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Eating Out Vegan, Part One: The Social Aspect

Eating out socially as a vegan is certainly an experience that you might find challenging at first. We live in a society where meat and/or dairy are included in almost everything-almost. We, as vegans, make up a very small percentage of people overall in the world (about 2-3%), but that number is growing fast as people are becoming more and more aware of the serious health, climate, and animal issues associated with eating animal protein. Restaurants are even starting to mark their menus with labels such as “vegetarian” and “vegan”, and waiters and staff typically understand what those words mean these days. But, despite this, it’s still a way of life that is foreign territory to a lot of people-especially in America. My sister and I find that at almost any social or dinner table setting that we are in (including just being at work around people, eating in a group, or even with family and friends), our way of eating comes up. This is great because we love the way we eat and we certainly enjoy talking about how great we feel both physically and spiritually living this way. This conversation can go a few different ways though-and all too often it can get uncomfortable-especially for a new vegan. Most people ask questions out of sincere curiosity, but others will ask questions with antagonistic and sarcastic undertones-or overtones actually. Some people can get downright rude or ugly. We’ve experienced it all and have figured out ways to handle each situation as gracefully as we can.We’d like to share with you our game-plan and talk about certain things that can come up when peple find out you are vegan.

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Where to Eat

If you have any control over where you will be eating out at, know in advance some options where you know that you can easily find vegan food. For instance, I keep a list in my phone of all the restaurants that my husband and I like to eat out at and where we can find good food that we enjoy. Whenever we plan a dinner date or something social involving food, we can quickly reference and suggest a bunch of different places.  If the decided upon place is new to us, we’ll check out the menu online or call ahead of time asking if they can accommodate us the way that we eat. 98% of the time, they can and happily do. Upscale restaurants seem to be the most accommodating, as a good chef should have a few vegetable-based dishes on hand that he can whip up for instances like this that do come up, moreso these days than ever, I imagine.

Ordering Food

Most restaurants today have around one to five vegetarian options already on their menu. And, like I said above, most places are very accommodating and can alter their menu items to not include any animal products at all. Our cousin Bonnie suggests, as she stated in a previous post, to tell your waiter that you have a food allergy-such as to dairy or eggs. This can better ensure yourself that the restaurant will do their best to not include it in your meal. If you end up going somewhere where your food options are limited, most places can at least steam up some vegetables and make you a basic salad, or remove the meat/cheese/egg from a salad order for you. When ordering, we try to be as easy and friendly as possible, not trying to make a huge fuss over the food. We really prefer to make everyone at the table feel comfortable.

Happy, Healthy Conversations

When people ask general questions about veganism out of curiosity, this usually leads to a very healthy, happy conversation. Most will ask you what exactly you eat or where you get your protein, etc. So we answer them. A lot of times, as you can imagine, this conversation takes place over plates of food-most of which have some kind of animal or animal by-product on them. People seem to be very curious and pay special attention to what we order. We do our best to be respectful of others as they eat, and if they ask questions that could lead to a gruesome explanation, we try to warn them as they chew or tell them that we would love to discuss it with them away from the table. This sort of thing, if handled aggressively, could be the first and last time your friends ask you questions about this-so you’re possibly closing a window of knowledge to them by immediately going into the horrors that the animal farming industry is. A lot of times, we will simply sum it up by saying that it is a true nightmare and that we would encourage them to do their own research that is readily available on the web, in documentaries, and in books.

Aside from that, most always, we hear things like ‘Well, I could never give up my (fill in the blank with cheese, milk, butter, or some kind of animal)!”And I believe that people truly feel this way because I used to feel that way about cheese-until I educated myself on it and overcame the addiction. So we like to acknowledge them on it and talk about our own personal experiences about it. This is a healthy conversation that could plant a seed in someone’s head and maybe, down the line, they’ll start to make healthier decisions for themselves. Between my sister and I, we can’t tell you how many times we’ve realized that we have influenced someone else in a healthy direction-which feels awesome!

While it’s intimidating being the center focus on such a personal issue, we really want to give people a positive feeling about this because we know that it can help a lot in so many ways. As a rule of thumb, we try to maintain ourselves at what we call being “Happy Herbivores” versus “Angry Vegans”. We feel this will inspire more people to be open about  and to our lifestyle.

