Do I tell the vegetarian she ate bacon last night?
September 13, 2008 6:24 PM   Subscribe

A meaty dilemma: I think we served bacon to a vegetarian last night.

I organized a barbecue for the office and was standing at the buffet when a co-worker was going through the line with her husband. She pointed at the baked beans and said, "Are these vegetarian?" I turned to the caterer and said, "Are these vegetarian?" He said yes, quite confidently.

Later that evening, when packing up leftovers, I discovered that the beans were actually chock-full of bacon. (Mmm, bacon.) But now I feel guilty. I'm hoping that she and her husband discovered the bacon before they ate it, but I'm wondering about whether I should 'fess up to her on Monday.

Vegetarians, would you rather know or not know? She is from India and I don't know her reasons for not eating meat, nor her level of commitment to it. Other than making sure we get truly vegetarian beans next year, what is my obligation here?
posted by Sweetie Darling to Human Relations (50 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just don't say anything. Really.
posted by k8t at 6:28 PM on September 13, 2008

Don't bother. If she's allergic to bacon, the worst has already happened. If it's purely for a religious reason or ethical reason, there isn't a damn thing anyone can do about it now.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:29 PM on September 13, 2008

As a vegetarian, I wouldn't want to know.
posted by thesiameseffect at 6:32 PM on September 13, 2008

shit happens. let it go.
posted by violetk at 6:34 PM on September 13, 2008

I've been a vegetarian for a good length of time now. My reason is philosophical, and frankly I have adopted the "Don't ask-Don't tell" methodology.

You acted in good faith. Don't say anything. Keep in mind a healthy percentage of "Vegetarian" restaurant food is chock-full-o-meat products. Not that that is okay, necessarily, but you did your best to try and provide the facts.
posted by Ponderance at 6:35 PM on September 13, 2008

She won't die from the meat, or even notice.
posted by Electrius at 6:36 PM on September 13, 2008

Former vegetarian, agree that you shouldn't say anything to her.

However! I would say something to the caterer, who can't be bothered to know what the ingredients are in the food he serves. That's very poor service.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:41 PM on September 13, 2008 [34 favorites]

Don't tell her.

She can't go back and un-eat the bacon, so telling her will accomplish two things: 1) it will assuage your guilty conscience for inadvertently feeding her bacon, and 2) it will make her feel guilty for inadvertently eating bacon.

If she brings it up (like "hey, wtf was with the bacon?"), then apologize profusely, say it was an accidental baconing, etc, and you'll make sure there's vegetarian food next time around. If she doesn't bring it up, you shouldn't say anything.
posted by spockette at 6:42 PM on September 13, 2008

There's nothing to be gained by telling her about it. But I totally agree that you need to speak firmly to the caterer.

Servers need to know what's in the food they're serving, or they need to say they don't know and offer to find out. A vegetarian eating bacon may be betraying a cherished principle, which is bad. Someone with an allergy to shellfish could die if they're given the wrong information.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:44 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a vegan, I definitely wouldn't want to know. I also agree that you should bring this up with the caterer.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:45 PM on September 13, 2008

Why would you want to make them feel bad? Keep your yap shut. :) Really, this is a personal choice issue, not a health issue. If they don't know they can continue on in their blissful thinking that no animals were harmed in the preparation of their dinner.
posted by caddis at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2008

Nthing not telling her. My family is vegetarian (for religious reasons) but I am not. Based on how my family would react to something like this, I'd say you're better off not telling them. I don't see anything wrong with this because you acted in good faith and didn't intentionally deceive them.
posted by special-k at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2008

Hard to believe you could eat bacon & not know it. It's a bit more distinctive than, say, chicken broth. As a vegetarian, I would not want to know.
posted by clarkstonian at 6:48 PM on September 13, 2008

As a vegetarian, I can reassure you that this situation happens allllll the frickin' time. I have sent back countless meals at restaurants because the waitstaff claimed an item was meatless.

Your co-worker probably noticed the huge chunks of bacon and didn't actually eat the beans.

I wouldn't want to know. It wasn't your fault and there's nothing that can be done about it.

