When Non-Vegan Foods Attack


Two weeks ago, I wrote a post on how to call restaurants ahead of time and politely request a vegan meal. I loved the conversation that followed, in part because it got me thinking about how we feel when we eat things we didn’t intend to. Jen, for example, wrote in with a story of how, during her vegan days, she was served mashed potatoes that had milk in them, even though she’d called the chef ahead of time and been explicit about the dairy restriction. She felt a bit distraught:

My dad tried to console me by saying that maybe the chef used soy or almond milk…but obviously I didn’t believe that. I highly doubt soy or almond milk had any place in that kitchen. I was devastated, because I had SO recently become a vegan, and felt like a failure for making such a rookie mistake by not double-checking.

Jen, who is a very smart and witty reader, is of course speaking with a humorous twinkle when she talks about “rookie mistakes” or “failure.” But I do get plenty of comments from readers who have gotten non-vegan foods accidentally and truly do feel like “failures,” even if they didn’t intend to consume any animal food. These are usually new vegans, who are very determined to stay the course, and the idea of having deviated from a vegan diet feels disappointing and like a setback. Today, I want to dispel the idea that vegans should feel guilty when they accidentally eat non-vegan food, both because it’s obvious that mistakes made in a restaurant kitchen are not a diner’s fault, but also (and more importantly) because I think that this kind of guilt may miss the point of trying to eat a vegan diet.

Let me ‘splain: in a previous post, my reader and friend Sayward pointed out that the definition of the word “vegan,” at least as it was coined by the founder of the Vegan Society, is thus:

“’veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose . . .”

Possible and practical—think about those words. It is possible for me to to eschew animal foods, animal materials in clothing, and products that are manufactured with animal testing in my everyday life. It is also possible for me to sit out of dissections in school, even if there are uncomfortable exchanges with professors as a result. But there are also situations in which veganism is impractical to a prohibitive degree: to use another example from Sayward, let’s imagine if all vegans refused ever to ride in cars because of animal byproducts in tires. That would be not only impractical, but nearly impossible in the world in which we live. It might also prohibit us from doing things that help us to advocate veganism: it might prevent a PETA staffer from getting to work, or someone who wants to work at a farm sanctuary an hour away from participating, or a vegan doctor from seeing patients, or a vegan chef and his or her kitchen staff from serving vegan food that helps to convert many eaters. So in this instance, even if we object to tire production and fight for it to change, we give ourselves leeway to travel by car.

As vegans, we do everything we can to object and diminish cruelty to and exploitation of animals. But we also have to remember that we are human beings with practical limitations: we’ll do everything we can, but we won’t ask ourselves to do the utterly impossible.

So how does this relate to the restaurant situation? Well, there’s nothing practical or possible about being able to read a chef’s mind, or being able to see through the kitchen wall. If you asked for your meal to be vegan, and you specified what “vegan” means, and you took every pain you could to ensure a vegan plate, and you still got animal foods in your dinner, it’s hardly your fault. This has happened to all of us: just last summer at the HLS, I ate oats that had butter and dairy in them. I had asked servers twice if there was any milk or dairy or cream in the oats, and been told no, but the servers were misinformed. And by the time I found out, breakfast had been served.

Was I annoyed? Sure. Would I have stopped eating right away if I’d found out in the middle of the meal? Yup. But did I think this was a big deal? Nope. I’d done due diligence by inquiring about the food, and I knew that the whole thing was just an honest misunderstanding. If I were to fall apart every time this happened, I’d become awfully paranoid, and for no good reason: my goal as a vegan is to do everything in my power to avoid eating animal foods. When things happen without my knowledge or intention, I simply move on.

Veganism is not an exercise in self-purification. It is not a test of personal virtue. It is not a contest over who can eliminate the most animal foods the quickest. It’s not a way to rank your own success or failure as an eater. It’s not a badge of pride or specialness or superiority. In fact, it’s not really about you: it’s about doing what you can to protect and respect animal life with your food choices. In the scenarios when something is out of your control—like being served food that is labeled vegan, but really isn’t—try to relax, and cut yourself some slack. You did the best you could. And the nice thing is that you’ll have many more meals in which to be conscious of animal life.

