I came across a rant in which I confront an ongoing frustration I have with volunteer work – the reality of working hard on a project, usually in uncomfortable conditions and with limited rest for no benefit of my own, only to face a full lunch or dinner buffet of wonderful meat-based food (which I don’t eat), punctuated at the end by a small afterthought of a vegetarian option which is usually skimpy, cold and unsatisfying – often PB&J sandwiches (because apparently meat-based diets are so completely meat-oriented that trying to come up with suitable vegetarian options simply blows a fuse in meat-eaters brains and they revert to the only non-meat “entree” that they are familiar with).
This phenomenon topped out in absurdity during a service training event. Americorps from around the state were to spend the whole day in a very nice (Adams Mark) hotel doing different trainings and attending lectures, and were repeatedly assured that yes, the hotel kitchen was capable of providing a substantial vegetarian option for lunch. Silly me, I took them at their word and didn’t bring back-ups, as I normally do. When we got there in the morning, there was the traditional hotel brunch buffet (mix-based whitebread muffins, fruit, coffee, rolls, etc), and we all filled up on carbs and caffeine to fuel the first part of the day. By lunch I was freezing cold (from the aggressive AC and from running on simple carbs all day) and in the throes of a full sugar crash. When we sat down at lunch, I was seriously anticipating a hot, hearty protein-heavy meal to mellow the echoing buzzsaw whine of my brain spinning in neutral on the last fumes of brunch, and to start the process of melting the permafrost from the inside out.
The meat plates came out first – braised frenched green beans almondine, a tasty-looking rice pilaf and some chicken-ish entree, all steaming hot and generously proportioned. So far so good. Then came the vegetarian option – a fresh cut-fruit plate. Melon slices, strawberries, grapes and pineapples. Period. Nothing hot. Nothing with more than a shred of protein. All thoroughly chilled and served on a chilled plate. And all 99% pure sugar.
I thought my head was going to explode from all the glucose. By the late afternoon when we all left for home, I was dizzy-sick, shaky and frozen to the core. I felt as if I’d been living off of frozen double-caff lattes all day. And I no doubt missed a great deal of the benefit of the trainings because I simply couldn’t concentrate with that much pure sugar in my system.
So here’s a hint if you’re feeding volunteers – some portion of the workforce is guaranteed to be vegetarian and some may be vegan (no diary, egg or other animal-based products, sometimes including honey, bone-charcoal-refined sugar and similarly related items). Plan accordingly.
The hard facts: PB&Js, while a great and highly appreciated snack, are not a reasonable substitute for actual, hot meals. A fruit plate is not lunch. Sugar is not a long-term fuel source, especially simple sugars like white bread, fruit, candy, soda and their ilk. And we’re just as hungry as everybody else, so no, a small sandwich and a bag of corn chips is not just compensation for a day spent saving the world with our bare hands. Especially if everyone else is going back for their third dangerously overloaded plate from the buffet-o-mammal-extinction.
Some ideas – simple, fresh hot veggies not cooked with meat seasoning (steamed is wonderful!), gelatin-free sauces and desserts (gelatin is made by boiling down connective tissue, dontcha know), meatless chili (watch those seasoning packs), veggie soups, pasta with non-meat sauces and garlic bread, hotbreads made with real whole grains and not simply labeled whole grain because they have a smattering of oats on the crust (many veg-heads are very health conscious, and whole grains are high in energy-replenishing protein), veggie pizzas, salads with leafy lettuce and real veggie bits (not iceburg and carrot shavings), taco buffet with a (lard-free – watch those labels) refried beans option and plenty of veggies for accessorizing. Pretty much any meatless Tex-Mex, east Indian or Mediterranean menu. See your local Internet for recipes and details.
Look, I appreciate the work and the generosity that goes into bringing food out to feed starving hordes of locust-like volunteers. I really do. And I applaude those who make the effort. I’m just saying. You wouldn’t set aside a separate table of less hearty fare for volunteers of a different race, or shortchange those of one gender or another. The same rules of apply to vegetarians. We deserve to eat wholesome, hearty and hot food just like the rest of the human race. Especially if it’s got nacho cheese on it.
And now back to our regularly scheduled program…