Vegans eat fish now?

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What? This is vegan?

That was my reaction. Sort of. My language was possibly a little more colourful.

I had to attend a conference for work in Sweden recently. The conference had a very expensive registration fee, and they also charged an additional fee if you wanted a catering package (morning and afternoon teas and lunch). Normally catering is included as standard in conference registration, so it raised eyebrows all around…Ultimately I paid for the catering package because they explicitly stated you could make special dietary requests.

I specifically requested vegan and gluten free.

This is what ensued…

Day 1:

  • morning tea: I got given a ham sandwich
  • lunch: I got given salmon with hollandaise sauce
  • afternoon tea: I got given shortbread biscuits

They didn’t stuff up and accidentally give me someone else’s meal – I checked. This genuinely seemed to be their interpretation of what it means to be vegan. I actually questioned one of the serving staff about it at lunch, because I was pretty annoyed by it at that point since they’d made us pay extra for the catering, and she flat out told me that “fish isn’t meat”. In Sweden, apparently “meat” means red meat. Which maybe would make some kind of twisted sense if they hadn’t served me ham at morning tea. And even so, vegan also means no dairy or egg…And the shortbread biscuits were obviously full of butter, and the salmon came smothered in hollandaise sauce.

Day 2:

  • morning tea: carrot cake with cream cheese icing.
  • lunch: chicken sandwich with ceasar dressing.
  • afternoon tea: cinnamon scrolls (they had a gluten free version, but they had butter in).

Yep. This was my vegan and gluten free food…

Day 3:

  • morning tea: chocolate chip muffins
  • lunch: roast beef and salad wrap with an apple
  • afternoon tea: cookies

When I spoke to the people doing the conference catering, their response was “you must have picked up the wrong special meal…

I picked up the wrong special meal for morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea for 3 days in a row? The wrong special meal that had my name written on it, and had my dietary requirements listed beneath my name?

Uhuh.

Oddly enough, when I went to eat out at dinner time, I had no problems with the wait staff or the kitchen staff understanding my dietary restrictions. Sure some places didn’t have anything appropriate for me to eat and I went elsewhere, but they still all understood exactly what the issue was. How is it that a professional catering company didn’t?

I ended up going to the small grocery store across the road from my hotel each morning on the way to the conference (after the first day) and picking up some fruit, rice crackers, etc. to eat during the meal breaks.

It is frustrating when you’ve paid for catering like this in advance and then they don’t provide what you’ve paid for and you end up having to fork out even more money to buy something appropriate.

The pitfalls of having a serious medical condition that requires dietary restrictions I guess. This is unfortunately how I end up dealing with eating vegan and gluten free when I’m travelling most of the time. I end up having to buy my own food and cook for myself rather than relying on catering or eating out. Either the food provided is inappropriate (contrary to what I get told), or there’s simply nothing available in the first place.

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