Have a sense of perspective. One of my favorite parts of my own vegan transition was realizing that I was actually empowered to do something good for myself, for animals, and for the planet three times every single day for the rest of my life. How exciting! Remembering that veganism is something I’m committed to in a long term way makes it easy for me not to sweat the accidents and miscommunications that are bound to happen once in a while. They’re mere specks in a much bigger picture. And even though my actions matter profoundly, it’s my intentions that matter most of all: do I intend to eat animal foods? Do I intend to buy cosmetics that are tested on animals? No. I may be misinformed sometimes, and eat or purchase non-vegan things as a result, but it’s never my intention for that to happen. Wasting time with guilt trips in these instances doesn’t help me, and it doesn’t help animals.

Hope this is an interesting offshoot of our previous conversation. I’d love to hear some feedback: vegan readers, have you ever eaten or bought non-vegan stuff by accident? I’m sure you have—we all have! How did you feel? And non-vegan readers, can you think of parallel scenarios where you regretted—perhaps too harshly—a purchase or food consumption that wasn’t really your fault?


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  1. Recently I ate at a Chinese restaurant with my family. I’ve been vegan for over a year now. There were vegetarian options labelled on the menu, so I ordered those ones because I know that they’re safe to eat. However my mom ordered a dish, sticky rice stuffed into a bun, which did not have a vegetarian symbol next to it. She told me to try it because she thought it was meatless, even though I was hesitatant due to no vegetarian label. Reluctantly, I scraped out the rice filling from inside and took a tiny nibble. It was extremely salty and did not taste right, so I immediately spat it out. That’s when my brother pointed out that there was ground meat mixed into the rice. Luckily I hadn’t swallowed any, but I rinsed my mouth with water. I felt so disgusted with myself for even trying the dish.

    Honestly, I only did it because my mom kept saying that it was safe to eat, so I didn’t want the rest of the table to think I was being picky. I knew better than to try unfamiliar foods at a non-vegan restaurant, but I may have let the pressure get into me. I still feel so bad about it but reading this post helps a lot. I know that accidentally eating this dish was never my intentions, and that moving on, I will never let others decide what is suitable vegan food or not. I try to become a more knowledgeable person each day through these unpleasant experiences

  2. Thanks, your post has made me feel better. After a long day trip and a lot of driving, and over eight hours without food. me and my friend stopped to grab food. I had previously inquired and looked up that the fries were vegan and gluten free. After eating some and felling sick I re-looked it up. One of there sights said it was vegan and gluten friendly on my phone while another said it wasn’t. I feel like this might be considered common knowledge but I don’t really eat out much and eat fast food/junk less.

  3. I’ve been vegan for about three months and vegetarian for around a year and a half. The worst part for me isn’t restaurants, but going to someone’s house. I’m a teen, and normally my friends are totally cool with it but the parents always ask the annoying vegan questions: “what do you eat? How do you get protein” etc. Just today I slept over at a friends house. She said I could eat bananas and toast and it would be totally cool since her mom was making waffles. In the morning, her mom was making waffles and told me she would make me one as well. I tried to explain that I was allergic to milk and would be totally happy with a banana or two but she insisted saying she would use coconut oil and coconut milk. Once she set the waffles down, I smelled it and immediately knew she had used eggs. I felt so bad and I just ate it anyways because she had already gone to all the trouble of making me one without milk. The whole day I felt like I betrayed myself.

  4. Thank you! this post made me feel kinda better now. ive been so proud of myself for going through veganuary yet this same evening i went to dunkin donuts just to found out that the caramel coffee flavour has milk in it (though i read online it doesn’t, and i have asked the workers to double check it for me whenever i ordered it.) nonetheless it makes me want to be an even better and more dedicated vegan ☺️

  5. Found your blog as I ‘accidentally’ consumed gelato consist of dairy milk & I am so mad at myself for not realising it sooner! I read it from a blogger this store offers vegan gelato and I was so excited to check it out. There was no vegan options listed so I checked with the girls for vegan options and she told me ALL were vegan. I was happy but hesitated at the same time.. Hence I checked with her again and she confirmed they were vegan. Thus I ordered for 2 flavors and I’d tell they were made of dairy milk directly so I threw them away! But I’m still angry and mad at myself, wasn’t it obvious enough non of the flavors were listed as vegan?! I hate tat girl for lying too!

