Why does everything have milk in it? What the heck is casein? How do I know what natural flavorings are? I can’t get pizza. They all have cheese on them. Are you like how I was and panicked at even the thought of going out to eat? Even if you wanted to eat out by yourself? I am nearing three years as a vegan and the one thing I think every vegan will say is, “I wish I had gone vegan sooner.” Pizza is one of my favorite things to eat. As a vegan I can even get a fabulous meal at places we would think of as being pure evil and even the air would be non-vegan. There are few tricks I learned along the way, some great and some good. Feel free to adapt any of my tricks so they fit for your favorite restaurants and cooking habits.
It was March 2015 when I went vegan. One of my absolute favorite things to do is to go downtown on warm summer nights and listen and dance to great free music in Old Town Square, Fort Collins. If you ever visit it is a must do activity. We have some great non-profits and businesses that allow this to happen two to three times a week all summer long. My first spring of being vegan I remember having been at one of these concerts and wanting to get food so I could stay out late and soak in all the great tunes. I had heard that if you were vegan the Happy Cow app is must have and tells you all the great places to get vegan food. Armed with this great app I went searching for food. I vividly remember standing on a corner examining the app and having a panic attack because it seemed there were no places that were vegan friendly. Unknowingly, the app is a guide and doesn’t have all the answers or know the tricks when a restaurant isn’t specifically an all vegan eatery. So, in that panic I blew my stack and went home. In hindsight, Happy Cow is great at helping you avoid steak and burger joints and sending you to the places that may have heard the word vegan a few times. You actually have to do the hard part and ask questions. Trick here is to ask all your vegan friends what the secret tricks are or unlisted vegan items are at their favorite vegan friendly restaurants. That is if your town doesn’t have quality vegan restaurants or you don’t want to eat out at the one vegan restaurant every time you go out.
So, I went home defeated and thought vegans just don’t eat out and spend all their time reading labels at the grocery store. Luckily, I asked the right friend how to navigate product labels and can be in and out of a grocery story as fast as anyone. The secret I was told makes it super easy. You don’t have to know what every ingredient is or have a nutrition degree. The ingredient I focus on is, usually is gummy candies, carrageenan the vegan substitute for gelatin. My friend told me to skip the ingredient list and go straight to the allergen list just below that. It will say things like wheat, soy, milk, eggs, peanuts, etc., depending on the product. Milk and eggs are usually the only non-vegan allergens you will see. The big one it will not say is honey. It’s easy to quickly scan the ingredient list for honey. With no crazy big words for the different animal proteins or secretions you know within a few seconds whether a item is vegan. My good friend who is 11 years old can even do it. He loves to beg me for candy and knows I will only buy vegan candy. Our vice is Twizzlers.
As a vegan I noticed I used a few items more than a handful times a week. For those items I found a restaurant supply store and compared prices. I only have to go here less than once a year. It’s well worth it when I buy beans and rice in 50-pound bags cheaper than the grocery stores sell 10 pounds. Now in restaurants be willing to ask for items to be altered. Usually it is just removing the cheese. I avoid buffet style places, cross contamination is frequent and vegan sauces are never labels, unless they also have a menu or are known for being vegan. At pizza places, I love PizzaRev and Mod Pizza, both large chains, the secret is asking questions, especially for vegan cheese. In my town there is also an amazing American style soft taco and burrito joint that has two out of 10-plus flavors that are vegan. But, they label them very clearly, know what vegan means, and taste so amazing if that was the only place I could eat I would never starve. What is your local go to that is known by all the vegans as amazing?
Now adventure out of your comfort zone next time you eat out. Choose that restaurant you pass daily and has the great name that makes it sound like it could have amazing food. Be prepared to take a few extra moments and ask a few for vegan cheese or the cheese to be removed and if the veggie burrito is clear of dairy and you will have a great meal. Eating out will be even better than before you went vegan because you also removed the cruelty.
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*The picture is my favorites at Authentic American Tacos or DGT. It was previously named Dam Good Tacos till they go sued by Torchy Tacos for issues with the name. Still the same great taste. On the left is two Earth, Wild, and Fire tacos and on the right is the Taco Plate with two Thai Tofu tacos and the included beans and rice.