Should Vegans Eat at Non-Vegan Restaurants?

shouldvegans From both within and outside of the vegan community, it can feel like the standard of what it means to be vegan gets pushed ever higher.  Some even argue that vegans shouldn’t dine at non-vegan restaurants, because by supporting them, vegans are funding businesses that profit from animals being killed.  Today I explore that idea…

A few years ago when David and I moved back to Iowa, we ran into some folks we hadn’t seen in many years at a mall food court.  They were asking how difficult it was to be vegan on the road or here in small town Middle America.

I said that we’d driven across the country from Los Angeles to Iowa twice in the preceding months, taking two totally different routes each time, while we were packing and moving.  Both times, we didn’t have any problem finding vegan food while on the road.  Before the trip, I made a point of mapping vegetarian restaurants – at least one for each day we were on the road.  Plus, along the way there were plenty of grocery stores where we could pick up items for the cooler and have an impromptu picnic.

Should vegans eat at non-vegan restaurants?There was even an instance in Middle of Nowhere, New Mexico, where we came upon a convenience store on a two lane highway with fruit, rice milk, cereal, avocados, chips, and salsa for an (admittedly) weird but filling lunch.  (With smart phones and a Happy Cow app, which we didn’t have then, it would have been even easier.)

Then I mentioned how the amount of vegan fare seemed to be picking up all over.  As an example, I noted that even in the mall that day a person could easily have a vegan meal at Chipotle just around the corner.

One of the guys, who was eating some kind of mall food court chicken chow mein at the time, chimed in that Chipotle would be problematic for a vegan because it is owned by McDonald’s.  (Chipotle actually ended their affiliation with McDonald’s in 2006, when McDonald’s, an original investor in the company, divested.  However, it is a common misconception.)

Now, I have no particular allegiance to Chipotle.  In all truth, I’ve only eaten there once and that was 6 or 7 years ago.   I don’t avoid the business because they’re not vegan.  I avoid them because based on that experience, I don’t think the food is particularly interesting.  I’m not saying that I would never eat there.  It’s just not a place that I seek out.

He continued with something like, “If vegans are going to care about where their food comes from, then it needs to be consistent and not fundamentally supporting that which they disdain.”

While it would be easy to chalk this up to a case of people holding others to a higher and higher standard in an attempt to show hypocrisy, I think there’s more to it than that.  This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this argument, and it’s not always from non-vegans and it’s not always about Chipotle.  I’ve heard from both vegans and non-vegans that vegans shouldn’t eat at typically vegan unfriendly places like barbecue joints.  Some even argue that vegans shouldn’t support any restaurant that’s not vegan, because when a person supports a non-vegan business, they’re supporting a business that profits from animals being killed.

Should vegans eat at non-vegan restaurants?It’s interesting to ponder.  Should vegans eat at non-vegan restaurants?  

In a few cities, the assertion that vegans should only eat at vegan restaurants would be easily attainable.  I have a girlfriend in Los Angeles who only eats at vegan restaurants.  Her mindset is that she wants vegan businesses to thrive, and so as a way to ensure those businesses stay afloat and excel, she visits them exclusively.  I think it’s terrific that she has that option.  She never has to ask a bunch of questions or make special modifications.  She has entire menus to choose from and no worries that dairy-based cheese will end up in her quesadilla.  That proposition is attractive.  (Plus, in the time that I’ve been in Iowa two long-time vegetarian restaurants have started serving meat in the aims of making more money.  In our current economy, restaurants are having a tough time of it, especially niche restaurants.  It makes sense to support businesses that mirror your values and that you want to do well.)

That said, even if eating exclusively at all-vegan restaurants is doable in Southern California, what about everywhere else?  In Iowa there are two vegan restaurants in the entire state.  If you throw in vegetarian restaurants, you may hit nine or ten.  So it’s possible that a person living in Iowa is several hours away from a vegetarian or vegan restaurant.  Does that mean that they can never go to a friend’s birthday gathering at the local sushi joint or business lunch at the Mediterranean place?

One thing that can keep people from even considering veganism is that they worry about becoming a social pariah.  Food is a major part of our social dynamic.  Friends meet for lunch, celebrate at restaurants, grab a meal after church…  And it’s not always the vegan who is choosing the restaurant.  Of course, I advocate for vegans to speak up when meeting with friends and to offer suggestions for a place that will have satisfying options.  (Obviously a falafel shop or curry place are going to be more enticing than a steakhouse.)  However, there are going to be times when it’s your nephew’s birthday, and he’s going to pick his favorite restaurant, and it may well not be the Thai place with the spicy basil rice noodle dish.  Sometimes there will be an office party at a T.G.I. Fridays or Chili’s.

