This question opens a broad spectrum of sub-questions such as religious standards (halal, kosher); health-related (gluten intolerance); and lifestyle/ethical questions (vegetarian). Therefore, I will focus on the narrower example from real life.

A vegetarian is invited to a casual friend/acquaintance's home for a meal. The vegetarian dutifully explains to the host/hostess that they are a vegetarian, and is assured that that will be no problem. When dinner is served, chicken is in pride of place as the main course. "I hope that's alright," the host says, "we made sure that there was no meat."

What is the proper thing to do, in a social context? To eat the side dishes after explaining the misunderstanding; to take some to avoid embarrassing the host; or some other action?

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    There's a Veganism & Vegetarianism; might be worth checking if they already have a question about this. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 10:19
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    I will happily withdraw this question to the other forum, however, I raised it here as when we were in the definition phase it was noted that some overlaps were inevitable and that this opens a larger question which might include the spectrum mentioned in the opening sentence. Otherwise, it could need to go to the vegetarianism, Judaism, and Islamic sites, and lack a broader discussion of interpersonal discussion.
    – r m
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 10:24
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    Oh, I'm not saying it shouldn't be here! It's a good question for this site, and I upvoted it. Just that that site may also have some relevant subject knowledge. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 10:26
  • As a general question, where are you from? Because, where I'm from, a lot of people are vegetarian, and there is a deep level of understanding between the veggies and the non-veggies.
    – Abhigyan
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 15:35
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    I haven't seen the use of chicken in this context, but I have seen the use of "fish."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 16:21

3 Answers 3


Being a vegetarian myself, I have faced a similar situation a few times. Also, I'm not a vegetarian by choice, but by birth and bound by religion, so I'm a lot more staunch than most people, and would never eat non-vegetarian food, irrespective of how much peer/other pressure I am under.

Understanding the circumstances, this could have been the case that the person who served you non-vegetarian food (chicken, as you have said) felt that chicken is a vegetarian diet by his/her standards, and considered red meat, like mutton, beef, or pork as "actual meat". This is then a question of his/her own idea of what is considered vegetarian and what is not (although in most cases, it would definitely not be considered so). In this case, first make it clear to your host that your idea of non-vegetarian food is different from theirs, and ask them if there is any other food available. In case there isn't anything else, just leave, with all politeness, and find yourself another meal. If you are willing to just eat the side dishes, go ahead and do that.

It could have also been the case that that the person in concern is doing this on purpose, in order to humiliate you, which would be rather unethical and unmannerly of him/her, as it could probably be against your very religion to consume non-vegetarian food. In such a case, if you can be sure that this was done intentionally, then you must absolutely assert that you are a vegetarian, and that you can't eat anything which contains animal produce. Remain polite while doing so, as it will not be good to lash out around many people, who probably want to see just that. I really know how that feels, and it doesn't feel good at all.

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    I agree with most of this, except that in a social setting, I've found it better to stay and just eat what I can rather than leaving. A meal in someone's home isn't only about the food, so if there's anything there you can eat, stay, eat that, and socialize. You can get more food on your own later. (All of this is assuming that you don't have a medical reason that precludes delaying most of your meal.) Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 17:59
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    @MonicaCellio I agree with you on that... I'm sure staying is a good idea if there has been an actual misunderstanding, but if someone wants to see you squirm in your seat, it's better to leave than to stay and be the butt of people's jokes.
    – Abhigyan
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 3:09

You might want to say something along the following lines: "Oh, I'm sorry, there seems to have been a misunderstanding here. I actually don't eat any meat, whether it is white or red. Don't worry, I'll just eat everything else instead".

You may not enjoy not having a full meal and it is awfully silly of the person to assume that chicken is fine, but this would be the polite approach.

  • This may not be silly but cultural. For example some religious interpretations of not eating meat only include mammals.
    – user6109
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:47

I'm answering this is a round about way, by understanding the perspective of the host.

Most people who have guests, want to please their guests, make them comfortable and welcome. The host wants the guests to enjoy their dinner and come away from the visit, with a feeling of being welcomed and comfortable.

Most people are not offended by someone not being able to eat something they are served, they are more offended by someone not liking their cooking.

Different people have different definitions of what a vegetarian is. It requires clarification. As I've know some people who will eat fish and call themselves vegetarian, others are closer to being vegan. So it really does vary and depends upon the host's experience. I wouldn't like to assume it was deliberate, if it was, it's not the sort of company one would like to keep.

I live in a part of our city where there is a large Jewish community. I myself am not Jewish. We have many Jewish friends who practice their religion with varying degrees of strictness. Some will eat bacon, others are completely Kosher.

As such I've hosted parties and had people who will not use our oven to heat food, as it's cooked non-Kosher food. I've served meals and had people pick through things and eat what they can or not eat at all. Usually these people will bring their own food, without my prior knowledge.

These are all things I'm well used to now, after living here for many years, but when it first happened, I was mildly surprise, but mostly I felt bad that I was unable to provide them with food they could eat. They never offended me, as they explained their beliefs and how strict they were and I actually found it interesting. I would never expect someone to eat something they were not comfortable eating.

The key is politeness, show an appreciation of the effort the host has gone to and explain. With open and clear communication, that can help, the host may have something else that you can eat.

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