  6. Oh god thank you for this. This was very comforting to read. Since i have just recetnyl come back from a restuarant. And i asked the lady if tte food she served had any animal product and she said no. I guess i was too gulible or naive because i checked for the recipe inline and it had some dairy product unfortunately. Anyway thank you for this. Definteyl wont be making the same mistake again. I think it’s just best to avoid foods that you think may contain animal products just in case especially when it doesnt say the recipe for that specific food. There was
    carrabian fried dumpling with my order.. If you think it might have animal products in it, i think it’s better to be on the safe side and to just not order it, or ask them to remove that specific food from your order.

  7. I am a very recent ethical vegan convert, like not even a month into this journey. Tonight I was devastated to find out that I had consumed dairy products. I was at dinner, and I was told the dessert would be mochi. I quickly googled the ingredients in mochi; beans, sugar, cornstarch, etc. Honestly, I was so happy to find a vegan dessert. I hadn’t had any for a few weeks. After eating my green tea mochi, my friend asked how it could be vegan if there was ice cream in it. Ice cream? All of the recipes said it was a bean paste mixed with sugar and water. I had consulted multiple sites. Then I searched green tea mochi and found that yes, there are dairy products in that particular type of mochi. When I got home, I cried and felt (and am still feeling) so guilty. I had tried, really tried, and still made a mistake. And I felt awful. But this post has helped. I don’t plan on giving up on veganism anytime soon. I have to start viewing these accidental mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures.

  8. Just to add to what I already said, once I realized my mistake I certainly didn’t have a thought process like “ok it was an honest mistake, so, bonus, I get to eat this animal product guilt free”. I was quite torn about what to do. Especially because it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault in any way, it was mine, and there was a big lineup behind me. For anyone reading this I’m wondering what you’d do in this situation?

  9. I’d come across this blog post several months ago and was very reassured by it. I went vegan in November 2013 so it’s been 4 months or so now. At the beginning there are some growing pains for sure with accidental consumption. I ended up back at this page because of something that happened today. I was ordering a veggie sandwich from a place I go to all the time. I’ve done the due diligence to make sure the bread contains no whey and to verify the other ingredients. However, the regular version of the sandwich comes with cheese and aioli (a type of mayo made with egg) so I always just ask to have those ingredients left out (the place is even nice enough to give me “premium” red peppers instead of the cheese for no extra charge). Today for some reason I spaced out when ordering and forgot to ask for no aioli. As I saw her put it on I suddenly realized my mistake and wondered what to do. If I asked for a new sandwich that aioli would have gone to waste anyways along with the bread it was on. Luckily it was a minimal amount and so I ended up deciding to eat it, having remembered the principles outlined in this post. I still seemed to feel a little guilty because technically I knew I was eating something with egg yolk in it, but I reminded myself that if I had discarded it, that couple teaspoons of aioli was still gone from the bottle. I could barely taste it but what I did taste actually grossed me out. I am going to take this as a learning experience and make sure to be more alert when ordering in the future.

  10. Thanks for sharing-this was a thoughtful post that had me considering with the true definition of vegan is. I’m not what you would call a strict vegan, and I just recently cut out dairy-but I have been trying to avoid eggs as much as possible as well. It’s extremely difficult. I mostly miss desserts-and I know there are plenty of vegan options that you can bake, but I don’t have the time to bake-and there are no vegan bakeries nearby-well, I have one option that’s 20 min. away from me. Especially when you’re socializing with friends or family, and they have conventional desserts… It’s taken a lot of self-restraint.

    Anyway, I wanted to share a helpful tip for vegan/aspiring vegans to make things a little easier when going out to restaurants. Whether you’re in a fast food joint (Burger King now has a veggie burger, which is vegan!) Or sitting down at a restaurant, ask them about their “dairy free options”. By law, they HAVE to either A) provide you with the dairy free menu, or B) point out which options on the menu are dairy free. This is because many people have strict dairy allergens, so they have to make that information public. If this is the first thing that you ask your server, it makes things tremendously easier-they’re not at liberty to ask whether you have a severe allergy or not, and it’s honestly none of their business. So vegans, all you have to do then is eliminate the meat and egg products on the dairy-free menu, and you’ll be golden. This can still get tricky, and you may have to ask a few follow-up questions, but it’s at least easier and ensures that you cut out all cows milk, cheese, etc.