Another choice for a vegan without access to vegan restaurants would be to never eat at restaurants and only cook at home.  Let’s put aside for a second how isolating that would be and ask ourselves first is that a “purer” choice?  Does that mean that person can only shop at vegan grocery stores too, because obviously most grocery stores also have animal products for sale?  Vegan grocery stores do exist, but they are an even rarer commodity than vegan restaurants (and they tend to be located in vegan meccas anyway).

Viva La Vegan grocery storeAnd at those vegan grocery stores, do they only sell products from exclusively vegan companies?  I was at Viva La Vegan recently, a vegan grocery store in Santa Monica, and they had my favorite chips from Garden of Eatin’.  (I love their Pico de Gallo flavor.) However, Garden of Eatin’ isn’t a vegan company.  They make non-vegan chips too.  So if a person thinks that vegans should only eat at vegan restaurants, isn’t it equally problematic to buy products from non-vegan companies?

The person could just shop at the farmer’s market…  However, those aren’t always available year ‘round, and many fruit and vegetable sellers also sell animal products.  In the summer I buy 80% of my food from the farmer’s market, but the majority of the farmers there don’t exclusively sell vegan products.

Should vegans eat at non-vegan restaurants?And wait, what about those vegan restaurants?  Where are they getting their food?  Solely from vegan farmers?

And outside of food, what if that person goes to the store to buy a sweater?  If the store also sells sweaters made with wool or with leather patches on the elbows, do they have to leave and go to a different store with only vegan clothing?

In this non-vegan world in which we live, if the goal is a path to purity, it is riddled with obstacles.

The goal to me is not to get a gold star for purity.  It is to save lives.  And which one saves more?  Making veganism more and more exclusive, and limiting, with an ever-expanding aim of finding the purest choice for everyday minutiae?  Or trying to create a world in which veganism is easy and attainable? We have to ask ourselves…

Should vegans eat at non-vegan restaurants?

Are animals saved by overwhelming people with the idea that they could never be vegan enough?  

While I totally support the idea of putting your money where your values are, supporting vegan businesses and helping them to thrive, there is something to be said for visiting non-vegan businesses in the hopes that they will expand and improve their vegan offerings.  I think it’s good to vote with your dollars and show non-vegan businesses that there is a demand for delicious cruelty-free fare.  Then who knows?  If vegan options become commonplace everywhere else in the way they are in cities like Portland, New York City, and Los Angeles, maybe people in towns like Pella or Pleasant Hill will find it just as attainable to entertain the idea of going vegan.

My point to all of this is that if there’s anything that we’ve learned from the internet it’s that no matter who you are and no matter what you do, there will simultaneously always be someone out there to whom your actions are too much and someone to whom your actions are not enough.  Some will think I’m too much by being vegan at all.  Some will think I’m not vegan enough by supporting non-vegan restaurants.  Knowing that criticism exists, there are those who would view that as stifling.  I view it as freeing.  If I know that no matter what I do there will be critics, I may as well live my truth.

 

*The main photo above was taken at Doomies, a vegan restaurant in Los Angeles.  It is a cruelty-free take on the Big Mac from their secret menu.

64 thoughts on “Should Vegans Eat at Non-Vegan Restaurants?

  1. I live in NJ, right outside NYC. When I’m in the city, I pretty much only dine at vegan restaurants. There are so many great ones, it’s foolish to eat at an omni restaurant. In NJ, there aren’t as many vegan-owned establishments. I do like to frequent the ones that are here often in order to support vegans and vegan business, but I also dine at non-vegan restaurants too. I feel that if they see there’s a demand for vegan food, they will expand their vegan offerings. More and more omnivores are eating meatless at various meals, and if there are more vegan dishes on the menu, they’ll be more likely to order one of them. I also feel that only dining at vegan restaurants makes us seem like a “fringe” movement where we keep to ourselves and have secret meeting places. It’s time for us to move into the mainstream!

    • Well said, Dianne. When I travel I tend to visit vegan restaurants too, because one of the best parts of travel to me is checking out their vegan specialties. That’s a good point about non-vegans being more apt to choose vegan options on a menu if there are more of them available.

