It can be tough dining out as a vegan or vegetarian. While it’s infinitely better in 2016 than it was even just a few short years ago, many vegans can relate to the fear of being dragged to mainstream restaurant and having nothing to eat but salad. It’s happened to all of us at some point.
It isn’t just that salad is so damn boring; that’s bad enough. It’s also that many garden variety salads are insufficiently nutritional or satisfying, and that a sad looking pile of greens inevitably results in pitying looks, raised eyebrows, and sometimes even an unwanted line of questioning. And at the end of it all, you’re stuck eating… salad.
It’s my belief that we should never, ever settle for salad when eating out, except for perhaps under the most challenging of circumstances, when it absolutely cannot be avoided. Or if you have an irrational attachment to iceberg lettuce.
Here’s why I think it’s important for us to #SayNoToSalad:
- It reinforces negative stereotypes about the extreme limitations of veganism. I know, nobody wants to feel like a “pain” or an inconvenience to a restaurant or our dining partner. But the reality is that every time we cede to the salad, we are allowing people continue to believe that vegan food is dull, boring, tasteless, and unfulfilling. We are giving people permission to maintain their preconceived notions that prevent them from seeing veganism – or at least moving towards it – as a viable option for them.I have been served some pretty terrific vegan meals at work functions; meals that left my companions a bit jealous that they had not had that option. We ALL have the option, we just need to assert it. We can’t expect omnivores to ask for off-menu vegan food if we won’t even make the request. Don’t be afraid to ask for more – it’s a form of vegan outreach.
- It doesn’t tell restaurants that there’s a demand for better options. Imagine you’re a restauranteur, and the only thing on your menu is a garden salad. People order it, and they order your meat dishes, so that tells you that you’re doing just fine with your offering. If we want restaurants to provide better options for us, they need to be aware that they are in demand. Every time we quietly choke down a salad, we are signalling that salad is sufficient. Many restaurants are happy to accommodate “special diets” with plenty of advance notice and when requested nicely; we will always be a “special diet” if we do not make demand known. And it’s only by getting these more appealing options on a menu that non-vegans will see – and order – them.
- You will become the stereotypical malnourished vegan.Okay that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you end up eating out frequently for your job or with your friends, you are going to be spending a lot of your time very, very hungry if all you’re eating is garden salad! Not only that, but while greens are definitely part of a balanced diet, they are not themselves a balanced diet. You need to ensure that you’re eating protein and starches in order to function both physically and mentally.
I know, it can be hard to speak up and ask for more. Sometimes it just feels easier to hide behind the menu and make the easy choice. I believe though that if we ever want to see vegan options on every menu, and omnivores feeling empowered to order those for themselves, we have to take the lead for creating demand.
Most businesses exist to meet a need. If the need is there, they will adapt to it. But most businesses have to see that the need exists to initiate change, and every time we settle for the garden salad we are hampering progress!
(For tips on eating out as a vegan, see my post on that subject here.)
Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism. She also consults with business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options. Contact her here.