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party food planning math

One last (probably) post inspired by Saturday.

A naive planner, trying to be considerate, might think "I'll have 40% vegan guests, 40% veg'n guests, and 20% omnivores, so I should have 40% vegan food... and 20% meat."

This is wrong! The vegans can only eat the vegan food, which will probably be poached by the other two groups. Put another way, if you locked the groups into only getting food from their own tables, then the omnivore table would likely *not* be 100% meat; even barbecues tend to have non-meat sides. 20% * (less than) 100% = less than 20%.

How *should* you distribute the food? I don't think there's a better answer than handwaving. But here's an illustrative model:

Imagine a vegan, two veg'ns who eat half-vegan and half-not food, and one omnivore who'll eat half meat, 1/4 vegan, and 1/4 veg'n. This implies that 9/16 of the food, should be vegan, 5/16 vegetarian, and 2/16 meat. One vegan, but more than half the food suitable for them -- again, because good vegan food will not be exclusive to them.

But of course it depends on your groups. If you know your veg'ns won't touch anything that's not dairy, and that your omnivores will only eat meat, then the naive approach is more valid. It can also apply to some main courses; if you're doing burgers in the first example, then 40% vegan, 40% veg'n-with-egg burgers, and 20% beef burgers, might make sense. Though there's still a chance of an omnivore trying the black bean or whatever burger out of curiosity, so poaching can still happen.

In my case, I traditionally have hummus and dates, and everyone eats those. I was hoping for 1/3 vegans at this party, and expecting 2/3 vegan or veg'n, and laid out entirely vegan food but for some camembert and some chicken. In retrospect I 'should' perhaps have gotten more cheese, to serve four people, though given actual attendance it worked out just fine.

I suppose that if you're planning a BBQ plus one vegan guest invited for socializing, it can make sense to just mark off some food as their territory while everyone else focuses on the pile of meats. Everything's situational; my main point is to caution against naive math.

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Damien Sullivan
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