Eating out as a vegan who also has tons of other non-vegan related intolerances can be hard. That said, it’s not impossible. In fact, far from it. Over the course of my four year (and counting) dairy free, gluten free, meat free, and egg free journey, I have eaten at my fair share of restaurants. In these delicious outings I believe I have come close to mastering the art of eating out with allergies. Although I briefly spoke on this in my article, “Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World,” a recent encounter at a restaurant prompted me to believe that there is more to say on the topic.
I decided to jump on the bandwagon and try the controversial and evenly intriguing Impossible Burger. As someone who hadn’t eaten red meat since 4th grade, I was hesitant to try the vegan burger that was created to mimic, in both taste and sight, a beef patty. As I ordered the burger, I gave my usual shpiel to our waitress: “I have an allergy to gluten and dairy so can you please make sure it is in a lettuce wrap and doesn’t have any butter please?” Usually, this type of warning suffices. That said, I realize now that I have a habit of going to the same restaurants over and over again. The servers know my allergies at this point, and I don’t worry as much about specifying my allergies and making sure I know exactly what is in each meal. I trust that they will know for me.
While this works at those specific restaurants, it doesn’t anywhere else. I can’t assume it will.
Back to my story. As I was waiting for my burger, I decided to look up what the actual Impossible patty was made of. Turns out, the actual patty contains gluten. I brought it up to our waitress, telling her that I was under the impression the burger was gluten free and could not eat it once it arrived. She apologized and told me that she completely forgot that the patty contained gluten.
At first I was upset that I was not told prior that the patty was not gluten free since I said that I am allergic to gluten. But once I was able to set my emotions aside, I looked at the situation from a more logical standpoint. Had I asked if the patty was gluten free? No. I confidently ordered the burger and instead of asking if everything was gluten free, I ordered it as if I was already sure it was.
Now, yes, the blame does not solely fall onto me. The waitress did apologize because she forgot to warn me. But this potentially bad situation reminded me of an important thing to remember when eating out: unless the person taking your order has his or her own food modifications or is very sensitive to someone else's in their lives, chances are, they will not know as much about ingredients as you do. Not all waiters know what foods contain certain allergens and we can’t assume that they do.
The amount of people that think mayonnaise has dairy in it constantly amazes me. Yes, it is not vegan, but that is because of egg, not milk.
While I have had more negative eating experiences like this, I have also had amazing ones. I had the greatest experience at a restaurant called Wokcano when my waiter was vegan. I ordered a meal and asked if it could be made vegan. He responded excitedly, telling me that he was vegan and knew exactly what to write down. While this experience was extremely successful, I can’t expect all of them to be this good.
If you are worried about a certain ingredient, ask. Never be afraid to question an item or ingredient on a menu. And if you blatantly ask about a certain ingredient and get the “ok” you either need to put your trust in your waiter or not risk it at all if the reward is less than the potentially negative effects of eating the food.
And similar to this, never be afraid to say you are vegan or gluten free. It is not something to be ashamed of. If I have learned anything from being 100% dairy and gluten free, it is that the vegan and gluten free community sticks together. When my waiter told me he was vegan, I was able to trust him so much more because he understood the importance of an aspect of my lifestyle that others didn’t. He knew what ingredients I could and couldn’t eat because he could and couldn't eat them also.
So, if you need food accommodations, don’t let them stop you from eating out. Eating out can be fun. Don’t miss out on that experience. Just make sure that you cross every T and dot every I when ordering and don’t be afraid to question what you don’t know.
As long as you ask politely, you are not being a "bad guest." You are not being an inconvenience. You are living your life and want to make sure that you are eating foods that will make you feel good. Never be ashamed or apologize for that.
My name is Gabriella. Join me on my health and wellness journey as I discover foods that not only please my taste buds but my stomach as well!