Business travel can be challenging for vegans. Unlike with personal travel, you may be stuck with places that provide no or poor vegan options – even in an otherwise vegan friendly city. This story from an international business traveler perfectly illustrates such scenario.
And even if you manage to find vegan options, it can be a whole other struggle to find foods that are also both nutritious and filling/satisfying.
Vegan business travelers agree that it all boils down to planning and some know-how to easily add to your routine while at the airport, in flight, at your hotel or in business meetings.
•Do research to figure out vegan options near your destination (HappyCow is the gold standard; with their mobile app you can create a “trip” to access later). If you have the flexibility to do so, choose a hotel located near a good eatery or health food/grocery store.
•If you are in an airline frequent flyer, hotel loyalty, or corporate travel program, make sure that your online profile mentions your dietary preferences. While this may not automatically carry over into your reservation or ensure you’ll receive special food, larger travel agencies (e.g. American Express) take note of the client’s requests. If you don’t see a Meal Preference / Dietary Restrictions option in your profile, simply phone the airline/hotel/travel agency and you may be able to add it on record. Note that the higher your status in these programs, the more attention your requests will likely receive.
•If your flight includes a complimentary meal (e.g. long-haul flights and/or business class), make sure to request a vegan meal at least 72 hours in advance, online or by calling the airline.
•Call your hotel in advance to request a fridge in your room. Also, based on a circumstance such as the length of your stay or your preferred status, ask the hotel for more accommodations. A hotel may easily arrange for a salad bar, bread, hummus or milk alternative if contacted 1-2 days before arrival.
•Pack your own protein and filling snacks in both your carry and checked bags. Good options include single serve almond/peanut butter packets, nuts, hummus and chips, energy bars, fruit, instant oatmeal or instant soup or noodle packets.
•While not food related, some vegans prefer to sleep in a down- and wool-free environment. At least in the U.S., hotels now often offer alternative pillows and blankets. It’s best to call ahead to make this request, and then confirm upon check-in. If the staff seem unsure of what you are asking, it may help to ask for an “allergy free” room – as some individuals are allergic to wool and down, hotels are increasingly sensitive to this need.
While in the Air
•Use the wait time at the airport to look up the best place for a smoothie, salad, snack, fresh fruit or a heartier meal – especially if you could not research your options in advance. Nowadays, if you just google “vegan options [airport name]”, you can quickly find out good information on your specific airport. Many major airports have hidden gems for vegans. And in a pinch, a large chai or latte made with soy or almond milk can serve as an energetic snack.
•If you requested a vegan option for your complimentary in-flight meal and you don’t receive it, contact the airline’s Customer Relations after your flight to make them aware of this oversight. Do so especially if you traveled on a long-haul flight, in the first/business class, or if you have a high status with the airline.
While at a Hotel
•Delivery services (UberEats, Deliveroo, TryCaviar, DoorDash and GrubHub) open up a wide range of possibilities, and their sites often allow you to filter for veg friendly options. If your location is serviced, you can get good vegan food delivered to your hotel for roughly the same price as the hotel room service.
•Even if your room service, restaurant and delivery menus don’t have any vegan meals listed, check for ingredients that could be assembled into an entrée. For example, if hummus is offered as a starter, grilled vegetables as a side, and mushrooms as part of an entrée, call and ask for the items you want to be plated as an entrée. You’ll rarely be turned down.
•In a pinch, know what chain restaurants offer veg-friendly options as these are often not listed on HappyCow (e.g. Subway, Taco Bell, Chipotle etc.) The offerings may vary by region.
•Especially if you have additional restrictions (gluten-free, nut allergy) or if you expect poor vegan options in your business meetings, consider picking up food directly on the way from the airport. Otherwise, you might get into the work mode and find yourself with few good choices later on.
While in Business Meetings
•Contact the organizer (conference venue, restaurant) to make sure food options will be available for you throughout the event. Most venues accommodate for dietary needs and allergies if asked in advance. Plus, if you make a point of asking and the venue has to make the extra effort, next time they may provide the option by default.
•Have nutritious snacks with you all day in case – despite your best efforts – you end up with nothing decent to eat. It happens.