    I’d also recommend for vegans to look at the online menu called “happy cow”-these are a list of vegan-friendly places to eat, and where I discovered that Burger King has that option. Panera also has a new green smoothie that is made entirely from banana and kale, and is quite delicious. Hope I helped!

  11. I know this post eas over a year ago, but it is just coming to me now!
    It’s my first day of my first ever trip to Japan. I’m a long time vegan and had a situation today where I ate at a restaurant I’d seen mentioned as vegan on a couple of blogs. Turns out it is almost all vegan except for the fish stock they put in some things, so probably the miso I drank.
    I’m pretty annoyed with myself for not triple confirming on Happy Cow – I’d carefully made a map of all the places but somehow had left this one off it. Also annoyed for not trying to confirm the restaurant was all vegan, I don’t speak Japanese so went with what the blogs said.
    Even after all these years of being vegan, something like this still causes great angst and guilt. Thank goodness Google delivered me to this post, a calm voice of reason and sense! Thanks.
    (Have been quietly reading your more recent posts as well, since I heard you on Our Hen House).

  12. i found this article because today for lunch, i ate a seasoned rice dish that i later found out contained milk ingredients in the seasoning 🙁 i was really beating myself up about it and felt so badly, and quite frankly, disgusted that i put a milk product into my body. this article gave me some perspective and i feel a little better 🙂 its true that with the world we live in, it will eventually happen without our knowledge or intent. now i know not to eat that rice dish again at least!!! thank you for the great article 🙂

  13. Hello! Thank you for this blog. I became vegetarian the end of January and transitioned into Vegan a couple months ago. I am so avid against eating any animal products whatsoever but have made a couple mistakes (mainly regarding gluten-free chips and bread and things like that which usually contain eggs and in the chips case honey! A few minutes ago I felt terribly bad to the point of tears because I felt like I betrayed myself by intentionally tasting my grandmothers beef broth out of curiosity as my favorite soup is Pho (vegetarian) and I was just terribly curious to see what it tasted like so I dipped my finger in just a little bit. I felt like I had sinned and was so upset I couldn’t even go into the kitchen to eat my vegetarian soup. Has this ever happened to you, Gena? I know people usually make mistakes unintentionally, but have you ever made one intentionally (I wouldn’t go as far as meat or cheese myself) but to taste something such as a jelly bean and than spit it out? I felt terrible, but I’m feeling hope again. I feel like my Veganism is spiritual, has become part of my soul, and to do such a thing after being Vegetarian for a nice amount of time, feelings horrible! I felt as if I sinned in my own humanitarian way of life. In other words. One could say my miniscule taste of broth is as bad as someone intentionally tasting something with honey in it. Therefore, even if its intentional we might of broken our current diet but immediately resorted back to it again. I believe because I feel like a Vegan at heart, I’m not going to cross off the times I ate or tasted something intentionally (only this time) as when I wasn’t vegetarian. I still have been since the last week of January! I’ve just made a few mistakes (one intentional and a couple unintentional) a long the way! I find your words encouraging and I’m going to read them once in a while, the philosophy of being Vegan. If we make mistakes, those are our own personal secrets. Its not about what anyone else thinks or doesn’t think. Its not about being shunned for making mistakes. Its not even about us! Its about being as humane as we can to all life and giving it the respect, love and compassion it deserves. Please do answer if you get this, as I would like to hear what you have to say in reply. Once again, have you ever done anything like this?

  14. Great post Gena. I read your blog religiously, but I never post comments. This post just resonated so much with me though, as I just had my first accident today; and it was really hard. I haven’t been vegan for very long (around 3 or 4 months), so more than anything I feel a lot of pressure to stick very rigidly to my eating principles so as not to become the object of ridicule or judgment. I feel like when you assert your veganism in a very public setting or way, you are expressing almost a personal “standard” (this term is not quite right…it’s a little loaded, but it’s the best I can come up with) for the food you eat or the products you buy: the way you live your life. You are letting people know that a certain ethical code drives these choices, and an accident can feel like a moment of weakness in your resolve to live up to your own ethics.