The caterer company does need to be notified of this faux pas. Good thing you weren't inquiring about shellfish or tree nut ingredients on behalf of someone with a serious allergy!
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:51 PM on September 13, 2008

As an Indian with a vegetarian mother, n-thing the don't tell her. Most likely she noticed the bacon (most Indian vegetarians carefully pick over vegetable dishes for such things) and didn't eat the beans and if she did, since most Indian vegetarians are vegetarian for religious reasons, it's not a huge deal if she ate something without knowing it was non-vegetarian at the time.
posted by peacheater at 6:52 PM on September 13, 2008

My husband doesn't eat pork. Bacon sneaks into all sorts of things (including a spicy mango salad I had the other day) and he's told me quite emphatically that he doesn't want to know if he's eaten it. And she'll probably shoot the messenger anyway. So I'm going to advise "no".
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:04 PM on September 13, 2008

Ignorance is bliss in this kind of a situation.
posted by orange swan at 7:11 PM on September 13, 2008

Right now she's telling her friends that she had THE BEST TVP last night. Don't ruin it.
posted by rhizome at 7:39 PM on September 13, 2008 [9 favorites]

I would only discuss it with her if you hadn't asked the caterer right in front of her.

In that case, if she discovered mid-meal that the beans had bacon in them she might be upset that you deceived her (some people lie to vegetarians intentionally) and that could cause problems in your relationship down the line. But I think in your situation she would know it was the caterer's error, if she discovered the mistake at all. Don't say anything to her, just give the caterer a stern talking-to.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:43 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I definitely agree with not telling her. You didn't slip the bacon in maliciously. In fact, I think you went above and beyond trying to ensure that the food was suitable for her. I'm not a vegetarian, but if I were, I do think that I'd rather not know since it's over and done with (and probably digested by now). Only if it were a serious food allergy would it be necessary to fess up, in this case.
posted by Mael Oui at 7:43 PM on September 13, 2008

As a vegetarian who has never in my life advertently eaten meat, I would want to know.

I would personally get all sorts of sad and mad about about it, but not at you - as it wasn't your fault. I dunno what she would do and people have all sorts of reactions to stuff, but if it was me I'd be thinking "yeah this is why I need to be less cavalier about eating things, and I have to expect living in a society where people might not really grasp how important it is to someone not to eat delicious bacon."

If you think she's gonna blame you, or that you hold a bunch more responsibility than I'm thinking you do, well, I'm not going to blame you if you don't say, but I think you should man up and tell if you can bring yourself.

Note: "Ignorance is bliss" is an oft quoted truism in my (Hindu) upbringing, but it is firmly a pejorative.
posted by 31d1 at 7:55 PM on September 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone who was vegetarian for about ten years and then became vegan (and then became omnivorous): most vegetarians eat stuff containing animal products all the time. See, for instance, rennet. Once I started reading ingredient lists and knowing what the words meant, I discovered that I'd been eating so many things that were made from animals.

So, you could still tell the caterer, but I wouldn't sweat it too hard yourself.
posted by salvia at 8:15 PM on September 13, 2008

As a vegetarian, I wouldn't care whether you told me or not. Either way, nothing bad happened. If I can't tell by taste, and if I asked, no harm whatsoever is done if there was a mishap and a little meat was consumed.
posted by rainy at 8:41 PM on September 13, 2008

Another vote for don't tell. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years, and I wouldn't really care. I might already know, because I might have had a stomachache the next day, but I wouldn't blame you or need to cleanse my aura or anything like that. And in some cases, when people make a big deal out of catering to my vegetarianism and working around me, it just makes me uncomfortable. Just let it be.
posted by decathecting at 8:46 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's ultimately her responsibility to only put in her mouth what she wants to put in her mouth. Her asking about the vegetarian status of a dish does not transfer that responsibility to you.
posted by trevyn at 8:52 PM on September 13, 2008

I don't think you have any obligation. I suspect you feel as though you sponsored the misinformation because you organized the barbecue, but you obviously were obviously relying on someone else's expertise and simply conveying the question. So your obligation is no greater than that of anyone else who discovers that a second person has made some kind of mistake; if you believe there are no continuing consequences, you are off the hook.

It is possible that the person will admire you if you nevertheless tell her the truth afterwards, if that matters.

P.S. To further relieve your conscience, I should tell you that I was in attendance, went through the line after your co-worker did, and stuffed a fistful of bacon into the beans. So they probably were vegetarian beforehand . . . if less tasty.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:14 PM on September 13, 2008

Also vegetarian here. I'd want to know. 31d1 said it perfectly.
posted by hecho de la basura at 9:18 PM on September 13, 2008

what she won't know won't hurt her. telling her would just make her unhappy, as well as possibly make her dis-trust you or have a subconscious grudge against you.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 9:40 PM on September 13, 2008

As an Indian lacto-ovo vegetarian, I say absolutely tell her, and be apologetic about it. It wouldn't be the biggest deal to me (and it wouldn't have even when I was practicing Hindu), but there are some who would want to know. I would make it clear that it was a complete miscommunication and not some practical joke you played on her with the caterer (this is probably overkill, but she might be upset about it).