Sarcasm and Antagonism

I read somewhere that Ellen Degeneres’ wife, Portia De Rossi, once said that she caught more flack when she went vegan versus when she came out as a lesbian. I totally believe her too because of the amount of additional flack we caught when we simply switched from vegetarian to vegan.  When we encounter people who just want to poke at us or make fun of the way we eat, we can see them coming a mile away. There’s generally a cockiness about them and an “I know more than you and I’m about to show everyone” attitude. These people aren’t interested in learning more or opening up to us, they’re just bullies who, for some reason, think making fun of someone else will justify their actions and the way they eat or live their lives. We used to feel the need to get into arguments or fight back at these kinds of people, but we just don’t even take it up anymore. It goes no where and that bully gets a free show. I remember one time, Jason and I were out with some friends and a friend of theirs showed up who we’d never met. He overheard someone else asking me questions about why I eat the way I do and felt the need to jump in and start bashing me. He ended up looking like the jerk because I didn’t take him up on his sarcasm. I do remember one thing he said. He mimicked a baby voice to me saying “Oh I dont eat anything that’s alive waah”… How rude, right?! My only response to him was, in an easy, relaxed voice, “My food is alive. You’re the one eating a dead carcass.” And done. What else could he say? But you see what I mean? I promise, you might encounter this rudeness but just don’t give it much or any attention. It isn’t worth stressing yourself over it.

Ending Thoughts

Basically, what we have found that works best for us in social settings is to answer whatever questions, posed by a friendly source, that you are comfortable answering. Try to stay calm and simple about things-leaving there something to be wanted or learned from whoever is asking. Direct them to a great blog or movie about it. (See our suggestions at the bottom of our FAQ page). It can be hard, but try not to overwhelm people with info and stats and facts etc. because that’s definitely a turn-off (unless someone corners you and is begging for info. This happens too thankfully! 🙂 )

Here are 2 blog posts by Lindsay Nixon (The Happy Herbivore) that we find

very helpful in dealing with the social aspects of talking about eating a plant-based diet.

How To Talk About Veganism

The Secret to Handling Confrontation and Dealing with Negativity


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Bonnie: A Veggie Tale

We would like to introduce you to our cousin, Bonnie. She is one of the many veggies in our family.

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(Bonnie, Jenn, Kelli)

When Bonnie was 12, she decided to give up eating animals.  Then, years later, she decided it was also the right decision for herself to give up dairy and eggs.  We each have a unique story to tell when it comes to our journey as vegetarians and now, as vegans. So we wanted to include Bonnie’s story on our blog because she has been living this lifestyle for many years now (she is now 27)-and, not to mention, she makes some damn good food that we both appreciate!

Every Thanksgiving, Bonnie shows up with this incredible dark chocolate cranberry cake that she makes. It is decadent, rich and beautiful and we look forward to it every year! We asked her to share the recipe with us for this blog post. We also thought it would be fun to ask her some questions, so you guys can get to know her better! So, here she is with her recipe and answers!

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Bonnie:

To be honest, this cake recipe changes every year! A few requirements: CHOCOLATE, layered, icing, filling, and topped with homemade candied cranberries. Also, I somehow always incorporate liquor into it.

This year I based my cake off of a recipe from “Babycakes Covers the Classics” by Erin McKenna.

The actual cake I brought to Thanksgiving was born from the following recipe, “Six-Layer Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Preserves”

  • 1 ½ cups melted refined coconut oil or canola oil, plus more for brushing (I used coconut oil)
  • 2 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 ½ cups sorghum flour
  • 2 cups vegan sugar (I used coconut sugar)
  • 2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • ½ cup arrowroot (I used cornstarch)
  • 2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup agave nectar
  • ½ cup vanilla extract
  • 1 to 1½ cups hot water

Directions (sort of what I did) preheat over to about 300 degrees. line 3 large round pans with wax paper and brush with coconut oil. Mix the wet ingredients. Mix the dry ingredients (I use a sifter I found at goodwill). Mad the wet to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly with an electric mixer. Divide the batter between the three pans. Put the pans in the oven. Cook for a while till you start to smell it. Take a look in the oven and see if its working. Increase the heat to 310. Let some time pass. Smells really good in the house! Put a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the cake pans and increase heat to 325. It’s gonna be about 20 more minutes from here. Use a
toothpick and if it comes out clean then you’re good to go. Let pans cool completely before removing. Place plate on top of pan. Invert and cake should come out. Trim the hump off of the top of the cakes so that you can layer them flat. Make a filling and icing. Layer the cranberry filling and icing between the layers. This year I used toothpicks to keep the layers from sliding off of each other. Top with rest of chocolate icing and pile the cranberries in the center and spread out to almost the edges. This cake is heavy!

Thank you Bonnie! Now we’d like to ask you some questions so that our readers can get to know you a little better!

Summarize your journey to eating and a plant-based diet and lifestyle. When did you begin, what sparked your interest, etc.

