February 10, 2016

A New Vegan’s Restaurant Tips: What to Expect when Dining Out.

vegan cupcakes

It’s official. After abstaining from meat for almost four years, I’ve finally taken the plunge into full vegan-ism.

The decision seemed obvious after spending a weekend binge watching documentaries on not only the health, but environmental benefits (hello 150 plus gallons of water per hamburger) of such a lifestyle.

While cutting out all animal by products had always really felt quite inevitable, the first week has not been an easy feat. If you, dear reader, find yourself in a similar predicament of choosing a vegan diet in a society where animal fat is snuck into the most seemingly benign foods, I give you tips and anecdotes from my own first week.

By day two, I thought this change would be a breeze. I’m a bland eater—I could live off of quinoa, bright salads, fresh produce and granola and be perfectly content. However, when my husband’s job took us away from home (and more importantly our kitchen, though most importantly our beloved cats) I found myself eating out with the good friends we were staying with most nights. As the only—and new—vegan, I quickly realized that this was quite tricky. I felt like I was on a crash coarse of learning how to eat at non vegan restaurants as a vegan.

Lesson 1:

Menu items may not be as they seem. As a vegetarian, when dining out with friends, Mexican restaurants always felt like such a great ally for me. Not only am i fan of guacamole and margaritas, most menus feature vegetarian items—yes! However, upon further investigation I found that rice cooked in chicken stock is still labeled vegetarian. Also beware of beans and tortillas cooked in animal fat.

Which leads us to…

Lesson 2:

It’s okay to call the restaurant ahead of time. While this may seem like a given for some, if you are a fellow introvert, the task feels much more daunting. However having a game plan ahead of time will save you the trouble of delving through the menu and asking the server a million questions when it’s your turn to order. It may also give you an opportunity to suggest a similar but more suitable restaurant.

Lesson 3:

Your “vegan” foods may come into contact with meat. If this is an undesirable outcome for you, note that often times, your french fries end up in the same deep fryer as all the meat products, and your veggie burger may end up on the fryer where beef has been. (Hint, you can ask for a patty to simply be microwaved. While the foods themselves contain no animal by products, I understand that the meat “juices” absorbing into the food may not be appetizing.)

Lesson 4:

Who put that fish bladder in my wine? Yes, it is a common filtration method in some wines and beers. I was grateful to be tuned onto barnivore.com—just search your brand and the website will give you the green vegan friendly light, or the red light. It’s that easy.

Lesson 5:

Don’t stress. By the middle of the week, I found myself becoming afraid of food. I was so committed to adhering to this new diet that ingredients lists, restaurant menus and food offered to me by loved ones began to make my eyes bulge out—what is in that?

I quickly realized this could not be a sustainable lifestyle for me, if the sight of food I didn’t prepare gave me hives. The goal after all is to do what I can to avoid all animal by-products. I want to leave the lightest footprint I can on this earth, and I don’t want living, sentient beings to suffer on my behalf. I can read ingredients lists, and I can google, and ask questions and do my best, but if I unknowingly ingest the things I’m avoiding, I can’t let it make me feel like a failure—that’s just not sustainable. I can learn from it moving forward, but stressing won’t make it better.

So I’ve survived my first week as a vegan, eating almost exclusively food that was not prepared by me. I’m so happy to be home and preparing everything that I eat myself, but after the chaos of this last week, I feel much more equipped for the few and far between times I do find myself at a restaurant. Hopefully this helps.

Happy eating!


Author: Samantha Furer

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Jennifer/Flickr

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