28 January 2011

Dining veg in an omnivore's world, not as hard as it sounds

When speaking to non-veg friends about living vegan, one of the primary concerns I hear over and over is about dining out. Typical concerns range from "Where can I eat" to "How do I eat with co-workers or friends who aren't vegan."

First, keep in mind that at a restaurant, you are paying them to make what you want. Don't ever feel bad for asking an establishment to make something that is not on the menu or modify something like a pasta dish that has cheese. Any restaurant worth going to should be more than willing to at least try to accomodate you. Having been vegan for some time, I have no problem going into any restaurant, even major chains, and asking for options.

One time in Vegas, I stopped into the Rain Forest Cafe for breakfast. I explained to our waiter that I was vegan and asked for selections. Our naive, but thoughtful server came to our table half a dozen times suggesting different menu items, none of which were vegan, but I appreciated his efforts. Although they would have been able to modify many of their lunch and dinner items, breakfast just wasn't an option. I settled for a bowl of oatmeal and a fruit plate- nothing glamorous but it held me over until lunch, and you can bet I'd go back there after receiving service like that.

Secondly, don't ever be apologetic for being compassionate. Explain that you need to make sure there's no meat, animal based stocks, butter, cheese or dairy and leave it at that. If you order a dish that's already vegetarian and request no dairy and the waitperson asks you if you're lactose intolerant, you could say "yes," perhaps hoping they will pass that on to the kitchen so there aren't any mistakes, you could tell them to "mind their own business," or you can zing them with "No, I'm cruelty intolerant." Either way, their tip depends on how they treat you so let's hope it's with the utmost respect, regardless of your reason. I have heard of extremely rare cases of waitstaff giving patrons a hard time. If that happens, go to the manager immediately! I assure you, management does not want angry customers. Also, if you are receiving poor treatment or the restaurant is unreasonably unaccommodating, don't be afraid to leave (after paying for your cocktails, of course).

Third, when faced with dining with non-veg folks, there is no worse time to bring up the decaying cow's flesh on their plate then when they're about to start eating it. If they are foolish enough to pester you about your choices, explain that dinner is not the time for that conversation and if they want to discuss it later, that you're open to it. If they proceed to push you can tell them that you're just trying to live your own values of compassion and kindness and point out that if you were allergic, they wouldn't bother you about it at all and to please respect you as you respect them. If you're new to veganism, I think it's important to develop and practice an array of responses to the comments that you may find people making. If you've been vegan for awhile, these "come backs" are usually second nature.

Finally, if the manager does stop by your table, for the love of veg, please don't waste the opportunity to educate him or her on the value of having vegan options, not just vegetarian options that can be modified. You can explain that everyone can eat vegan food and by not having any vegan options (other than a dressing-less salad), they are really doing themselves a dis-service as veganism gains popularity.

You can also chose to primarily support restaurants that do cater to vegans by visiting Happy Cow or Veg Guide. You can easily find restaurants in your area that are veg-friendly (also helpful for traveling) and you can see reviews or write your own.

Don't let dining out stand in your way. If you haven't already, you'll get the hang of it- I promise!

Ryan Leitch
Ryan is an Abolitionist Vegan Activist and her passion for all things vegan consumes her. Animals are here with us, not for us. Her favorite outreach activities include writing and blogging, hosting movie screenings, tabling and leafletting, demonstrations, potlucks, and Vegan Drinks. You can also find Ryan at Vegan Minneapolis.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/zagatbuzz