    The scenario today was just kind of stupid, and it was my own fault. I am studying abroad in France for the summer, and for dinner all the students pretty much have to eat out every day. One of the best parts of a French meal (in my opinion) is the apres-meal coffee, which usually comes with some sort of sweet, usually a cocoa-covered almond or other nut. The first time I got one with a cup of coffee, it was simply rolled in cocoa powder and truly delicious. Today, we had eaten at a cafe I hadn’t yet been to, and the almond was dipped in milk chocolate before being rolled in the cocoa powder. The package didn’t list any ingredients, so I ate it. I noticed the chocolate right away, and I could tell it wasn’t dark chocolate: I knew that it had to have milk. I told the rest of the table “I think I just ate milk,” and I felt kind of sick, but they were really supportive and told me not to sweat it. I don’t feel like a failure, but I certainly feel like a fool. I will definitely not be having any more after-coffee sweets here. I will leave the little almond wrapped and on the saucer, thanks.

    Anyway, I just wanted to share my the story of my first accident in light of a truly wonderful post, as usual. Your blog continues to inspire me to work hard to make vegan choices every day, and to be comfortable in these choices as well.
    P.S. Eating vegan in France (southwest France, mind you, not even Paris) is definitely possible! Don’t let anyone tell you different!

    • What a great comment. I’m glad you feel better, and remember scope: I know that at 3-4 months everything feels dramatic and like a big deal, but you have a lifetime to settle into your vegan lifestyle. Think about that: this one incident will mean nothing when you look back on a long, vegan life 🙂

  15. Fantastic perspective, I’m a big proponent of vegans, vegetarians and omnivores all getting along and exchanging ideas and you always share in a way that is inclusive, thanks for that.

    There are certain things that I just won’t eat, such as veal, fois grois and conventionally raised meat. Years ago when I was still vegetarian I went to a local Food & Wine Magazine event. As I approached one the restaurant stations the chef offered me a cinnamon lollipop. I don’t know what I was expecting (I missed what he was actually offering me), but I was definitely not expecting frois gras on a stick. It was so gross even before I found out what it was, I can still remember the nasty fatty taste in my mouth to this day. I never felt guilty, the mishap reaffirmed my no-frois gras policy.

  16. Thankyou so much for writing this.
    It was as if a lovely and kind person sat me down and spoke directly to me!
    As a new vegan (2 months, going strong!) if I ever make an innocent mistake I beat myself up about it for days. As a recovered ED lass, guilt and food go hand in hand for me, and it is ever so easy for me to feel horrible, and like a failure for these innocent mistakes.
    WHat you said about intention vs. action was really powerful, and I’m really grateful you wrote this all.
    Also, not to be a massive dork (but I totally am) I love your blog 🙂

  17. Great post!
    As a nutritional adviser, these feelings come up often with vegan eating and non vegan eating. Slipping up and eating that piece of chocolate cake or eating a dish that may contain dairy on an animal product. I too am vegan. However, it does not rule my entire life. Yes, I make a conscious effort to avoid animal products. But if I specifically state that I do not want butter or cheese in a meal and it was still added, I do my best to adjust. Do I feel bad? Sure. However, I will still enjoy my meal and will not waste it as I would feel worse for throwing food out.
    However, I would not feel comfortable eating meat and I will put my foot down on this.
    Vegan is a label that should not define someone. Being vegan is a kind way to live and eat. Yet we still must be comfortable with our choices and understand we will all make mistakes.

  18. Hey, its your choice to be vegan. A very honourable choice. However, stating that you slipped up on chicken, eggs or butter doesn’t make you vegan, nor’does it support the very cause….animals.

  19. I once bought a cereal that was vegan in the past but had since added vitamin D3. I gave the rest to an omni family member when I found out, but still couldn’t help feeling a bit silly for not double-checking the label!

    The vegan vs. non-vegan thing at restaurants is a bigger issue for me because of my severe lactose intolerance. If someone in the kitchen even accidentally stirs my food with something that’s come in contact with dairy, I’ll be sick. I try to be very specific in that regard when ordering and have rarely encountered problems. People sadly do seem less inclined to be helpful when a request is related to a dietary choice rather than a health issue.

