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Vegans, don’t be afraid to request options at non-vegan restaurants

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I’m a creature of habit, frequenting my favourite vegan restaurants and ordering the same comforting foods. The chefs know me by name, and in one scenario, may have even considered featuring my custom order as an item (a girl can dream). And while I always advocate for supporting vegan businesses first, there are many scenarios in which you’ll find yourself stuck at a restaurant without vegan options. Not enough restaurants have great recipes for small plates, especially for vegan eaters, so rather than silently searching through the appetizers and side dishes for items that can be combined for one sub-par plate, I recommend reaching out to a restaurant pre dining experience. When the situation allows it, a single Facebook message, email, or phone call could mean a shift in the restaurant’s offerings. You could be planting a seed, and encouraging some vegan options to grow.

My father’s favourite food is steak. He’ll sit through some vegan tacos or a meat-free lasagna now and again, but celebrations simply can’t pass without a sacrifice. It’s a shame, but I’ve grown used to looking away, nodding my head, and suffering through hearing about how great the meal is. But recently, he’s taken a positive turn, suggesting that we only eat at places that offer up a vegan alternative for me. So, on a crusade to appease his appetite and my own, I began contacting many of his favourite local spots.

I discovered that Oliver and Bonacini, a mid-range restaurant with several locations across the GTA, makes pomodoro pasta and veggies, a tofu dish, and have an award winning mushroom soup that is naturally vegan. Bymark, an expensive, high-end offering from The Mark McEwan group takes requests for grilled tofu, fava bean falafels, a thai vegetable wrap, and a vegan risotto. Edo, a comfortable Japanese spot recognizable by their chili-shaped bar lights, will put a variety of the tofu and vegetable toppings onto a bed of rice, at request, when cucumber sushi won’t cut it. I am constantly surprised by these discoveries, and how all types of restaurants are seeing the need to accommodate the growing number of vegans. A good chef, and a well equipped kitchen, can almost always produce something seasonal, fresh, and without the use of animal products. If you put out the friendly, approachable vibe you’re hoping to receive back, chances are they’ll put in the effort for your enjoyment, and approval. Then, that effort might be put forth when the next vegan walks through their doors.

But until all restaurants make the change, we have to continue to pioneer the inclusion of vegan options. Even with all the progress that’s being made, it’s still not uncommon to find yourself somewhere that refuses to accommodate vegans past carrots sticks and celery. Don’t let those sour experiences turn you off, because the more vegans speak up and demand change, the more likely these establishments will be to begin catering to us.

Armed with the knowledge that these three seemingly far-from-vegan spots were open to receiving my requests and suggestions, I know that my quest to pester each and every family favourite is far from over. If you’re like me, you’ve always taken the responsibility of decoding menus and making exceptions when dining with non-vegan groups. It’s important to speak up in these scenarios, and collaborate with staff members on making your experience a more mutually beneficial one. There’s absolutely no reason for vegans to torture ourselves guessing ingredients, kitchen processes, or substitutions. Living in fear of meal tampering and other stereotypically aggressive restaurant staff practices won’t make your night any better either. There’s no reason to sneak off to the ladies room for that handful of nuts you carry for dining emergencies (been there, done that). Besides, you never know when your requests will influence someone else around your table, or the one adjacent. Then, insist you’re picking the vegan restaurant for the next night out.

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  • Dylan Wentworth

    It’s definitely worth a shot but I haven’t had any luck with asking the chef.
    It’s funny, a restaurant I have been to for years as an omni, i asked the chef what he can do and the answer was basically nothing other than side dishes (he makes great lentils) but here’s the kicker… The chef is a vegetarian! What the eff?

    There’s a couple of other places that really roll out the red carpet and make vegans feel welcome and let you know what is vegan and what isn’t but the ubiquitous veggie side dish sampler is all they will do in terms of entrées.

  • Jimmyc

    just left a steak house in SE Utah; at least 5 people are now aware that vegans exist and are not threatening.

  • I ask every time! If they won’t do it, I won’t eat there. And restaurants DO make changes – I’m totally bragging, but I got the Keg steakhouse in Canada to add a vegan friendly item through constant badgering. Now I’m unstoppable! It takes just one little victory to have you feeling a lot more confident about asking. It’s important to ask in a friendly manner, but you can still let them know that excluding vegans and vegetarians will be hurting their bottom line. Thanks for calling attention to this! I actually think it’s one of the most effective forms of vegan activism (well, of course I do, since it worked for me ;).

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