It may end up being not a big deal at all (peacheater being an example). But think of it this way: if you use the same caterer again, you would want her and her husband to be forewarned.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:03 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm vegan, but not for religious reasons, and I wouldn't want to know after the fact. Really, she did her best, you did yours, the caterer failed you both. As almost everyone upthread has said, she can't uneat the bacon. Unless there's a purification ritual applicable in these circumstances (and I'd think that Peacheater's comment might have mentioned it if there were), I don't see anything for her to do but be sad/angry about it.

Definitely tell the caterer, however, that he failed. It really is important that food service professionals be able to accurately answer questions like that... what if you'd asked if something contained peanuts? People can die when you get that one incorrect. Grrrr.
posted by mumkin at 10:05 PM on September 13, 2008

Sorry, "a practicing Hindu". I will also add that if she gets pissed at you instead of the caterer, feel free to tell her some pseudonymous Indian guy who gave you advice on the internet told you to tell her to chill. Then, when she asks you who that guy is who told her to chill, tell her my handle and watch the comedy ensue.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:07 PM on September 13, 2008

Puhlez. How could anyone eat bacon and not know it? It wasn't intentional on your part. Don't tell her and don't worry about it.
posted by wv kay in ga at 10:37 PM on September 13, 2008

wv kay in ga> Puhlez. How could anyone eat bacon and not know it?

Someone who has never eaten bacon before and someone unfamiliar with baked beans, like, say, someone from India who doesn't eat meat.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:46 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tell her, blame the caterer. A written apology from the company would be nice.
posted by zamboni at 11:09 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

On the other hand if you don't tell her, then next time if she has baconless beans, she might be dissapointed by the taste.
posted by Iax at 11:31 PM on September 13, 2008

Another long-time vegetarian, and I'd go with not telling her but raising the issue with the caterers. Any time I've accidentally eaten meat/meat stock, I spent about a day hardcore nauseated by the thought. I'd appreciate not being subjected to that.

(That said, I am veggie because the thought and texture of meat makes me feel ill, so someone abstaining for other reasons but not repulsed by meat might have less of an gut response.)
posted by carbide at 1:25 AM on September 14, 2008

no no no no telling!

I'm a lifelong vegetarian and I'd be disturbed/revolted to find out, even days later, that I'd eaten bacon. I have a weird emotional reaction to being served meat. If it were me and I hadn't realized, I'd burst into tears upon being told (it's happened more than once). Imagine this feeling multiplied by a thousand if it were religious vegetarianism, rather than just a factor of hippie-atheist upbringing.

but I think she probably figured it out pretty quickly. It's happened to me; "hey, this tastes weird... (poke poke shuffle food)... ugh! (push aside, hate the lying bastard of a caterer)."
posted by rhinny at 2:35 AM on September 14, 2008

In my experience as a meat-eater in an office where that puts me the minority, I would say that it depends on their reason for being vegetarian.
In general non-religious vegetarians would not want to be told and probably wouldn't be that upset if you did tell them, after all, there really aren't any ethical principles violated by accidentally eating meat on a rare occasion.
Religious vegetarians may have prayers and rituals that they want to perform if they accidentally eat meat.
posted by atrazine at 2:39 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do not tell her !!. She is an Indian and she is probably vegetarian for religious reasons. (Not knowing how religious she is), She will carry the guilt and blame for a long time. I know because it happened to someone in my family. Almost the same situation and she still blames her friend for that incident.

It is a big deal for Indians who are vegetarians for a religious reasons. Some will also not eat food cooked in the same kitchen !!.
posted by shr1n1 at 4:20 AM on September 14, 2008

Vegetarian here. Don't tell her. It will only upset her and the past is the past; nothing to be done about it now.
posted by Lleyam at 4:44 AM on September 14, 2008

I agree with pluckysparrow that this happens all the time. And I assure you that she already knows. You can't disguise the taste of bacon (or most meat) to someone who is sensitized to it. The taste is just too strong.