•If you are meeting with clients and business partners, it may be at a restaurant preferred by them rather than you. If you think you may be called upon to recommend a restaurant, have some suggestions prepared that are convenient, style-appropriate and tasty for everyone. Make sure you reviewed HappyCow or other resources beforehand in case you get asked for an on-the-spot recommendation.
•If unable to plan in advance, when at a restaurant consider talking to the server off to the side before everyone orders. It can be awkward to ask lots of questions while everyone is ordering. If you want to make sure to get a strictly vegan meal (no hidden ingredients), you should say: “I can’t eat any meat, egg, or dairy; what can you prepare that would accommodate that?” Servers may assume you have an allergy, and places tend to be careful about that.
•Don’t be negative, overbearing or judgmental – discussing your dietary requirements graciously can get your points across much better, especially with folks for whom this is completely novel. Also, service providers will be more willing to help if you are friendly and professional.
As a Final Note
Instead of seeing all this as a chore on inconvenience, focus on celebrating these opportunities to educate others and to experiment! Remind yourself that this enabled you to be an ambassador for cruelty-free and environmentally friendly choices, and that you’ve likely left others with better knowledge and impression of vegans. That can be really rewarding.
Most people know this cliche joke about vegans: “How do you know if someone is vegan? Oh don’t worry; they’ll tell you.”
The premise is that vegans (supposedly) can’t wait to broadcast their identity and ideology to the world. While it’s true for some, it is hardly universal. Particularly, business professionals often embrace the vegan lifestyle as a sensible way to live – very much like recycling, giving back to charity or being an ethical employee – while realizing that preaching in the workplace would not be effective or appropriate. Many do not bring up their lifestyle at work at all.
That makes it harder to find vegan co-workers. (I recently visited our corporate office where a helpful IT technician turned out to be vegan! The topic only came up thanks to a vegan sticker on my laptop.) How do you identify your vegan – or vegan curious – colleagues without them wearing a sign? Also how do you identify yourself as vegan in a work-appropriate manner? Here are some practical tips from Vegan Leaders.
1. Use workplace meals as a ubiquitous opportunity.
Office events, team luncheons and cafeteria meals create splendid opportunities to meet vegan co-workers (and to model your lifestyle without preaching it.) By scanning what’s on people’s plates, you can easily strike a conversation with: “I couldn’t help but notice that your plate is vegan. Do you eat vegan?”
2. Find out if your company has a veg employee forum.
“I found a vegan discussion group on our company’s internal social media site,” reveals Dan Ohlemiller, CPA and Associate at a major global professional services firm. Koji Pereira, Designer at a leading Fortune 500 technology company, also connects with vegan co-workers through an internal discussion group. Many other companies – Microsoft, Facebook and IBM, just to name a few – have internal vegan or vegetarian employee forums.
3. Display work-appropriate clues (be creative).
The limits will vary but in general, you should be able to display magnets or photos of you/friends in vegan t-shirts, or say a framed award for your outside-of-work advocacy, in your workspace. Subtle personal vegan accessories might also be an option. Be creative! John Edmundson, Director at Mezzo Holdings Ltd. (Hong Kong) often wears his elegant vintage London Vegetarian Society brass & enamel pin. “Co-workers constantly ask me about it,” observes John.
A tasteful laptop sticker can spur lots of fun talk about plant foods without overtly advertising that you’re vegan. “I had an “Eat More Kale.com” sticker on my laptop,” says management-level vegan at a major pharmaceutical company. “It was a popular conversation starter, and many colleagues admitted to trying kale as a result!”
4. Be a visible vegan after hours.
If you prefer keeping your vegan interest outside of work, opportunities range from wearing vegan t-shirts to being active on social media to volunteering. Nicole Cook, an attorney in a post-doctoral program at University of Arkansas, wears conservative suits to work but wears vegan message shirts to a gym, to sport or political events or when grocery shopping. Nicole notes: “As a body-builder, I often get asked about my nutrition – what a great way to address the ever-present protein question.”
Your outside-of-work encounters can lead back to your employer network! “A fellow activist I knew turned out to be my co-worker!”, shares Fernando Cuenca, Engineer at a major aerospace company. “Now we partner to raise awareness about the environmental impact of animal agriculture in our office.”