  2. *stands and applauds* Each of us is on our own food journey and it does not have to mirror anyone else’s, nor stand up to the criticism of others. You can go insane trying to meet everybody’s expectations! You have chosen to become vegan for the animals’ sake. I became vegan for my health’s sake (though I love animals.) Both are valid reasons for eating the way we do. I still eat honey (my reasons are posted here: http://cheerfullyvegan.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/why-i-choose-to-use-honey-and-still-call-myself-a-vegan/) That has to be MY choice, and I don’t get to foist it on anybody, or think anyone else is “too vegan” because they only go to vegan establishments. The sooner we all are more gentle, kind, and loving to others the happier we ALL will be.

    • The internet is wonderful because it allows us to connect with others. The internet is difficult because it allows us to connect with others. People also tend to be more vocal and combative behind a computer screen than they would in real life. One thing is certain, no one’s mind was ever changed by someone else making them feel small or minimizing their actions.

  3. Excellent post and so well written! I am like you. I’m not trying to be a purist. I do the best I can within my means. I will eat at a non-vegan restaurant for the reasons that Dianne mentioned above and also because I don’t want to be a social pariah like you said. Because let’s face it, the world isn’t vegan. I try not to eat at places like Chipotle or Starbucks because I have a strange (not always consistent) relationship with big time corporations. I do eat at places like Subway (that’s the non-consistent part) on occasion.

    But I really dislike the whole idea of “not being vegan enough”. The last thing the vegan community needs is to seem super elitist and non-practical. Not everyone has access to all vegan establishments nor the funds for it. It’s great when we can (and we do) support vegan businesses. But sometimes it is not practical for everybody all the time.

    I’m glad that you blogged about this to open the dialogue. I think sometimes these issues are put out there as black and white issues—-either you’re vegan or “not vegan enough”. It’s important to realize that one person’s idea of a vegan lifestyle may not be as easy for another (of course, I am excluding the person who calls themselves vegan and eats cheese every now and then…that’s pretty not vegan to me).

    Thank you for sharing!

    • I know what you mean about being inconsistent as far as big corporations go. I stopped eating at fast food places like McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, or KFC before I went vegetarian or vegan. I was compelled to change because of what I read in Fast Food Nation and saw on Supersize Me. I still won’t go to any of those places, but I will go to Starbucks, Target, or the Disney parks. I have friends/acquaintances who have been surprised by that in the past. I know that any company that big is going to have problems of its own, but I also don’t want to feel like I have to research and possibly reject every large corporation. A lot of the things I do are outside of the mainstream, and sometimes it’s fun to do things that a lot of other people like too. Obviously I continue learning, and I’m open to making changes in the future if need be.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You made a lot of great points.

  4. Great post! If I only ate at vegan or veg restaurants I could exactly no where. This doesn’t equal a good quality of life for me AND I would be missing out on some excellent vegan food offered at non-vegan restaurants. I also think that going to non vegan restaurants is an opportunity to do restaurant outreach and the more requests a non-vegan restaurant gets for vegan food the more likely it is that they will offer vegan items on their menu.

    Another point to consider is “Should vegans only date/marry other vegans?”, my partner isn’t vegan and so our collective money still goes to purchasing animal products which is just awful for me but I love my partner and we were together before I became vegan. However, it is still the same principle as patronage to nonveg restaurants.

    I think as vegans we have a responsibility to be mindful about our actions in all aspects our life, educate others about our message, and be joyful in our veganism. Degrading others for not being vegan enough is antithetical to our mission.

    • You make a good point about how your quality of life would be greatly diminished by not being able to eat in any restaurant. And what kind of advertisement would that be for a vegan lifestyle? “Go vegan… and stay at home every weekend while your friends go to dinner without you.” It would be miserable and so unnecessary! I like what you said about going to non-vegan restaurants being an opportunity for outreach. There is a lot of confusion about what “vegan” means, and when a real life vegan comes in and makes requests, it can open up a dialogue and understanding. Plus, creating vegan options is a lot easier than some might initially think!

      My husband wasn’t vegan either when we first started dating, but then again, neither was I. I went vegetarian first, and then about a year and a half later David did too. Then I went vegan and a few months after that David followed suit. It certainly is easier having someone who cooks with me, enjoys visiting the same restaurants that I do, and shares my values. However, even if he hadn’t gone vegan, obviously we would have stayed together. There are other areas of our lives where we differ (i.e. religious views), and I think it makes life interesting. If we started cutting ourselves off from every person who thought differently than us, what a small world it would be!

      Thank you for your thoughtful and astute comment, Stephanie!

