Saturday, September 21, 2013

Enjoying the Dining Out Experience on a Plant Based Diet: It's Tough

It was the most sorry plate of pasta I'd ever seen.

The menu at the fine Italian Cucina read, "Penne Mediterranean: Spinach, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, olive oil and feta cheese, tossed with barilla plus multi grain pasta. $12.49"

As I looked down at my pitiful plate, I counted. Five wilted pieces of spinach were hastily tossed into a bed of oil with noodles floating in it. Fifty noodles. Ten pine nuts. Four sun dried tomatoes. No cheese. $12.49.

I looked at my husband and his salad. "You want some?" He asked.

Quite stricken with shock, I nodded my head. We shared his salad, and then each ate half the pasta. As many times as we saw the waitress, we requested more "complimentary" bread.

It is rare that I will order pasta at a restaurant. Everyone knows you can purchase a one pound box of pasta for pennies and prepare it at home in minutes. However, it was one of only three options to choose from on the menu. My husband's salad and my pasta order made up two of those three choices.

The plate of pasta was so poor, however, that I actually started to wonder if, because my husband had mentioned to the waitress that we wanted the vegetarian options, the chef had decided to plot against us and punish us by serving such a wimpy plate of food. I actually began to wonder what the plate would look like if we hadn't mentioned our dietary preferences at all. Would it be the same or would I have been alloted ten pieces of spinach? How could any "fine" restaurant ever feel good about serving this plate of food to any of their dining guests? And for $12.49?

"You didn't get enough, did you." He stated.

"Neither did you." I replied.

Four days previous I had made Angela Liddon's Thick and Chunky Tomato Sauce, tossed in a large vat of brown rice pasta, served with baked acorn squash, and a large loaf of whole wheat zucchini herb bread for our family of five. The zucchini herb bread resembled the tasty complimentary bread at the fine Cucina, but the pasta and squash had been far superior in quantity and quality. I had left that meal full and happy.

In other circumstances I have called out the restaurant's attention to their poor food, and requested that they fix it. But my husband had purchased this meal and gone to great effort to take me out on a nice date. Sometimes requesting recompense is painful. And in this situation, too painful.

If I, as a normal human being with a normal appetite (albeit eight months pregnant, so maybe not so average appetite) had been introduced to the "vegan" lifestyle by the Italian meal served at last night's restaurant, I would have rightly refused to maintain such a lifestyle.

I left that restaurant with my husband, hungry, and inwardly shaking my head. It's tough. If I was too busy to cook due to my life's circumstances (if I had to work full time, etc) and had to rely on the business world to feed me a plant based diet, I would never make it. Most restaurants simply don't know how to do vegan, let alone plant based whole foods. But I told myself, "I'm not hungry. I am going to be just fine."

We window shopped, and walked in and out of the local clothing venues around the area. Very soon, however, I realized I wanted dessert. Trader Joe's was conveniently located nearby, and we made our way through the store searching for a treat. We purchased dark chocolate-covered almonds and vegan trail mix cookies. We also bought some Pure bars and Lara Bars. After devouring the food bars, and heading home for the evening, I could not deny it any longer. I was starving. I had wanted dessert for the first time in a while because I was so hungry, but didn't realize it until after chowing down two trail mix cookies, and a bunch of chocolate-covered almonds.

I have been asked before, from someone unfamiliar with our dietary preferences, "How do you get full?" A bit taken aback, and not understanding the basis of their question initially, I had to think about it from their perspective. If you try to get food out in the world that does not contain animal products, you may only receive the plateful of loaded empty calories that I had received last night. And, after eating it all, simply left with an empty stomach loaded with calories.


  1. Eating out can be the worst. I've found Asian restaurants usually are the most friendly, & places like Chili's the worst!

    We eat out at PF Changs quite a bit, since both Joseph & I can get exactly what we want & they are so accommodating.

    I've had my fair share of experiences like these & think, hey buddy, would YOU eat this? If you wouldn't eat it, why do you think I would? It's beyond me why they think vegan=lame & tasteless (& usually swimming in oil). You're right, we wouldn't survive if we had to only eat restaurant food!

  2. "If I was too busy to cook due to my life's circumstances (if I had to work full time, etc) and had to rely on the business world to feed me a plant based diet, I would never make it. Most restaurants simply don't know how to do vegan, let alone plant based whole foods."

    Ashlee, I totally agree with you here! One reason why your blog is so amazing, you can teach people how to make food that is far better in nutrition and taste than any restaurant. I have been very frustrated with the way that restaurants price their food, If I get vegetarian it used to be far cheaper but now the items (identical item-- one vegan, one containing animal products) usually cost about the same and then I end up paying MORE because I ask them to add more veggies or avacado to make a complete meal. It's really frustrating! Nice to see you blogging again! :)

  3. Hey Ashlee! I've just been thinking about you lately and was wondering how you have been doing with the new baby and everything. If you ever need a pen pal buddy, my email is katiebarn(at)gmail(dot)com. I hope everything is going well!

    1. Hi Katie! My baby is doing great, I absolutely love him. I miss you and Alisa and I REALLY need to start blogging again. Hopefully soon! I am just amazed at how much four little people require of a Mommy. How are you? How are you doing?