Are you finding that plant-based options are a struggle when you dine out? Are you less than thrilled when you are faced with the challenge of finding something enjoyable to eat, much less finding anything plant-based at all? No, it is not your imagination. Sometimes the struggle is real! Fortunately, it is getting better.
Imagine for a moment that you have a restaurant, or that you are planning a dinner party, or that you are hosting a fundraiser dinner. The only thing you have on the menu is salad.
Do you think many people would attend? Would only a salad be an acceptable course? No. Especially if people have paid for a full dinner. That is because a salad usually is not an entrée.
And yet, a salad is the only thing offered time and time again.
Most people do not jump with excitement when offered a salad, and vegans and vegetarians are no exception. One reason it is important to offer plant-based menu items is because the person who does not eat meat often determines the restaurant.
“Any restaurant that does not serve plant-based food is burning money. Everyone knows that the vegan chooses where the group eats.”– Dawn sweeney, national restaurant association president
This is such a good quote. I am uncertain as to why this never occurred to me before but, in many cases, it is true. Often I have been the only person in the group who followed a plant-based diet (but this is changing at lightning speed). Fortunately, I usually was the one who was able to choose the restaurant because most people can find plenty to eat wherever they go. This always makes me smile because, even though many plant-based-friendly restaurants still serve animal-based items, they should be rewarded for their efforts in supporting foods that are good for people, animals, and the planet.
Plant-Based in Back Country Alabama
Years ago, it was a lot harder for a vegetarian to find plant-based options at restaurants, but hardest for a vegan. I was on the road with family, passing through Alabama, and we saw a country restaurant called Amy’s Kitchen. Having been a fan of the vegetarian company, I thought that might be a good omen. We stopped and went in.
A friendly, older southern woman approached the table to take everyone’s order. When my turn arrived, she looked in my direction, smiled warmly, and said, “Honey, what can I get for ya?”
I gave up after a cursory glance at the menu and said, “Good morning. I would like to start with a glass of soymilk, please.”
She frowned slightly and said, “I’m sorry, honey, we don’t have any soymilk.”
I said, “Oh. No?” That wasn’t surprising. “Okay, then I would like to have some fresh squeezed orange juice, please.”
She shook her head. “Honey, I am sorry, but we don’t have orange juice.”
I replied, “Okay. Then I would like water. I would also like some fresh fruit, please.”
She sighed. “I’m sorry, honey, we don’t have any fresh fruit, either.”
I said, “All right. I suppose you don’t have wheat toast?”
In the slowest manner, with a strong Southern drawl and great regret, she said, “Honey, we don’t support health here.”
There was not a single thing that I could eat. It wasn’t very funny at the time, but I have laughed about that exchange for years. Even if we were not just passing through, it is safe to say that I would not have gone to that restaurant again.
Sticking to What’s Normal
If there is one way that you can rarely fool vegans, it is to flavor their food with rotting flesh. People who regularly eat non-vegetarian meals seem to have as much difficulty with identifying meat flavors in their food as smokers do in detecting their own overpowering smell in a crowd of nonsmokers. To a nonsmoker, however, all the mouthwash, gum, body fragrance, and change of clothes in the world would not mask it. It permeates everything, as does the pestilential taste of flesh in otherwise perfectly delicious dishes.
Over the years, I have been amazed that people have such a hard time deviating from the normal and how many people cannot make a sandwich, for example, simply by leaving certain items off. Often I have laughed at the thought of presenting the person with a choice between finishing the most inconvenient chores that must be done before completing the order, or simply to leave items off of the sandwich. Seems like an easy decision! The person would choose the harder route in order to stick to normalcy instead of doing something different that is so easy.
Plant-Based Options Are Simply Made
When it comes to offering plant-based options at restaurants, it really is very simple. Dishes cooked with animal products can be created with alternatives. In a lot of dishes, animal products can be omitted. Vegetables do not need meat flavoring in order to be delicious. If not everyone agrees, it should be no trouble to cook a separate batch at the same time. There are some restaurants that do this, and some that have realized that meat flavoring is not necessary. Whatever their process, their efforts are extremely appreciated. Believe it or not, a plant-based diet is not a deprivation diet; most followers enjoy food as much as everyone else! If salad is not a complete and exciting meal to you, your sentiments likely are shared!
Plant-Based Options Happen One Person At A Time!
A few years ago, a couple of friends and I would meet once a week and share some good chats and laughs. We would run into other friends in the community and invite them for lunch on a designated day every week. Slowly we grew, one friend at a time. We grew to the point that we had to occupy the back room of the restaurant. It was always very entertaining, with friends from age 20 to 90, and laughs that make everyone else either join us or leave the room. It is wonderful!
However, there was one problem: There were no plant-based options. We could either have a salad or a bowl of oatmeal. That still is better than what a lot of restaurants offer! I went along with it for a while, but decided that it was silly to go out to eat and come home hungry, in addition to the fact that salads were really starting to wear out their welcome where I was concerned. The restaurant frequently served delicious-looking vegetables, but they were always less desirable due to their meat flavorings.
One day, they suggested a luncheon menu that included collards, pinto beans, oven-roasted potatoes, and cornbread. Although this meal was offered only once every few weeks, we really appreciate it and said that we would take home the remaining portions. It worked beautifully and the food was delicious!
Then another restaurant in the area opened and this one offered healthier Southern cooking every day. That meant that we could enjoy vegan and vegetarian foods on any occasion we dined. Which restaurant had more business from us? You guessed it! The latter.
Please Do Not Offer Me A Salad!
My mother has been on nearly every board in her community. The main trouble she continually encounters is that, when there are dinner functions, rarely are there any significant plant-based options. Salads are nice; they are healthy, but usually not very filling. Every time she would suggest to the organizers that they should offer plant-based options, the organizers would invariably reply, “There’s plenty for you to eat! We have salad.” This became such a frequent response that my mother created clever buttons to wear and to pass out to all of our friends. These buttons read, “When I tell you that I am a vegetarian, please do not offer me a salad!” Hilarious!
As discussed earlier, this is still a problem. Well-meaning cooks and restaurant owners still don’t understand that, if a salad is not a full meal for the public at large, it is not an acceptable option for those with special diets and regular palates.
More Plant-Based Ideas
Are you hoping to suggest healthier items to your favorite local restaurant owners? Are you a restaurant owner who is thinking about how to maximize profits and feel great about improving the health and satisfaction of your customers? The options truly are endless!
It can be as simple as replacing the cream in your soup with oat or cashew milk, which are nearly indistinguishable from the taste of dairy. You can cook all vegetables meat-free and flavor it later or upon reheating. There also are tons of recipes and inspiration online. Please see below.
The recipes I have modified have turned out even better than the recipes they replaced! If plant-based foods were not significantly lower in calories, many of us would be in trouble! I challenge all restaurant owners to test out plant-based alternatives on their dishes and see how to improve them for taste and health!
Every week, I add a ton of new plant-based recipes to my Pinterest feed. Please feel free to follow me and/or browse my collections of plant-based recipes, desserts, smoothies, and more! There is always fresh content and never any shortage of delicious meals!
• Browse the vegan recipe collection on Pinterest here (https://www.pinterest.com/msdanicadelamora/vegan-recipes)
• Browse the vegan dessert collection on Pinterest here (https://www.pinterest.com/msdanicadelamora/vegan-desserts)
• Follow me on Pinterest: @MsDanicaDeLaMora (or click here)
• To see more posts on plant-based nutrition, click here (https://www.danicadelamora.com/category/nutrition)
Every change may be small, but the smallest of change is still significant!
Danica De La Mora