A lot a friends and clients tell us that a major challenge for them in transitioning to a vegan diet comes up in social situations. When you eat differently from most people, it can indeed feel alienating at times, especially at the beginning and especially when you eat out at restaurants.
A big part of this is getting used to it and thinking about it in a relaxed way: if you go vegan, that doesn't mean you can no longer eat out with friends and it also doesn't mean that all meals need to be eaten at exclusively vegan restaurants. While I love introducing my friends and family to vegan eateries, I also participate gladly in dinners, lunches and brunches at non vegan places. Through a couple simple tricks, I learned to navigate the waters and oftentimes it can be mind opening to share meals with non vegan friends at non vegan restaurants. They often realize how easy it can be to eat vegan and that it doesn't compromise your social life at all.
Cross contamination can always be an issue when you eat at non vegan places but most restaurants pay attention to that today. You can also always ask the waiter to make sure your tofu doesn't get touched with the same utensils than meat or fish dishes. Obviously, you are never 100% sure what happens in the kitchen but that's the case for vegan restaurants as well.
Here are my top 3 tips on how to navigate the menu in a non vegan restaurants:
1. Do your homework : if I go to a new place, that isn't vegan and than I have never been to, I always look up the menu in advance and make sure there is at least one option for me. If you have doubts, you can always call in advance and confirm that then restaurant can prepare a dish that doesn't contain animal products. That way, you know there won't be an issue when you get there.
2. Ask to have sauces and condiments on the side + pass on meat or dairy items: most American restaurants use oil instead of butter (not like French places ;)) so usually most of the food shouldn't contain any dairy. A lot of condiments however come with dairy, eggs or even meat based ingredients so make sure to ask about that and order your salads with dressings on the side. You can always ask for a simple balsamic vinaigrette. Make sure no bacon or eggs make it on your salad. When it comes to creamy veggie dishes, double check what the cream is made from and ask for no cheese on pizza and pasta.
3. Educate yourself about the content of dishes: this refers to a lot of ethnic cuisines, that tend to be more vegan friendly but sometimes contain non vegan ingredients that can easily be removed or avoided. For example, a lot of northern Indian dishes ask for ghee (clarified butter) that is often added to curries or dhals at the end so ask the waiter non to add any ghee. Chinese and Vietnamese dishes often contain fish or meat broth or sauce so ask for an alternative/veggie broth. Some fresh pasta dishes are made with eggs but most restaurants can make you eggless pasta too. French food often contains butter as a base for frying so ask for oil. Some burger buns are made with eggs so check on that as well and worst case, you can always go bunless.
If you ever run into the issue that you are going to a place that you won't be able to get anything fulfilling at, then just make sure you eat beforehand and order a little snack at the restaurant! The most important is really to have confidence in your decision, no matter if you do it for health or ethical reasons. And don't be too hard on yourself: veganism isn't a goal, it's a journey!
Jenné & Isabelle
We're both passionate vegan foodies with backgrounds in nutrition. We decided to bridge our skills to create Buddhalicious; a program that guides members to find balance, excitement, and flavor on their plates, and in their lives.