How To Eat Vegan In NonVegan Restaurants?

How To Eat Vegan In NonVegan Restaurants?

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.

Jen asked:

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?

5 Responses to How To Eat Vegan In NonVegan Restaurants?

  1. Some restaurants are willing to help you out, but some are not and just shrug. And some I just don’t trust. “Luckily” for me I can tell them I have IBS. It’s kind of interesting. First I tell them I want a vegan dish, so no meat, eggs or milk. They start scratching their head, but when I tell them I have IBS and can fall ill they get a bit scared.

    ~ Recent blog post: How did it happen? at ~

  2. 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.

    On the flip side of this, I’d also suggest clarifying what you mean by “vegan” (or “vegetarian”) just in case your server doesn’t share the same definition as you. For example, “Can you recommend any vegan dishes? That is, a dish with no meat including fish, no eggs, no dairy, no honey?” Maybe it’s because I live in the Midwest, but too often my server has no clue what I mean by “vegan” – even if they insist otherwise.

    Also, to echo what xen said, pointing to a physical reason for dietary restrictions – vs. an ethical one – might get you better results. Servers seems to be more interested in my “special needs” when I relate them to a milk allergy – as opposed to (*ahem*) “personal preference.” I’m not saying you should make a habit out of lying about having this condition or that disorder, but…maybe fib a little if you’re ever stuck with an indifferent server.

    ~ Recent blog post: Wake me up in 2012, mmmkay? at ~

  3. My website has a listing of fast food and restaurant chain items that are vegan.

  4. Eating vegan at a non vegan resturaunt isn’t as difficult as you might think.

    Most places have a salad, simply as for the salad without the non vegan ingredients(ask if they cn add ingredients too if you want) with a side of balsamic vinegar and olive oil or ask if they have salad dressings without dairy or egg in it.

    Be creative. Ask for grilled or steamed veggies-almost all resturaunts can do this fairly easily. You could even have them turn it into a grilled veg sandwhich(by adding bread) or add noodles and a simple sauce to make a pasta dish. Fruit salads are fairly simple too.

    Ask the server to talk to the chef about what he can do. I’ve gotten some delicious meals that were custom designed by the chef.

    Don’t limit yourself because it seems “odd”, why be the only person at a pizza place not eating pizza, when you cn just order it without the cheese and pile on the veggies? Not only is it vegan, its much healthier than a traditional pizza.

    Pick resturaunts with veg friendly cuisines. Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mediterranean, Ethiopian, ect. are all vegan friendly.

    I’ve been a vegan for 4.5 years and I’ve found that while sometimes you need to be creative, almost all resturaunts can cater to a vegan with decent options without having to resort to a side salad of iceburg and a couple of tomatoes :P lol


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