Dining al fresco with the gals. Flickr Photo

This week’s obstacle: Eating Out Vegan Hacks

As a vegan, I want to avoid animal food products, but I don’t want to be a hermit.

Integrating a vegan code into everyday life might seem overwhelming if not impossible.  I found myself refusing invites to restaurants and friends’ BBQs because I thought I would have to satisfy my hunger with chips. Or sometimes I just don’t want to open Pandora’s box of why-are-you-vegan questions — stop the presses if someone has self-imposed dietary restrictions.

I want to have fun, not grumble under my breath, “If everyone would just go vegan this wouldn’t even be an issue…”  Many of the glaring vegan options are fried foods or plain salads, but the trick to joining in mealtime with the other side is to look past what menus say and have a general understanding of what your food is made of.  I’m not saying you should enroll in culinary school, but often times all you have to do is ask for all meats and cheeses to be withheld and voila!

So here’s a scene you might be very familiar with: your friends call and tell you to get dressed – you’re going out for a group dinner!  Super fun, until you realize, “What will I eat?  …I don’t want to seem fussy or picky, but I don’t want to be hungry all night either.”

You sit down at the restaurant and open the menu.  Scouring the appetizers, salads and entrees you realize you’ll be eating a side of fries – again.  This repetitive letdown overtime can affect your willingness to participate in group activities.

Just the other day I was at Bokampers, a sports bar, for the first time with a group.  They all were ordering burgers and they looked good!  I optimistically checked for a veggie burger option, only to remember not all patties are created equal – some contain non-vegan ingredients such as eggs or whey.  At least they had some great sides I could mix-and-match for a complete meal, and it was tasty, fulfilling and 100% cruelty-free.

So, lucky us!  This day in age vegan options are better than ever, we just have to know a few tips and tricks:

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Check the menu online before heading out. If you know the restaurant you’ll be eating at, look to see if they have an online menu, so you can scour endlessly at home and actually have time to chat with company at the table.

Knowing the top 3 choices before even heading out will give you the advantage to come prepared with questions or alternate requests. You could even call ahead of time to avoid the 3rd degree at the table.

Be upfront with your server. Make sure you let your server know you’re a vegan – and that they understand what that means dietarily.  There’s a joke that goes: “An athiest, a vegan and a crossfitter walk into a bar….. I only know because they told everyone within two minutes.”  Funny at first, but this is another example of how people will undermine your cause and enforce a stigma on what they do not understand.  Telling your server or your friends about your dietary restrictions wouldn’t be frowned upon if it were an allergy or a religion-based, so feel free to make sure they don’t garnish your olive oil linguine with Parmesan or slather your veggie burger with mayo.

More often than not, the servers know their restaurant’s menu inside and out and can offer a few suggestions.  Speak up and make sure what’s placed in front of you doesn’t infringe upon your own moral code.  Bringing us to the next tip.

Explore the à la carte options. Don’t overlook the “sides” selection that’s normally tucked into menus.  Many times they will have single elements such as steamed veggies, rice or beans you can piece together to make a great little entrée.  Be sure to ask the wait staff about the cooking process for said items, however, as they may be cooked with butter or have some grated parmesan cheese sprinkled throughout.  They may or may not be able to prepare it alternatively, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask!

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Know about the hidden non-vegan items. Some foods that seem vegan friendly have ingredients laced throughout the meal such as milk, eggs and even fish.  Did you know that many breads contain milk or whey products?  Also, some noodles and “veggie” patties are made with eggs or the delicious sauce may have mayonnaise.

This might seem obvious, but make sure that vegetable soup of yours doesn’t have any chicken or beef broth added to the base.  Want a Bloody Mary? Sure!  Well, hold the Worcestershire sauce as it contains anchovies.  Many asian sauces contain undetectable fish sauce too, so keep this in mind when the next time you’re ordering Pad Thai.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a custom meal. Many times the head chef in the kitchen would be happy to make something vegan just for you.  If the “vegetarian” section is riddled with cheese items, but they would seem otherwise blah without said cheese, ask if the chef would be willing to create something.  What’s the worst that could happen, they say no and you order a salad instead?

Don’t beat yourself up.  The whole point of becoming vegan is to be more aware of what goes into your body.  That doesn’t mean you should guilt trip yourself when you find out you’ve accidentally eaten something non-vegan. Occasionally we may consume something we didn’t intend, we’re humans – very flawed creatures.  Keep your head high and carry on, there’s more work to do!

Next

My Vegan Journey

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