  5. Great post! Exactly my thoughts.
    I also live in a place where the closest vegan restaurant is an hour away. I think that’s a lot to go out and eat (and drive back).
    I think it’s important to go to regular restaurants and ask for a vegan option. What you end up with isn’t always good, but some make an effort and cook up something nice. That way all restaurants can learn what vegans (don’t) want to eat.

    • Yes, it would be hard to want to always drive an hour to go out to dinner! That’s a great point that by visiting non-vegan restaurants and ordering a vegan option, you are showing what it means to be vegan. I asked one of my old favorite restaurants to put V’s next to the vegan items on their menu, and they did! I realized they had more vegan options than I even knew about, and hopefully it showed other guests that there were some interesting meatless meals available to them. Anything we can do to make compassionate choices easier for others is a plus in my book!

  6. Great post, Cadry!

    While I think it’s valid logic to not eat at a non-vegan restaurant because it profits from serving meat, I also think that this logic also hurts veganism because it makes it so unattainable and unnecessarily complex (and, not to mention, exhausting!) that you can’t ever be “right enough.” I suspect that these perfectionists will be the ones a few years down the road who give veganism up because “it’s too hard” (and they’d be right! They’ve overly complicated it.)

    I honestly feel more comfortable eating around meat eaters who are cool with and open to eating vegan food (most notably my husband who eats meat) than I am with super strict vegans who nitpick every single thing they can possibly think of! They’re not helping expand veganism, they’re just narrowing their own circle so nobody else can come in!

    • You’re so right that only eating at non-vegan restaurants for most of us would be unattainable and exhausting. I don’t think the goal should be to create an elite vegan club but instead to create a world where it’s easy to make compassionate choices.

      I can totally understand why it would be more comfortable to be around others who are open and accepting, and I have to agree that Jeff is pretty awesome! :)

      What a powerful final sentence, Erin. Well said!

  7. I couldn’t have written this better myself. People often assume I never eat out because I’m vegan, only to be shocked when I eat out with them that a) I don’t ask a million annoying and embarrassing questions when trying to order and that b) I often end up with the most appealing plate of food. It’s those moments that I think are the biggest victory for veganism, when people realise I can eat anywhere I like, just like them, and get served a good meal; in vegan restaurants people often assume they’re using fancy or expensive ingredients that nobody else would be able to get hold of. If I happen to be near a vegan restaurant of course I’ll choose to go there and relish the chance to show my support for their business, but if not I’m more than happy to show non-vegan businesses that if they increase their vegan-friendly options they will get my money. Thanks for writing this post, Cadry.

    • That’s always such a good feeling when everyone at the table has food envy over your colorful, mouthwatering dinner! You make an excellent point that when we demonstrate to others that a good vegan meal can be found in even the unlikeliest of places, it shoots down the idea of veganism being difficult or joyless.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  8. It makes one’s head spin…We vegans would certainly starve if we had all of these “rules” to follow. I figure every time I eat at a non-vegan restaurant and I ask for non-vegan food – - I’m doing a tiny bit of activism to let them know that some of their diners want options besides dishes made with animal products. Little by little we can change menus and minds.

    • So true! I heard Kathy Freston speak at World Fest several years ago. She said that whenever she walks by a cute cupcake shop or something like that, she’ll go inside and ask if they have anything vegan. She said that she knows that they don’t, but she hopes that by asking it will show the business that there is a demand. And on those occasions when they DO have something vegan, she buys it. If we don’t show companies that there are customers for delicious, cruelty-free food, why would they bother?

  9. Exactly. Well said. And seeing as we don’t have any all-vegan stores or restaurants within two hours of where I live, I would be totally screwed if I turned into a vegan vigilante.

    • Yes, I think the closest all-vegan grocery store to me is in Denver. Going grocery shopping would be awfully expensive if it always involved a 22 hour round-trip drive!

  10. Excellent post. You brought up so many great points. I love how you said you’re not trying to get a gold star for being the purest vegan, I completely agree with that. Sometimes it feels like a catch 22, too extreme for being vegan vs. not being vegan enough. I think we all should do the best we can. We can all learn and grow from listening to each other. Again, wonderful post, really made me think.

  11. I’m so glad you tackled this, Cadry! This was something I pondered when first deciding to become vegan– where do you draw the line? I live in a very vegan-friendly, mid-sized city, but there are only a few all-vegetarian restaurants. I support them as much as I can, but I also think it’s important to support the vegan options that the other restaurants make an effort to provide. I also like to support a farm-to-table restaurant in my very non-vegan-friendly hometown, but they usually have to make special accommodations to create a vegan dish. It’s a very gray area, but I love so many of the points you’ve made!

