At face value, Chow.com’s ‘Eating Is Social’ ads are meant to refer to their socal networking. The phrase has a deeper meaning.

It was early fall I started seeing these online ads, just around the time I got the chance to chat with Vaute Couture intern, Patricia, on September 8, at the company’s fashion week pop-up shop at MooShoes. As we talked about sustainability and forced child labor in developing nations (she’s one smart cookie), we got on the topic of socializing and eating out as a veg*n. New York City has many amazing veg*n restaurants, but she joked that her friends don’t want to go with her.

There’s an extended thought process when navigating social events dominated by typical eaters. Not a week after talking with Patricia, I went to drinks with coworkers, but not before going to the market for food. The odds a random bar would have something for me are low. While you can call ahead, on a busy work day, grabbing a little extra at a trusted place can be easier than the bar roulette, played under skeptical eyes.

It’s not hard to make delicious veg*n; what’s hard is being surrounded by people and at a place that doesn’t also know that. When I brought my food back to the office, one of my coworkers heading out expressed disapproval of my food, dare I say disgust. I rather like Amy’s Black Bean Tamale Verde, but to each their own…and his own I’m sure had meat. (The myth of meat dish nonblandness, for lack of a better name, is deep-rooted. As though by virtue of not having meat, a dish can never compare to a counterpart made with animal flesh.)

As I’m reading through Eating Animals, I’m learning about aspects of factory farming I did not previously know. Also, though, while at times heavy with (necessary) verbiage, Jonathan Safran Foer lays himself bare and you can see yourself on some of the pages, no matter what you eat.

“Sharing food generates good feeling and creates social bonds” (Eating Animals, p55). Even if I wasn’t a vegetarian, I couldn’t argue with this. ‘Oh, remember when we used to…?’ Spinach dip in Challah bread while watching T.V. with my family on holidays, munching on packs of frozen Haribo Gummy Bears while playing with my sister, my dad taking us to Wendy’s when my mom worked late, I have memories tied to foods, we all do, and they make me happy.

On one level, Foer counters Michael Pollen’s argument that “table fellowship” is a vote against vegetarianism. When you have to deny the food available, it can deteriorate the bond. Foer believes this true. It can create social discomfort. Patricia’s predicament is a golden example of the effects. No fellowship can occur if no one will share the table with you, or vice versa.

When two of my coworkers went to Whole Foods for lunch one day, though, they made sure to invite me for when they go to the, “Other places you can’t go with us.” Simultaneously, while this highlights the lost opportunities for fellowship, present is an added component of reflection not always present nor to be demanded (though that’s a learned realization).

Foer seems to counter that the sharing of views, promoting a conversation, can foster greater bonding. “There is also the possibility that a conversation about what we believe would generate more fellowship–even when we believe different things–than any food being served” (p56). As I’ve enjoyed my veg*n food and learned, I’ve endeavored to share with my family (even if I know they’re not going to join me) and they’ve grown more receptive.

Eating is social and for veg*ns in a non-veg*n world, that can mean a process of discomfort, dialogue, but hopefully still fellowship and bonding.