5. Know when to stop.
At all cost, avoid appearing one-dimensional. Due to the still-prevalent stereotype, people will be more drawn to a charming and well-rounded vegan colleague than a righteous and morose one. Keith Bohanna, Principal at Near Future (Ireland), sums it well: “Many of us feel strongly about various political, social and lifestyle issues – the “right” ways to eat just being one of them. It would be tedious – and actually unbearable – if all of us constantly shared those interests when uninvited.”
6. Join Vegan Leaders on LinkedIn.
Last but not least, tap into the Vegan Leaders community! Our very niche is vegans working in corporate (esp. Fortune 500) management and business functions. Join us to discover new vegan connections – working in your field or even at the same company. Time has never been better to be a proud, empowered and well-connected vegan!
If you are a vegan (or even a vegetarian) professional, chances are you have experienced some awkward moments around work-related meals. While the vegan lifestyle is no longer considered odd and it continues to gain in popularity, most business functions will still cater to the omnivore majority. You probably found yourself at meals with virtually nothing to eat – while expected to enjoy yourself in the midst of the “delicious pork chops” remarks.
How should you navigate through situations where you are expected to take a client to a steakhouse, or you have to attend a function with few or no vegan options? Where should you draw the line between personal views and the career demands? Here is collective advice from Vegan Leaders, successful vegan business professionals.
1. You may get your best-ever vegan meal at a steakhouse!
Say again? “One of the best vegan meals I ever had was at Tom Collicio’s Craftsteak,” says Janie Gianotsos, Marketing Director of a large non-profit, who is vegan and gluten-free. “Nothing vegan on the menu, but the special meal they made for me was spectacular and prepared perfectly. Sometimes I’ll just let the chef surprise me with something. Creative solutions that won’t compromise your values or your job can be surprisingly easy.” Guy Rittger, Assoc. Director at Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, shares a similar experience: “My sailboat team recently took me to the new BBQ restaurant Swine, in Miami (yes, you can imagine my concern). While others looked at the menu, I consulted with our server and we constructed vegan options from existing menu dishes and ingredients. The resulting meal was phenomenal, and led to a conversation about veganism with one boat owner, a cattle rancher from Texas!”
2. Call the restaurant up front.
The vast majority of kitchens will happily accommodate vegans with a special dish or a menu, especially if asked ahead of time. Be courteous and appreciative, and even compliment the creativity of the regular menu before asking for vegan tweaks. Manuel Lynch, Founder of Sabor Vegan Culinary Academy in Mallorca, likes the challenge of eating at any restaurant, relying on his positive approach. “I often request to mix and match components of existing dishes, or ask for substitutions. I’ve had restaurant chefs come out and say “thank you for letting me make that special dish for you”. Some even take my card and ask how we might help them add a vegan menu!”
3. If you are hosting, do research on vegan fine dining options.
Larger cities usually have upscale all-vegan restaurants that can give your clients or colleagues un forgettable, classy experience. Candle 79 in New York, Plum Bistro in Seattle or Vedge in Philadelphia are just a few examples of posh vegan restaurants; do not overlook them! In addition, virtually any city or town will at least have some fine dining establishment with above-average vegan options.
4. Exercise your veto power.
You may be able to redirect a group reservation from a steakhouse to a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. Mark Aggar, Sr. Director of Cloud Efficiency at Microsoft and a founder of Vegetarians @ Microsoft, will at times unleash his inner activist: “When appropriate, let the restaurant know that vegans have disproportionate influence on where a group of otherwise non-vegans will eat. It is in the restaurant’s best interest to have well publicized vegan options, even though they don’t get many vegan patrons. Otherwise they risk losing revenue from large group bookings if a vegan is attending.”
5. Most of all, handle the situation with great political skill.
Acting difficult, righteous or morose will not serve your career or the vegan cause. Work-related situations are not the time or place to advocate veganism, unless invited to discuss it. “You don’t want to appear fussy in front of clients or colleagues – instead, show how easy and appealing it is to eat vegan,” says David Benzaquen, Founder and CEO of PlantBased Solutions. Theresa Czajkowski, Sr. Loan Processor at Merck, suggests with some catered meetings it’s better to eat beforehand or even bring your own snacks. She acknowledges the positive trend: “I have not yet seen tofu in the buffet but the vegan options at company functions are getting better as executives and employees become more health-oriented.”