    • Thanks, BK! Even when I lived in very vegan-friendly Los Angeles, I still visited non-vegan restaurants. Like you said, when we support vegan options at those restaurants, we encourage those businesses to keep them on the menu (and hopefully add more!)

  12. It’s amazing what experts non-vegans turn into when it comes time to decide what vegans should do. Suddenly they’re nutritionists telling us about our protein needs, botanists telling us that plants have feelings too, and now ethicists, telling us that we’re hypocrites for potentially supporting non-vegan restaurants.

    You made such great points in your post that there isn’t much I can add. I do think that while it would be amazing to be able to eat at a vegan restaurant when ever I go out, having one such restaurant within 100 miles or so means that either I’d get awfully sick of Native Food (heaven forbid!), or I would never, ever get to go out to dinner.

    There is also a case to be made for supporting restaurants that care enough to offer vegan options. I want more of those because not only will I have an easier time, other non-vegans may make a few more cruelty free choices if they are available. And after all, that’s what we want in the end, don’t we? More people eating less meat.

    • Oh, well. If you’re only going to have one vegan restaurant within 100 miles, you’re lucky that it’s Native Foods! I would be thrilled for that! :) But you’re right that it’s more fun to have some variety, even if your vegan option is a great one.

      You’re so right that if there are more vegan options on a menu, non-vegans will choose them too. I have family and friends who aren’t vegan but do like having the option of getting a black bean burger or falafel plate if there is the option. It helps all of us and the animals too when there are more compassionate choices available!

  13. I love this post! So many good points. As a newly transitioned vegan, I’ve struggled to figure out where I draw the line for myself. My friends and family are still adjusting to my diet, and even when I do opt to cook at home and share food with my friends in the comfort and safety of my kitchen, I feel like I’m being anti-social or a hermit and making my friends bend to my needs.

    After the internal struggle for a while, I finally came to the conclusion that my ethics as a vegan start and end with me. One person cannot stop all animal cruelty, meat consumption, and animal captivity, but we can do the best we can. We can’t force friends to exclusively eat vegan around us, or make them choose meatless restaurants because that’s not fair. Their food choices are not the same, and we need to respect that as they have respected our food choices.

    So my point is, it’s always great to encourage people to visit veg restaurants in their area as opposed to ones that serve meat, but in smaller towns and places where vegan fare isn’t always available, it’s unrealistic to exclusively dine at vegan restaurants or shut yourself in and cook at home.

    I support encouraging omni restaurants to serve vegan options, because that means that even omnivores can choose the vegan option, leading to the possibility and encouragement of less meat consumption. It desensitizes people to the vegan community and culture and familiarizes them with the idea that vegans don’t have to be social pariahs that hiss and boo at the sight of people eating meat.

    Sorry for this novel of a comment! P.S I love your blog and the dialogue you create between your readers! I wish I could get that going on my blog! haha

    • Congratulations on transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, Lisa, and thank you for sharing your thoughts. Whenever we normalize and demystify what it means to be vegan, that can only be a good thing, right? Even today, I think people are confused about what “vegan” means. I had someone find my blog the other day by searching, “Is ketchup vegan?” Um…. yes. So when we dine with others and show that “vegan food” is just normal, everyday food, we help to take down the old stereotype that vegan food is tasteless, boring, or uninspired.

      I just visited your blog and admired all of the beautiful photographs that you take. I look forward to spending more time there! Thanks for chiming in and for your kind words.

    • That’s terrific, Ryan, that the vegan nights have been so well received and that you are demystifying what a “vegan meal” entails in such a mouthwatering way. Keep up the good work!

  14. Many great points made. I tend to think that such “vegan cities” (LA, PDX, NYC) would not be that way had veganism not spread — had individuals not influenced their friends/family to explore more vegan options, and had not influenced restaurant proprietors to add vegan selections to their menus.

    • Good point, Jared! That makes sense that the vegan friendliness of a town would be on a continuum. As more people demand vegan options, resources appear to fulfill that need. Even in just the last 6 or 7 years, I’ve seen a huge increase in what’s available in Los Angeles. I hope that trend continues there and everywhere else!

