In a series in the NY Times about veganism entitled “Answers About the Vegan Lifestyle in New York,” Rynn Berry, the author of “The Vegan Guide to New York City,” answered questions about his views on shopping, eating, and living a vegan lifestyle in New York City.
Another questioner asked about increasing awareness of vegetarian/vegan principles at eating establishments yet you only responded by basically saying “go to a vegetarian restaurant.” While this answer may be O.K. for going out to dinner it doesn’t work very well for working people and stinks of elitism. When I am on my lunch break I need some place near to my work to eat (and affordable) [...]
Do you have any other suggestion besides finding the unicorn of a vegetarian restaraunt [sic] in my work neighborhood? [...]
Rynn Berry answered:
If eating in vegetarian restaurants smacks of elitism, as you say, then why not “brown bag it,” as the majority of the American workforce does. Prepare your vegan food in advance and take it to work with you in the proverbial brown paper bag. Or better yet, in a lunch box, or a reusable cloth bag.
As a former resident of Manhattan, I can attest that vegan and vegetarian restaurants are nothing remotely close to “unicorn”-ish in New York. With the exception of Portland, Oregon, New York City is probably the most vegan-friendly city in the United States.
Neither are veg*n restaurants in NYC “elitist.” They run the gamut from tiny, cheap, hole-in-the wall to uber-rich, super-hot, and snobby with everything inbetween. Having been a vegetarian virtually my entire life, having been a vegan for two years, having driven across the US twice, and having traveled out of the US multiple times, I can say with absolute confidence that New York City vegan options are both prevalent and varied. To anyone doubting the ease of which one can live as a vegan in New York City I just have to say, “Try Las Vegas.” If I can be a vegan in Vegas, you can be a vegan in New York.
SuperVegan’s NYC restaurant guide proves there is a wide variety of options all over the Big Apple. The guide lists over 100 completely vegetarian restaurants, of which 40 are 100% vegan. And there are nearly 400 vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants listed in the New York City region.
And Berry is right about brown-bagging it. Bringing your own vegan lunch from home is likely cheaper, healthier, and certainly more vegan than restaurant options. However, Jen has a point for those of us who don’t live in New York, or simply, the more flexible veg*ns who want to eat at nonveg restaurants every now and then.
With Jen’s question in mind for vegans willing to eat at non-vegan restaurants, I offer these suggestions:
- Learn how to read a menu. Don’t let a chef or restaurant owner box you in. Don’t be afraid of substitutions. Once you learn how to really read a menu, you’ll be able to scan a menu and figure out what ingredients are in the kitchen. You can then ask your server to prepare you something you know is vegan.
- Learn how to ask for what you want. Don’t be afraid of the words “vegan” or “vegetarian.” Tell your food server, “I’m vegan. Can you suggest a dish?” You’d be surprised how many food servers are vegetarians, vegans, or formerly so. Many (particularly in big cities and college towns) know what “vegan” means and can accommodate you. Often, they’ll happily tell you about their own favorite vegan dish or about something a recent vegan patron ordered.
- Learn from other vegans. Spend time with other vegans to learn about their habits, their phrases, their favorite foods, etc. Everyone’s different so the more vegans you know, the more you’ll learn, and the easier being vegan will be. You can meet other vegans at vegan meetups, at vegan web forums, at vegan restaurants, at vegan conferences, and many other places. Just start looking for vegan friends ASAP.
- Use the resources available to you. Berry is promoting his book and you might think it’s the only option available to you to help you find vegan restaurants. However, there are plenty of guides to help you find vegan restaurants and vegan meals. There’s Happy Cow, Veg Guide, and various city-specific websites for vegans. These websites not only list vegan and vegetarian restaurants, they rate and review the restaurants, too.
To the vegans reading this, do you have more suggestions for Jen and other vegans who want flexible restaurant options?