Eating Out and Vegan: Incompatible?

image credit: animalsuffering.com

New York City: a going out paradise with lots of student discounts on food, entertainment, books and clothing. If you wish, you can try different cuisine every day. There is such a great variety of cultures here: Italian, Thai, Cuban, Dominican, Moroccan and what not. However, where do you go if you are strictly vegan?

Always being a passionate carnivore, I have never faced this problem. However, I suddenly decided to take on a challenge: Christian Orthodox religious fasting that I was always supposed to do, but never cared to limit my diet to vegan only. Eating is just one part of the fasting, but it seemed overwhelming to cut back on milk products especially, as I love them so much.

But the time came, and I felt like doing it for the first time in March of 2009. I enjoyed it a lot, as fasting made me feel healthy and energetic, and my favorite part was that I had to cook for myself all the time because I didn’t trust food from outside (who knows if it’s really vegan).

There came the problem: I had a hard time going out with my friends and my boyfriend. I have experience working in restaurants, and I didn’t want to be a pain in the neck for the waiters asking, “Is there cheese in my spaghetti?” Once my boyfriend persuaded me to eat at a small Chinese-Latin (what a combination) restaurant, and I ordered a plate that was specified on the menu as “rice, lettuce, tomato and fried plantains.” When I actually got my food, there were pieces of pork and shrimps in it (I never eat either of them even when I’m not fasting), and I felt bad. When I complained, the waiter replied that the dish comes with it, took it back and brought it within 2-3 minutes, which made me come to the conclusion that the kitchen staff merely took out the meat and send the plate to me (did they use gloves, at least?). I didn’t eat anything there but plain white rice that came with my boyfriend’s dish, and I never went out while fasting again.

The whole experience was embarrassing. There are a lot of products that I refuse to eat because I don’t like them, for instance, seafood and yellow cheeses (sounds crazy, right?), but I’m not used to being extremely picky while ordering a meal at a restaurant. There always happen to be a steak with mashed potatoes on the menu for me. I rarely ask for more. But with the fasting in mind, this choice is automatically excluded. I was at a loss about where to go and I felt terrible for the people who have to (due to allergies or something else) or choose to eat vegan all the time.

The most difficult thing was to get around my sweet tooth, as most pastries contain eggs and dairy. I would wander around my college cafeteria studying the labels and always finding “eggs” there. The good thing was that I learned how to make pancakes from just flour, yeast, water and vegetable oil. They were delicious, even though people who tried them said they were “too healthy.” The bad thing was I didn’t have time to make them often.

But as the fasting continued, I started hearing about different vegan places in the city, and I talked to a couple of people who gave me useful advices on where to find those products I could eat. I realized that it was so difficult because it was my first time and I had no clue about vegan culture in the city. Now I feel more confident about going out and I learned to like salads a lot more than during my first fasting session, and I found out that a lot of vegan places also offer student savings menus or give discounts to those in college.

There I was yesterday, my Easter fasting 2011 day one, sitting at Whole Foods cafeteria drinking a fresh squeezed orange juice and munching on vegan cookies (no eggs and no dairy, hurray!), feeling happy and wholesome. Therefore, if you are a vegan like me (whether temporarily or permanently), life in the city is a little bit more difficult for you (if do your research, though, it will become easier), but not impossible.

Ekaterina Lalo

For more about my experience with Christian Orthodox fasting, read http://hubpages.com/hub/Healthy-Body-Healthy-Mind

Visit my blog at http://nycvalues.blogspot.com.

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