  15. I agree with you, Cadry. The idea of being “vegan enough” is off-putting, and I think it makes veganism seem extreme or unattainable to someone that’s considering it. I eat food from non-vegan restaurants all the time, and I do so proudly. When I ask about vegan options or veganize a dish, folks will sometimes ask me what I ordered or even about veganism. Don’t get me wrong: I love the vegan restaurants here in Atlanta with all of my heart, but I think rewarding omni places that are offering vegan options, we encourage them to have more meat-free offerings. And we make veganism feel more inclusive.

    • Well said, Becky! I know several people who have talked about going vegetarian or vegan for years, but one of the things that holds them back is the fear of dining out. They love going to restaurants, and they don’t want to miss out on that social time. As we reward businesses that offer good vegan options in the hopes that they offer even more, hopefully it will become a less intimidating idea for people on the cusp of considering more compassionate food choices.

  16. Great conversation! I struggled with this last night attending a friend’s birthday party at a chain restaurant. I left the party feeling like a schmuck supporting an establishment that was the antithesis of my beliefs but I needed to put that aside and celebrate with my friend of 36 years.

    It also reminded me I’m way happier as a vegan. The meal was terrible despite being given the “vegetarian” menu and glancing around the table it all looked pretty awful – to me. If that’s what I’ve been missing I’m a-okay without it.

    I live in a town without a vegetarian restaurant. A few have come and gone. There are three places I can eat a meal at so I rarely eat out. One of the restaurants is actually run by a vegan but he serves a chicken dish. He said would love the restaurant to be fully vegan but the meat makes up 80% of his sales. It’s a victory that his business is doing well when it encourages people to try one of the many vegan dishes. I consider it a step forward in a town with little else. Given the option to support vegan restaurants I would and do.

    • It can be eye-opening to see what is being served at some non-vegan restaurants! It can be easy to forget when you’re making your own plant-heavy fare at home that it’s not what everyone is eating.

      I feel you on not dining out very often. My options are limited in my town too, and so I definitely cook at home more often than I used to when I lived in Los Angeles.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lysette!

  17. Great conversation!! I have been know to eat at restaurants where the only thing I can eat is a baked potato with salsa. I eat at non vegan friendly restaurants because I wanted to spend time with the people I was eating with and not because of the awesome baked potato. It’s all about choices.

    • Ha! Your baked potato line made me laugh, Grace. While I’ve actually never been forced to order the baked potato option at a restaurant, I’ve had my share of uninspired salads in the past.

  18. Exactly. We forget the bigger picture about why we are choosing to eat or use plant based things. without the demand for vegan options, there wouldnt be a vegan menu on so many non vegan restaurants. the demand challenges the chef, brings to notice that there can be filling food without animal products, start up conversations about the food and so on. Animals are only going to gain by easier availability of vegan food making it easier for people to choose eating more and more plant based. of course when i have an option, i would support a vegan business over a similar non vegan one. but i cannot take people to 90% tofu and tempeh vegan restaurants when they dislike both, and would rather take them to an ethiopian or indian restaurant and serve up only vegan on the table.

    • Good point, Richa! Before I went vegan, I would have been more inspired to try it after seeing a variety of colorful wots in front of me or an Indian feast than with a lackluster tempeh sandwich. Those kinds of dishes make a vegan lifestyle look delicious, varied, and fun.

  19. I see it this way: I objectively represent a minority (I actually personally know only 1 other vegan person) so when I go to a restaurant and ask for a vegan option I see it as raising awareness.
    If we had to avoid everyone who deals with animal products I’d end up not seeing anyone ever, and that would definitely not raise any awareness on the benefits of eating vegan food.

    • That’s a good point about raising awareness. I have been surprised in the past at how much confusion still exists over what it means to be vegan. Any time that we talk to restaurant owners, servers, and chefs about vegan fare, we increase our chances of getting more options on menus.

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  21. Another great post!!! I do have a question for you and anyone else who feels like answering….

    What are your thoughts on eating fries or onion rings at a non veg place if they fry their fries or onion rings in the same fryer as their chicken strips, or fish for fish n’ chips?? My Aunt is a very strict vegetarian, not vegan, she eats very little dairy or eggs from time to time….She will NOT eat their fries or onion rings if they share oil with the meat and fish.

    For me, most of my fries and onion rings come from me making them at home, or at an all veg place. But if I am at an omni place, and I feel like something greasy…what do I do…??

    I can ask the waiter if the fries have a dedicated fryer (like my aunt always does) and if they do, then I don’t have to worry.

    If everything shares a fryer, I can choose not to eat the fries and feel good about keeping another fried food out of my body :) (knowing good and well I can eat fries galore at my next veg restaurant :) )

    However, I would not judge another veg person or even myself if they/I chose to eat fries from a shared fryer.