  20. Very good post. I love that you included the definition as the word “practical” is so important. What worries me when restaurants fudge it is that when people are allergic these mistakes are unacceptable. No free meal or apology is going to help if someones throat closes up.

  21. I can relate to the problem you had at the restaurant. When I lived down south; their culture dictates that they put pork in everything they eat. I would specifically ask about this (for example rice and beans) but I would always get pork in it. Its even worst in New Orleans. After a while you just have to learn what to expect and make your plans accordingly.

  22. I could not have said it better myself; this post was spot on. I have been fed non-vegan food before, twice actually. First, was a soup that had chicken broth despite me asking repeatedly if the broth was meat based. And the other time, while in Greece visiting my family, their friends made “vegan” spanakopita for me. I asked three times if there were any eggs, milk, or butter, and they insisted that their yaiyai didn’t include them in the dish. However, later, when said yaiyai showed up, I asked her and there was indeed eggs and butter. I was more upset, emotionally, with the soup because it was chicken. An animal had to actually die for me to eat that and it didn’t really sit well with my conscious; I even cried. I understand this is an overreaction, but I couldn’t help myself at the time. The second time, it was more of a physical reaction. I am allergic to dairy so about an hour after eating and all through the rest of that night, I was physically ill. Assuming I asked prior, if I were to be fed something with eggs, it would suck, but I’d accept that it wasn’t my fault. If I were to be fed something with dairy, well, I’d be sick, literally. If I were to be fed something with meat or fish in it, honestly, I’d be upset. I wouldn’t be upset with myself necessarily, I’d just be upset that a life was lost. Obviously, the dish would have been made even had I not ordered it, but the more the dish is consumed, the more requirement for the ingredients, and thus the more animals that have to be killed to make it. But, in a world of mixed styles of eating, vegans have to just be that much more attentive to the ingredients in their food and be aware that explanations and double, sometimes triple, checking things come with it.

  23. Hi, I’m a new poster, but I’ve been following your blog for a little while. I’m currently studying abroad in France, and when I return home, I cannot wait to use my blender and food processor again, seriously! I’m not a raw foodist, but with this summer heat, my body naturally craves raw veggies and fruits.

    I really appreciated this post–I’ve been in similar situations, and one simply must remember that one “accident” by no means makes us “bad vegans.” Here in France, felt very very guilty once after consuming pasta that I initially didn’t realize contained egg powder, but I didn’t throw the pasta away. Rather than let it go to waste, I prepared it all and finished it in the knowledge that it was a mistake, and now, I’m much more careful when food shopping, double-checking in my pocket dictionary if I’m not quite sure what a word means.

    P.S. I’m adding you to my blogroll if you don’t mind. 🙂

  24. As someone who’s trying to transition into a vegan lifestyle, it’s hard to know about all of the non-vegan products out there (beyond the obvious milk, cheese, eggs, meat…).
    This post got me thinking about those “hidden” animal products and where people like me can find out that tires have animal products in them!
    It might be a good post for the future…

    Thanks for blogging

  25. I accidentally fed my vegan boyfriend (vegan of 11 years) dairy byproducts in a curry spice mix….twice in one week. He was pretty upset with me and I felt horrible. To my knowledge, its the only time I’ve mixed in non-vegan foods in the meals I make him, but it just happened to be twice in a week. The first time he learned halfway through the meal and stopped eating.
    I’ve committed to learning a ton of info about his diet, including which artificial and natural flavors are code for non-vegan and how to decipher vague ingredient lists. Clearly I’m not perfect, but I do try my hardest.

    • From one Emily to another, Dont feel bad! I’m sure he appreciates the beautiful food you make him and your best intentions in honouring his food choices! My partner is the other way round. He’s an omni and I am a vegan. He (mostly) eats veg at home and encourages my veganisim. I love it when he cooks vegan for me, such a lovely act of affection! Your intentions are beautiful! Keep cooking! 🙂

  26. Great post Gina. What concerns me is when Jen asked for no dairy and there was still milk her mashed potatoes. What if she had a milk allergy? She put her trust into the chef. That’s actually scary. As far as feeling guilty…I never feel guilty I just feel mad that they added the animal product in when they said they wouldn’t.