Besides inspiring readers, this article aims to provide a blueprint for forming similar initiatives across other corporations.
What vegan initiatives are possible in the corporate world? A remarkable example is Vegetarians @ Microsoft, founded in 2004 by Mark Aggar, currently Microsoft’s Senior Director of Cloud Efficiency. MSVeg, as it’s known informally, is a group for Microsoft employees, contractors and vendors interested in veg-friendly food choices in the workplace. MSVeg has over 650 steady members (although Mark estimates that many thousands have been part of it through the years). Because of its popularity, MS Veg was eventually co-opted by HR, and it is now even mentioned during Microsoft’s new employee orientation!
How did you grow the group at the beginning, and what methods did you use to advertise it?
Mark: I started by inviting a few veg colleagues (which did not create much immediate traffic). Next, I posted flyers around the campus promoting the Seattle Vegfest and including a mention of MSVeg. That raised our membership to around 70. After that we organized our first MSVeg lunch. I reached out to our company news team and told them about the group. They interviewed me and a few other members, and published a story about us on the front page of our main intranet. About 200 more people joined that day, and the group grew to its present number fairly quickly from there.
How does the group operate? Do you organize any initiatives (e.g. meetups, committees)?
Mark: MSVeg operates as a discussion group on our internal “distribution list” platform. Anyone can s and initiate discussion around veg food issues at Microsoft. In the early days we did organize meetups, but we phased it out due to the planning effort and attendance challenges. Since we have achieved our initial goal (better veg food options available to our employees), we’re generally in the “maintain and improve” mode. Our main initiative is to hold quarterly meetings between the MSVeg representatives and our food service provider (Eurest, part of Compass Group). In those meetings we discuss issues, review wellness or other programs, suggest improvements and even sample Eurest’s proposed new offerings.
Has Microsoft been supportive of your group? Have you seen any changes resulting from your efforts?
Mark: Initially our efforts were solely grassroots. We gained some momentum after an incident involving a mislabeled soup which got the attention of our VP of HR who then escalated it Eurest, our food service provider. Eurest promptly reached out to us to fix the issue, and we have built an ongoing productive relationship (quarterly meetings mentioned earlier.)
Overall, I have seen a significant change since MSVeg became active. Aside from improved choices (the primary goal), there is a much greater awareness of veg issues among all levels of the dining staff. Food preparation is much better (separate gloves, cutting boards and serving utensils) and there are many specialty items such as Field Roast and tempeh. Plus, having veg choices in plain view is definitely moving more employees to eat a lot more veg food now because those choices are available. Some of them are even influencing their families to eat more veg food or have even switched entirely to a veg diet because of the exposure to options and to other vegetarians or vegans.
What advice would you give to others who may wish to set up a similar group within their companies? What are the key success factors?
Mark: I believe having a critical mass of employees in one location is key to having your organization respond with a program. Make sure your company knows you exist! It also helps to gain exposure after “incidents”, e.g. mislabeled food, that escalate the issue to decision-makers (such as VP of HR in our case). Also, if your company has lots of “social” groups, you should not need company permission or endorsement to start a veg group.
In the recent years, the vegan lifestyle became much more mainstream. Have you seen additional recent growth in membership?
Mark: The number of subscribers to MSVeg has remained remarkably steady over the years, but I’m seeing more vegan-centric discussion, from both vegetarians and vegans on the DL. Many vegetarians @ Microsoft seem to moving towards a veganism, a choice that is supported by distinct labeling of vegetarian and vegan options.
What is your future vision for MS Veg?
Mark: My initial goal was to have a critical mass of people who can influence the availability and quality of vegan and vegetarian offerings at Microsoft, and we have achieved that. Having great veg options is not only important for employee satisfaction, but also increasingly for hiring and even sales. I think members of MSVeg can continue to help remind Microsoft on the broader benefits of continuing our great vegetarian program. Beyond that I am keen to take our learnings and have them applied at other large companies, particularly those that use food services from the Compass Group such as Eurest.