She probably just didn't say anything because, again, this happens all the time.
posted by aetg at 5:23 AM on September 14, 2008

What would you do if the caterer told you it was Kobe beef but you found out later it was Wagyu? If they said it was wild salmon but you found out later it was farm-raised? Organic vs. conventional? What would you do if you didn't feel personally guilty about it?

I would tell her. And everyone else. And find a new caterer (or at least take the issue up with them and make sure you get what you order next time -- it could have been an uninformed staff member who incorrectly assured you). Your caterer is a vendor and you are the client --- you are supposed to get what you pay for as described.

Most of the answers here are "tell her" or "don't tell her" because of how she will feel about you and/or about having eaten the bacon. I think you should tell her because you work together, you'll have other catered events together, people in offices talk about events and each other, and it will become either a small but persistent burden that follows you around every time you eat lunch with this person, or you will tell someone else because you feel bad and it will eventually get around to the person.

Tell her. She asked you "is it A?" and you said "yes it's A" and double-checked its A-ness for her. Later you found out it was actually B. So you tell her "I found later that A was actually B and I'm following up with the vendor, sorry for any inconvenience." Doesn't matter if it's about vegetarian diets or religion or office supplies.

I'm a vegetarian and if the post-cookout realization that I ate bacon-infused beans grosses me out, that's my problem. Your job as caterer-organizer is to tell people what you've ordered from the caterer. My dietary preferences are not your responsibility (although I appreciate your trying to order non-meaty beans, I'd skip them anyway).
posted by headnsouth at 5:38 AM on September 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm vegan, but I also get debilitating migraines from preservatives commonly used in pork products. I think I'd want to know so I could be prepared.
The caterer definitely needs to know.
posted by brevator at 8:14 AM on September 14, 2008

You've got this information which might be very important to her. Tell her.
posted by box at 10:02 AM on September 14, 2008

I'm in the "tell her" camp, for all the reasons stated above.

If I were a vegetarian for religious or spiritual reasons, I would consider it quite important to know so I could make whatever amends/penance I'd feel appropriate.

Restricting information from others, especially our friends, because we believe it's for their own good, is the height of arrogance. Respecting someone is letting them make their own decisions and giving them the right to react their own way. Shielding people from reality is not helping them, it's selfishly avoiding being the bearer of bad news.

Further, what happens if this person somehow finds out that you knew and didn't tell? I'd be madder at my friend for not telling me than I would be about being accidentally served something I didn't want to eat.
posted by gjc at 10:34 AM on September 14, 2008

Ex-vego here who wouldn't care one way or another whether you told me or not. As various people have said, it happens all the time.

On the other hand, if this woman is Indian, it could be a very big deal to her, especially considering that it was bacon, of all things.

It's well known that Muslims don't eat pork, but I understand that Hindus also shun it, even if they are non-veg Hindus. Jains definitely wouldn't touch it, either, and Indian Buddhists tend to take their vegetarianism quite seriously - certainly, far more than their Western counterparts. I'm not sure about Sikhs, but I can't recall ever seeing pork-based dishes in the Punjab, and as it's a kind of synthesis between Hinduism & Islam, I'd guess the magical animal would be off their menus, too. As far as I know, Christians (eg in Goa) are probably the only Indian community which considers it acceptable to eat pork.

Of course, she might just be a secular vegetarian, but Indians overall tend to be religious far more often than not.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:20 PM on September 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Lots to think about here - really good points on both sides. I do know for sure that I'm calling the caterer in the morning. Beyond that, I'm not sure, but I'll circle around later in the week. I really appreciate all the insight.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:34 PM on September 14, 2008

for what it's worth, i just checked with a Hindu colleague who corrected me: pork is not actually taboo (that status is reserved for cows, of course) but in practice, it's rarely eaten, so it's more of a cultural thing than a religious one.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:43 PM on September 14, 2008

Response by poster: PS, another co-worker pointed out that this is the ultimate MeFi "plate of beans" question - literally. Hee.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 10:10 AM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Life-long vegetarian here, with a utilitarian moral outlook.

Basically, the most pressing harm is that meat can make some vegetarians ill. If it did, or if it didn't, well, that's already been decided. As far as her moral or religious position, well, as far as I know, there's no purification ritual required (as opposed to some Jews breaking kosher), and this was an unintentional eating of meat on her side, so there's no karmic debt.

I think that my decision would be based on how well I knew the person—if it was something that we could laugh off, I'd tell 'em, if not, well, no harm, no foul.
posted by klangklangston at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2008

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