My first memory of rejecting meat was probably around age 10; I use the word rejecting because this was not premeditated. I was on a family vacation in Gatlinburg, Tn. My parents had rented a chalet in the mountains equipped with a kitchen. As usually, when my mom cooked us dinner it was the “well-rounded” meal with a starch (potatoes with cheese), vegetable (spinach or broccoli with cream sauce) and a protein (chicken with ketchup). This particular night I remember gobbling up my side items and jumping up from the table saying I was done! I was anxious to “swim” in the giant jacuzzi tub that I had to wait to fill up until AFTER dinner. My mom quickly urged me to finish my chicken, and within 30 seconds it was gone! Like I had seen my brother’s hamster do, I quickly stuffed my chicken into my cheeks, quietly walked to the garbage can, and disposed of my dinner meat. Tada! Mission accomplished- time to swim. Before the chicken incident in Gatlinburg, my mom would always have to “trick” me into eating my meat. For example, she would cut up a hamburger patty, melt atop a piece of American cheese, and plot a dollop of ketchup next to it. She had figured this was the best way to get me fed with the least amount of difficulty knowing that had I walked to the dinner table and saw a constructed two bun, patty with cheese hamburger, the odds were against her. About two years later, age 12, I had a burst of self awareness. I didn’t like meat! And, no one can make me eat it! January 15, 1999 was my last bite of fried chicken fingers at the late Joe’s crab shack at the New Orleans Lakefront. It was my friends 13th birthday and all of the girls were sitting around the table eating chicken fingers, french fries, and coke. In my mind I had a moment of clarity; no second thoughts. This was it. I told my mom I was a vegetarian the next day. This worried her because a childhood friend who had become a vegetarian soon after developed anorexia; in her mind the two words were linked together. Although at first she didn’t quite understand, she respected my decision and began modifying her recipes so that meat was served “on the side”, and vegetable dishes did not contain meat flavorings like so many southern vegetable recipes do. Weeks later Lent began, and I saw this as an opportunity to be more open with family and friends… “I gave up meat for lent” I would say with a soft smile. “I can’t eat that because I gave it up!” Awesome, I thought. This is working. Lent ended and I continued my story, “well, I gave it up for Lent and decided I don’t want it anymore.” I was “out”, and publicly being a vegetarian had its difficulties- people really had a problem with it. Every time I had dinner at a friend’s house or went to dinner with a group of people, IT came up. I always aspired to give up dairy and egg, but knew in my mind that this was something I had to be ready for. Cheese had became a meat replacement, and egg seemed to hiding in EVERYTHING. Around Mardi Gras 2007, it was time! I made my first vegan sliced tofurkey and cheeze sandwhich to pack in the cooler for the Endymion parade– not delicious. It’s time to learn how to cook. From there, my interest in eating veg took off. Recipe books, blogs, reading labels; I was on my own trying to navigate this new world and way of eating. Restaurants were a challenge. I learned my go-to places to eat where I knew I could order something “safe”. I quickly learned that my best chance of not having to send my food back was explicitly explaining to the server/manager that I had an ALLERGY. This only has about a 70% success rate.

What is your favorite vegan indulgence?

Ahhh, I love a piece of oreo cake from whole foods’ bakery. My mom usually buys a whole cake for my birthday. It’s fabulous. Right now my husband and I are loving Vegan Crab Cakes by Sophie’s Kitchen (freezer section of whole foods). We even eat these for breakfast!

What changes have you noticed since giving up meat, poultry, and dairy?

Other than not having traditional digestive problems from eating… I have such an appreciation for flavors! When food isn’t masked by butter or cream you can actually taste things in a way you never noticed before

What is your favorite vegan holiday dish?
My cranberry cake 😀

Do you have a favorite vegan cookbook and/or blog?

The first vegan blog that I started reading on the reg was Fat Free Vegan (here) . I also like Vegan Yum Yum (here). And, of course Sprout New Roots!

What is/was the biggest challenge for you in this lifestyle?

Not spending a fortune at Whole Foods.

What motivates you to continue to cook and eat plant-based foods?

My health, my love of quality food, and being true to myself. “I was born this way!” -Lady Gaga

What advice do you have for someone interested in trying veganism?

Vegan food just tastes better! Veg eating is a journey. Do what feels right for you. Take recipes you love and see how you can
use veg substitutions to eliminate animal products. Call ahead at a restaurant and ask questions about menu items. Cook from
scratch. Add veggies to everything! Make your own almond milk. Eat fruit. Small changes in your food choices can lead you in the
veg direction!

Thank you again, Bonnie!