Vegan is becoming more of a common term and more restaurants are familiarizing themselves with the dietary needs of vegetarian, vegans, and the gluten intolerant. You may still find yourself unsure what to do when you end up at a steakhouse with a group of friends who don’t eat the way you do or you’re in a foreign land with unfamiliar foods. It isn’t always easy to plan ahead or find the meals you want when you need them.
Pick the restaurant with care. If you get to choose where to eat, make sure you choose wisely. There are many vegan or vegan friendly restaurants in bigger cities now. Do some research when you head someplace new. If you couldn’t find one that caters to your needs specifically, your next best bet is international restaurants. Indian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Italian food joints are more likely to have vegetarian, vegan, or easily converted items on the menu. Avoid most fast food and steakhouses. If you don’t get to choose, try to eat a small meal beforehand so you can get something small and simple without being disappointed or left starving.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even some meat eaters like to ask a million questions and get things added or removed from their orders. Waiters are used to people asking them some questions or making requests. Be polite and patient, but let them know your needs, and ask the questions you need to in order to get what you want. If there aren’t any marked vegan dishes on the menu, look for the unmarked ones. Many meals may be accidentally vegan. Look at the vegetarian ones too. These can be made vegan with a simple request to hold the dairy products. Don’t fear asking more in depth questions about what broth they use or if the bread is glazed with egg. As long as you are polite, friendly, and patient, you will be treated the same in return.
Ask if replacements are okay. If you are getting a chicken salad without the chicken, ranch, and sour cream, you may convince the waiter or chef to substitute in more black beans, quinoa, or bell peppers to make up for the differences. Many restaurants have meat substitutes on hand for just such occasions or are willing to give in a little when you remove half the ingredients from a taco. Look at the fine print on the menu. If you see a note regarding “special dietary requirements” it means this establishment is extra willing to work with you and may have separate menus just for you or they are willing to whip up something off the menu to make you happy.
Look at the sides. Many side dishes are vegetarian or vegan to begin with. These can also be ordered alone: steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, fries, salads, and more. Some may need some tweaking, but that’s easy enough.
Be grateful and generous. If a restaurant goes out of their way to make you something special, even if it isn’t all that amazing, be thankful and vocal about your gratitude. This makes them that much more likely to do something special for another vegan or vegetarian in the future. They may consider adding items to the menu based solely on your gushing praise. And tip well. That’s something you should do anyway, not just when someone goes above and beyond. It’s always good to be on the right side of financial karma. Generosity is a lost art, but a couple extra dollars can change someone’s day. It’s worth it.
Get an app. There are hundreds of apps that cater just to vegans and vegetarians. Most of these just offer some handy recipes, but there are a few, like VegOut, that point out restaurants in your area that offer vegan and vegetarian cuisine. Technology can make your life easier.
Learn some of the language. You are going to run into bigger problems when you travel in distant lands that may not understand you or may not understand what vegans or vegetarians eat. Learn a few key phrases of the local language and use them. Some countries will be more difficult than others, but you can manage to stick pretty close to your diet just about anywhere if you learn the right questions and ask for help. Most people are even more likely to go out of their way for a foreign speaker who is trying. It brings out a natural nurturing instinct.
Offer to bring a dish. If you are invited to someone’s home for dinner, ask if you can bring a vegan dish. Most hosts will say yes and then you’ve made them aware of your diet without being pushy and you are guaranteed at least one thing to eat.
Don’t beat yourself or others up. Yes, you want to avoid certain foods. This is your lifestyle and you don’t want to compromise on your values. That’s noble and good, but if you find yourself stuck with something that isn’t vegan, especially in a foreign country where you will have a hard time explaining what is wrong, sometimes it is better to pick around it or remove that layer of cheese than throw a fit or get upset at anyone. If you are local and asked for no cheese, but cheese came anyway, then politely ask for it to be fixed, but be kind and understanding. Not everyone is going to get it right the first time.Learn more about Charlie Pulsipher
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