  27. This is such an interesting post and I love everyone’s comments!! I’ve not yet experienced a case in which I was served non-vegan food – and to my knowledge, I haven’t (yet!) mis-read a label. I’ve chosen to not eat things that were probably perfectly fine in my quest to not screw it up…but I’m sure there will come a day when I will have to deal with this. That being said, I live in the midwest, and sometimes get a nice, blank stare from my server when I inquire about meat and dairy and tell them I’m vegan. “Vegan??…” In those situations, I’ll be honest with you – I lie and tell them I have a dairy allergy. The reason I do that is because of the long-lasting effect even one tablespoon of dairy has on your digestive system (at least according to the research I’ve picked through). I can’t afford to have my digestion affected that way as I struggle with it all day, every day as it is. I’d rather lie and protect my health. I think Karma will understand…

  28. Great post Gena. I like the points you brought up. I don’t think there is any place for guilt within our lives – at mealtimes or otherwise. Mistakes happen, so learn the lesson and move on. I accidentally ate some crab a few months ago at a party, because it was tucked inside a little hors d’oeuvres that was indicated as vegetarian. I thought I tasted something fishy but it’s been so long since I ate anything like that, I figured it must be some other ingredient like seaweed. Nope it was crab, but I didn’t stress over it. There are many more important things in my life for my brain to be thinking about.

  29. Thanks for this post!! I’m newly vegan and the other day I ate a bagel from Panera that had some egg and dairy in it. I didn’t ask, but their nutritional information is available online and I didn’t even check. I felt really guilty, so this makes me feel better!

  30. In culinary school, I was devistated when a classmate assured me that her dish was vegan..so I dug in! I later found out that she forgot about the eggs and cream she had added. I’d say devistated is an understatement. I love that the likelyhood of running into this mess with raw foods is pretty slim. Culinary school is NOT usually too raw. I immediately called my good friend Jenny Brown, founder of Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, and she reminded me of what you have just written so beautifully–it’s not about me being a purist. It’s about the animals and our planet. And so I could relax again, but I’m sure it will happen again and can remember these words of wisdom!

    • Seeing your name and email in my comments was like the best surprise I’ve had all week. Lovely thoughts and miss you, Cass!

  31. I am in a different situation when it comes to restaurant eating because we deal with food allergies! So when we call ahead and do everything possible for a vegan/gluten free meal and that meal is tainted with butter, milk, wheat, etc…..it’s a HUGE deal! If it were just ‘my’ problem I wouldn’t be as upset about it because I realize that not all restaurant workers are on the same page, nor do they realize the magnitude of contaminated food, but it affects my babies and THAT is really, really upsetting. I am actually too afraid to eat anywhere that doesn’t carry a ‘certified’ gluten free menu and even then…I have to check and double check and triple check everything! 🙁 Frustrating.

  32. Fortunately I’ve only had a few experiences with accidently eating non-vegetarian food. I was on a school trip in Germany and the chaperone asked for a vegetarian meal for me. Sure, the main part of the meal was vegetarian, but then as I began to eat the side dish, I realized that it was the same as everyone else’s and had tiny strips of ham. I don’t know if this was caused from not eating meat for so long, but I felt so sick that night! The other incident was at a family party when my aunt made a veggie risotto. I asked if it was vegetarian, she said yes, and halfway through eating it the thought occurred to me that there was probably chicken broth in the dish, and sure enough, there was.

    In both incidents I just told myself that I hadn’t intended to eat meat and I would be more careful next time. Both my chaperone and aunt had tried to do something good for me, and it wasn’t their fault the incident happened.

  33. First of all, thank you for calling me smart and witty. That’s always a nice thing to see written about yourself when you wake up in the morning. 🙂

    I love these posts of yours. I think everyone knows when they’re being too hard on themselves, but it takes an outside voice like yours to really get it through and say, “it’s OKAY.” If we take anything in life too seriously–whether it be diet-related, school-related, relationship-related–we’re bound to end up beating ourselves up over SOMETHING. And doing that doesn’t make anything better. I love the tire example. It just goes to show that there are some instances in which being too strict can actually negate a person’s positive intentions.

