LoveToKnow recently sat down with the founder of Vegan Eating Out who prefers to go by his first name, Ryan. He believes more people need to see that being vegan doesn't have to be difficult. He started his website to make it easier for vegans to overcome the obstacle of choosing where to eat and what to have when going out. Vegan Eating Out lists vegan menu options at popular restaurants and fast food chains.
Why did you make the transition to Vegan?
I decided to go Vegan three years ago after being a vegetarian for ten years. Around that time I became more interested in animal welfare which is why I had become vegetarian in the first place. I watched videos online and came to the conclusion that I couldn't willingly support the dairy industry or any products that included animal ingredients.
Do you find it makes a dining out experience easier if you call ahead?
It can certainly save time if you don't know which of their offerings fit your diet. Often, you need to speak to a manager in person before getting an answer and sometimes even the manager can't help you. It's easier to find out on the phone and choose where you'll dine before you leave. Alternatively, the internet is becoming a great resource for ingredient and allergen information and more and more companies are offering both on their websites.
Are there any major chain restaurants that cater to the Vegan Lifestyle?
While many of the big names don't explicitly have vegan menu options, most of them have something that can be ordered (not just salad). Chipotle Mexican Grill and Taco Bueno have customizable burritos, P.F. Chang's has many Asian vegetable and faux meat dishes, Panera Bread offers soups and sandwiches, and Little Caesar's and Pizza Hut can make a cheeseless pizza if you order ahead. Au Bon Pain, California Pizza Kitchen and Fresh Choice also have a large variety of vegan items. As more demand comes in from consumers more choices become available such as the Streamliner burger at Johnny Rockets. Many more places have a handful of vegan options, and that's why I started my site to show that it's possible to still go out to eat as a vegan and have choices. Alternatively there are also 100 percent vegan restaurants and fast food establishments such as Foodswings in NYC and Veggie Bite in Chicago.
Do you think it's easier to go from a SAD diet to Vegan or Transition SAD, Vegetarian, Vegan?
For some it may be easier to cut everything out at once while others may have to set goals and eliminate one food at a time. It's also important to realize that you may slip now and then but as long as you keep on track you'll find it easier as time goes on. The key is to change your diet for reasons you strongly believe in whether that be losing weight or animal welfare. If you're invested in your choice, you will be more likely to stick to it. Don't be discouraged by others' harsh comments about your choice - often they don't understand your reasons and may never understand, but you are not alone. There are a large number of groups online where you can find support.
Most people have an easier time giving up meat than dairy, especially cheese. Could you give some substitutes that help get over this hump?
The first thing I recommend is becoming more aware of how often you consume dairy and to educate yourself about the effects of dairy on the body. Keeping in mind how dairy products affect your health may help to steer you away from cheese. I'd also recommend finding good recipes to calm your cravings. There are many vegan recipe books in the stores and plenty of free resources online. If you feel you must have cheese there are a few vegan cheese products in stores (watch out for Casein and Rennet - milk derived enzyme) which may not taste exactly like the real thing but when mixed with other ingredients are just as good and as demand rises are improving in quality. There are also recipes using nutritional yeast flakes (which can be found in vitamin stores) which unlike regular yeast have a nutty, cheesy taste. When they are cooked into a recipe some people can't tell the difference between them and real cheese.
Do you find that more people adopt a vegan lifestyle for ethical reasons or health reasons?
I think traditionally people became vegan because of ethical reasons. It comes as quite an emotional shock for most people when they see the truth of what is happening to the animals that become their breakfast, lunch and dinner and the easiest way to do something is to stop funding the companies that perform such atrocities. As more people become conscious of obesity rates, cholesterol levels and other health effects of eating animal products, I think this is driving many to try veganism as well. In order to stick to a vegan diet, I find it best to educate yourself about both sides of the diet and be able to talk about it with friends.
Can Vegan indicate a belief system as well as a diet? Such as believing a vegan doesn't wear leather, silk, or use some traditional beauty products. By these standards can someone who doesn't EAT any animal products but still wears leather shoes be considered Vegan?
Most people won't consider you a vegan if you support animal testing or animal byproducts, however changing your diet is a very important step towards strict veganism and you shouldn't let these people discourage you. By pure dietary definitions a vegan is someone who doesn't eat animal products. If you choose to eliminate supporting companies that are cruel to animals, it is a great boost to your personal satisfaction and may help integrate you into the general vegan community and consequently make sticking to your diet easier.