    Chicken and fish are not necessary to make fries. I don’t feel like someone is supporting the chicken and fish industry by eating potatoes fried in the same oil as them. Of course fries can be made non-veg like McDonalds did/does. ( I’ve heard they use or used beef flavor for their fries…don’t know the facts, I do not eat anything at McDonalds ever so I haven’t looked into it) That of course would make it so your fries choice is supporting the meat industry even if ever so small..

    If your fries are just potatoes plunged into vegetable oil, then to me, they are vegan. It’s unfortunate if animal product was plunged in that same oil, but the animal product is not an intended ingredient and not necessary to make the fries so you are not supporting those animal industries. Do I make sense…??

    Am I “wrong”..? ;)

    • This is an excellent question, Robyn! It would make for a great Friday Mail Day post. Although if you keep asking all of these terrific questions, maybe it should just be called, “Pen Pal Letter Exchange with Robyn.” ;)

      I tend to agree with you about cross contamination in restaurants. I think that whenever we dine at a non-vegan restaurant, there is a chance of cross contamination. They may use the same spatula, pan, skillet, grill grate, or oil. I think each person has to decide for herself/himself how comfortable they feel with that. But I don’t think it’s an ethical question as much as it is an “ick” question. Ethically, more animals aren’t killed because of a dirty spatula. It’s the same amount. And more fish aren’t killed because they are in the same fryer as fries. A person may decide that the “ick” factor is too high and she doesn’t feel comfortable with the possibility of cross contamination.

      Obviously I would prefer that every element of my dish never comes into any contact with animal products, but if I’m eating in a non-vegan restaurant, it’s very possible that at some point that could happen. (Of course, if I had food allergies, I would have to be more vigilant about this and make more requests.) That said, I tend to not visit places that are frying chicken strips and fish. Those kinds of places often don’t have very good vegan options in my area, and so I avoid them. However, I wouldn’t think of someone else as any less of a vegan if they had french fries cooked in the same oil as non-vegan foods.

  22. First, let me just say that I really can’t stand the judgmental attitudes that the Internet seems to encourage!

    I love how you’ve highlighted the fact that this quest for “purity” in veganism has no end (i.e., does my vegan restaurant buy ingredients only from vegan farmers, etc.). I think it can be dangerous to get too mired in details like this. Everyday life is challenging enough without having to constantly worry that you’re not vegan enough. Each individual has to do the best he or she can based on his or her own individual circumstances, values, etc. There is no such thing as perfection, and I totally agree that striving for “purity” ends up being stifling and discouraging.

    Personally I frequently eat at non-vegan restaurants, for a variety of reasons. One is that my husband (and, well, my entire family) is omnivore. Another is that I don’t have a ton of options for vegan dining. Even in Boston, a major city, there are only 4 vegan restaurants (5 if you count a food truck). Finally, I see a value in increasing awareness of the demand for vegan food at non-veg establishments. I would consider it a sign of progress if more non-veg places added vegan options and this isn’t going to happen unless they know that it is something customers want.

    Thanks for starting this discussion. I think it’s a very important topic.

    • Yes, I totally agree about the intensity of judgmental attitudes on the internet. The combination of anonymity and access to a keyboard seems to bring it out in people. I find that I have to limit the amount of time I read comments on certain Facebook pages because the negativity really wears me down.

      Thanks for sharing lots of good thoughts, Ashley! I appreciate your perspective.

  23. Well, Cadry, I’d say you pretty much covered all the bases here in your thought-provoking post. I like your references to buying vegan clothing in a non-vegan store, or shopping for groceries in stores that sell non-vegan food. We have lots of vegan restaurants here in Seattle, and I admit that I like not having to worry if my food contains animal products, but I still eat at non-vegan establishments. I think it’s important to encourage all restaurants to learn about plant-based cooking, and offer high-quality alternatives to animal-based cuisine. We can’t force people to change, but we can lead by example.

    • I love eating in vegan restaurants too! Not having to ask questions or worry that a mistake has been made in a sauce or dressing makes for a relaxed evening of dining out! We definitely support our local vegan restaurant more than any other restaurant in our town, but I’m glad to have a few other options for times when I’m in the mood for something outside of what they have on their menu. Plus, as the other local restauranteurs/serving staff get to know me and David, they start to remember what we order and our special requests. When that happens, it makes dining out in those particular non-vegan restaurants almost as easy as dining out in a vegan one.

