Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Salad and French Fries

You're at a restaurant with friends. Everyone is deciding whether to order the salmon or the cheeseburger or the chicken caesar... and you begin to panic that you're not going to get anything to eat until you go home. You know there's a granola bar in your bag, but you can't figure out how to smuggle it discreetly to your mouth. Everything, everything, everything on the menu has meat in it - even the salads, which just seems wrong, doesn't it?

We gotta deal with it. It's kind of a vegan nightmare, and it happens all the time. But you can get through this gracefully if you're willing to be open minded and not too bunched up about your "vegan purity."

Let's remember that we're vegan because we care. About animals, ourselves, and the planet. However, we should never expect saintly perfection from ourselves or others. Working with what we've got, the best way to be a good, compassionate vegan ambassador, while not being a big fat jerk, is to be creative, and to make the most of every dining situation.

It's good to have a fallback meal you can depend on just about anyplace. For me, when all else fails, it's salad and French fries to the rescue. You can get this satisfying combo just about anywhere. Instead of sending your server to the kitchen with a list of questions for the busy chef, simply ask that the chicken and the cheese be left off your salad, and the creamy-ranchy-whatever dressing be replaced with a nice vinaigrette. Sub ketchup and mustard (my fave), or bar-b-que sauce for mayo based dipping sauces for your fries, and you have a really good meal with minimal fuss.

I know this, because I did it about 17 times last week while staying in a lovely resort in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. Family and friends had gathered from near and far to celebrate the wedding of my daughter and her awesome now-husband. The place was gorgeous, and the restaurants had a nice selection - for everyone but Rick and me. The bride and her gracious new mother-in-law took care to see that Rick and I had beautiful vegan meals at the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception. Other than that, we ate salad and fries pretty much the whole time. It was fine. No problem. We were in a fancy resort with lovely people and incredible views. There was really nothing to complain about. And besides, we had wine!

I know what some of you are going to ask. Did they have a separate fryer for the fries? I'm pretty sure they didn't! And you know what? We didn't ask or care. While I used to boycott fries that were cooked in the same oil as meat, I now have a different point of view on this.

Sure, there might be molecules of fish essence in the oil, and therefore in your potatoes. But honestly, it's not any worse than breathing in that burger smell from your neighbor's bar-b-que. I can't prove it, but I'm sticking to my story. In my hasty research, I found a snipet from the book, I Can't Get Sick by Angelica Joy, which supports my theory that smelling something is in some ways the same as eating it. It makes sense to me that we absorb molecules from the things we smell. If there's second hand smoke, why not second hand food?

My point is not to have you all grossed out and wearing a gas mask when you go out to eat. What I'm saying is, we live in the world, not in a pristine vegan bubble. If you want to glitch out on the fries being cooked in the same oil as the fish, I will gently suggest that you get over yourself. Really.

When we order fries that are cooked in the same oil as the chicken, it's not ideal, but let's go back to the biggest reason for being vegan - compassion for our animal buddies. Whenever we buy something, we're saying, "make more of this." But ordering, eating, and paying for potatoes cooked in popcorn-shrimp-tainted oil is not saying, "make more popcorn shrimp." It's saying, "make more potatoes." Sometimes we just have to forget about our little personal vegan purity issues.

I do have backup on this. Check out this short video from the Vegan Bros (serious potty mouth warning), in which they quote from a great article by Farm Sanctuary's Bruce Friedrich. To paraphrase, our often-perceived-as-obnoxious pursuit of personal purity can actually be more harmful to animals than if we ate a tiny amount of an animal product in something like a veggie burger with egg in it, or fries cooked in meat-shared oil.

When we make a big fat hairy deal over every little ingredient and cooking process, our servers, kitchen staff, and fellow diners see veganism as prissy and difficult, which often closes their minds to the possibility of trying it out for themselves. We do a much better job of helping animals if we make veganism look fun and delicious and easy, so other people consider going vegan because of our shining example.

I have a whole chapter planned on this for my new book (Yes!), because I think it's really worth discussing. For now, if you find yourself in potentially hostile restaurant territory, order a salad the way you like it. Don't be a stingy jerk and ask for a discount because you're not having the chicken on top. And order the fries without asking about a "dedicated fryer."

You'll be doing the best you can do, you'll get to eat (yay!), and you'll be more likely to have the people around you ask you thoughtful questions about your food choices. Really darlings, that's more than good enough.


Ellen OB said...

Great musings, Kim. Sent me right to the 'Net to figure out just what was in that smell we associate with meat cooking. I ran across this article and thought I'd send it your way! Keep on writing!!! P.S.- The San Juans are miraculous! http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/06/21/482322571/silicon-valley-s-bloody-plant-burger-smells-tastes-and-sizzles-like-meat

Tanya said...

Thank you for saying this. It can be so frustrating to eat at sometimes that sometimes it's easier to stay home. This isn't always an option tho, right? I really liked the way you frame the "separate fryer" issue. Makes perfect sense! It's our intentions and how we come across to others while doing the best we can!