Eating out: a vegetarian’s dilemma
How easy is to find vegetarian food on restaurant menus? That depends on where you are and what kind of vegetarian you are – and it helps to be in love with quiche, risotto or pasta with tomato sauce, the standard veggie options in many places. If you eat eggs and dairy products, the choices are wider, but for vegans who avoids both, along with meat, poultry and fish, it’s trickier – unless you’re in a big US city. On a trip to Chicago, Ondine Sherman, managing director of the animal protection organisation Voiceless, found so many vegan friendly restaurants she was spoilt for choice.
But while Australian restaurants increasingly offer a vegetarian option and are happy to ‘vegetarianise’ dishes by removing ingredients like prosciutto, many meatless offerings rely heavily on cheese, she says – and the term ‘vegan’ can leave the wait staff scratching their heads.
“I often have to explain what it means, but hopefully this will change as more people ask for meals free from animal products,” says Sherman whose menu wish list includes more dishes based on legumes rather than cheese.
Still, ordering an all-plant brekkie in Sydney is getting easier – along with the usual eggy breakfasts, more menus now include toast with avocado, mushrooms and spinach.
Japanese food also has good options for vegetarians, including vegans, says Sherman whose favourites include agedashi tofu, glazed eggplant with miso sauce – called nasu dengaku – as well as edamame (green soy beans) and miso soup.
“Thai restaurants can be difficult for vegans because of fish sauce but they do offer many great tofu dishes. Indian food is ideal for vegetarians and very healthy with a variety of protein-rich lentils and beans,” she says.
Not that Voiceless is prescriptive when it comes to what people should or shouldn’t eat, stresses Sherman who believes that a ‘purist’ approach to eating isn’t helpful to the animal protection movement.
“Although most Australians might want to eat ethically, they’re not prepared to become 100 per cent vegan all the time – but significantly reducing animal products and eating only free-range will make an enormous difference to animal suffering,” she says.
But while she thinks Australia has a great food culture and has become friendlier to the idea of ethical eating over the last five years, we’re not ahead of the pack when it comes to vegetarian or vegan food – at least not compared to the US and UK.
“I think that MasterChef and other cooking shows that set food fashion really need to step up to the plate – excuse the pun – and help educate the public,” she says.
Meanwhile in Melbourne, things have improved since animal advocate Glenys Oogjes, gave up eating animal foods more than 30 years ago. Back then, eating out and being vegan often meant one option: a veggie stack.
“It’s getting much better. With South East Asian and Indian food, vegetarian dishes are just a normal part of the cuisine – the preponderance of meat on some restaurant menus is often more a concession to western tastes,” says Oogjes, executive director of Animals Australia, the organisation which revealed mistreatment of animals in Indonesian abattoirs.
“I can also be reasonably confident that if I go to a Middle Eastern or a Mexican restaurant, there’ll be something I can eat –although I’d be less confident in a French restaurant. There are more vegetarian or vegan restaurants around too and they’re not just catering to vegetarians either – it’s becoming more the case that not everyone wants to eat meat all the time.”
Looking for menus that embrace more plant based dishes? The Animals Australia website has a guide to eating out with tips for finding veggie options, as well as listings of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in cities around Australia.
Incidentally, for vegetarians who eat cheese, Parmesan can be a pitfall as most Parmesan cheeses are made with rennet derived from enzymes from an animal’s stomach – generally from . milk fed calves. However Chew on This has tracked down one brand, Pantaluca, which is made from non-animal rennet. If you prefer cheese made without animal rennet, check the label or see this guide from the Victorian Vegetarian Network.
Do you look for vegetarian options on restaurant menus?