  24. It’s a really interesting debate, and I can kind of see both sides to be honest. I eat at non-vegan restaurants, but I also spend a lot of time in vegan places. My local supermarket isn’t vegan, and there’s not a vegan supermarket in London, so wherever I go, I will be giving money to non-vegan businesses. That said, I think on balance, going to to non-vegan places isn’t actually a bad idea – I want non-vegans to see that being a vegan isn’t painful, doesn’t mean ostracizing yourself, and is easy to do ‘in the real world’.

    • “I want non-vegans to see that being a vegan isn’t painful, doesn’t mean ostracizing yourself, and is easy to do ‘in the real world’.” Absolutely. When we make a vegan lifestyle look fun, easy, and joyful, we do much more to inspire others to consider it for themselves.

  25. I’m lucky to live in Denver where I do have access to vegan and vegetarian restaurants, and while I *love* supporting them, I also enjoy eating at other restaurants as well. Sometimes it’s because I’m eating with non-vegan friends (and they picked the spot) and sometimes it’s just because they have a dish that I’m craving. I think there’s huge value in ordering vegan items off the menu at a non-vegan restaurant, because it shows them there’s demand for that kind of food. Great post!

    • Absolutely! One often hears fast food restaurants claim that they offer healthy options but that very few people actually order them. So they take them off the menu or don’t expand their options because people only say that they want them. When it comes to vegan options in restaurants, I don’t want it to follow the same pattern. I want restaurants to realize there is a demand and for vegan options to get snatched up when they are placed on a menu.

  26. As a very non-vegan restaurant publicist, I very much agree with this post. It’s about ideological balance and mutual respect across the board. On the culinary side, by supporting cruelty-free diets, chefs are also encouraged to get creative and become even more ethical and vibrant in their sourcing.

  27. Great post and interesting story!!
    I decided to start eating vegan as a New Years resolution so I am pretty new to it, but I like being able to support both vegan and non-vegan restaurants in my city. First, there aren’t a whole lot of vegan restaurants (one popular one just closed its doors last week too!). I also like to socialize and go out with friends, who none of which are vegetarian so going to restaurants that can satisfy both my diet and theirs is ideal. I am unsure on the concept of not eating somewhere because it’s not vegan and if you eat at a non-vegan restaurant you are supporting the business etc etc. If I go somewhere that serves meat and order a vegan dish, I am supporting the business, but I am not supporting meat. If 100 vegans go to a non-vegan restaurant, the business will make money off of the vegan food it produced, not the meat. The more vegans who come in, they will see the need to increase their vegan dishes and perhaps decrease their meat dishes. By ordering vegan in non-vegan you are supporting veganism and the need for more vegan dishes. If more people go to these restaurants and demand vegan food, the vegan food options are sure to grow.

    • That’s too bad that one of your local vegan restaurants closed. That’s always such a disappointment!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight, Steph!

  28. I am mostly vegan and go through long stretches where I am totally vegan. I also have a ton of food allergies(like to tree nuts and gluten and soy) that makes staying vegan and dining out vegan tricky. I live in Toronto- a city with lots of vegan dining options — none of which can guarantee no nut contamination etc. This has left me more or less housebound in recent months. Dining out is usually stressful and disappointing. When I do eat out I tend to try Indian places that don’t use nuts or ghee. You’d be amazed how many there are! They are my dining out flavor bomb and keep me sane! I have a non vegan family and food is often a point of contention but it is also something we all need to thrive and I try to hold back my judgment of others. Instead, I blog and bake and cook for family and friends to show people they can have their cake or burger or milkshake, and vegan too.

    • I can see how food allergies would make dining out a harrowing experience, especially depending on the severity of your allergies. I’m glad you have so many Indian restaurants in your area for nights when you don’t feel like cooking! I’m surprised that food is still a point of contention for your family since you have a medical reason for avoiding certain foods (in addition to any ethical reasons you may have). Hopefully with time they will come around! It sounds like you have a really good attitude about it all.

  29. Pingback: Green Oats | Shoe String Vegan

  30. I think it’s important to patronize restaurants that have vegan options, regardless of whether the whole place is veg or not, regardless of who it’s owned by, in order to spur them to continue offering vegan options. However, if I’m deciding between a non-veg and a veg restaurant equal in all other necessary considerations, I’ll go with the veg.

    • That makes sense! Whenever we’re traveling I’m especially drawn to vegan restaurants, because our choices here are so limited. It’s wonderful to have a real variety of vegan offerings from which to choose.

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