  34. Wonderful post! So necessary too.

    I feel like these situations happen most when I’m out to dinner with my in-laws. They’re big meat eaters and are kind enough to call ahead to restaurants for me (amazing, I know), but they love going to this Italian restaurant and although the restaurant claims their pasta isn’t made with eggs, I’m almost positive that the veggie pasta dish I specially ordered was made with butter. This is, of course, despite the fact that I said “pasta, veggies, a little olive oil, no dairy, no butter, no cheese.” There was a bit of a language barrier and as soon as I got the meal, I just knew, but I really didn’t want to make a big scene, especially after the in-laws went to all the trouble of calling and finding the place. So, yeah, I may have eaten dairy, but I did my best, and in the larger scheme of life, that’s really all I can do.

  35. Thanks for this post, Gena! You think about this issue exactly the way I do. I think we should do the best we can, and that we should not be mad at ourselves if we eat 99% vegan instead of 100% vegan. I notice that some vegans in my environment can be really judgmental if another vegan eats something that is not entirely vegan. So it was really nice to read your thoughts about this!

  36. Such a brilliant post (:
    About eight months ago, I ordered my usual soya latte in a cafe, took a sip and it didn’t taste quite right…but stupidly kept drinking even though I knew something was wrong, then about half way through I asked if it was soy, and of course, it wasn’t. I felt so awful, even though it had been a complete mistake on my part. And the guilt actually lasted for days, and I felt like a complete failure as a person…until I managed to get myself to think about it rationally.
    It was just after this that I stopped labeling myself as a vegan, even though my diet is still 100% plant based. Because II realised that what I was eating, or not eating, was at that time (coming out of anorexia) the only thing tha was defining me. And I wanted to be so much more than that! Also, a lot of why I went vegan in the first place was because of the animals, and I realised that the guilt lasting as long as it did was doing nothing to help them, I was only hurting myself.
    So what I’m saying is that for me, the guilt was so bad because I was placing too much importance on defining myself a a vegan, if that makes sense!
    Thank again for such a thought provoking post x

  37. What an insightful and well articulated post! I completely agree; there’s so many things in life we can be serious about when instead we would be better served by adopting a positive, ‘I’m doing my best and am going to be content with it’ attitude. A way of eating that bleeds over into a lifestyle can never be wholly rigid or precise; life just doesn’t let that happen. The quicker we can realize that, and give ourselves permission to not beat ourselves up when we hit bumps in the road (unknowingly or not), the better off we’ll be.

  38. This is yet another masterpiece entry, Gena…smart and on-target in every way. You have such a unique talent for dissecting complicated issues, articulating them so simply, beautifully, perfectly. I’ll be referring to this memorable post again, I’m sure.

  39. What a wonderfull post, I’ve read it with pleasure. And I’ll probably read it again soon.

    I know how frustrating it may get when you find something in your food you didn’t ask for. Like last week, we ordered a veggie noodle dish to take away. When we got home and ate it, I noticed the noodles had a weird taste, but I ate some more, ’till I saw there were shrimps (cut in tiny bits!) in the noodles. I was really mad at the restaurant, not at myself. But I’ll punish them by not eating their food anymore :p. I just thought it was really weird since the menu says it’s only veggies and noodles…

    But the matter of fact is that there can be something in your food you didn’t wish for, but you don’t have to get mad at yourself.

  40. I work at an organic co-op grocery store with a salad bar. Most days I eat lunch from there, which is great. There are a lot of vegetarian options, and we’re usually pretty good at marking what is vegan and what is not.

    It’s funny that this topic came up on Choosing Raw the day after I accidentally ate ham! As a vegetarian I always read the labels on the food at the salad bar, so I don’t know if I misread a label or if it wasn’t marked, but there was ham in a pasta mix that I put on my salad that was so small and mixed in I couldn’t tell. I ate a bite (wondering what that flavor was since I hadn’t eaten ham in so long!) and thought “Oh, no!!” I immediately spit it out, separated it from the rest of my salad, and continued with my meal.

    I’m so happy to say that I was able to put that incident in perspective and continue with my meal. This post was so wonderful to read, because it put into eloquent words exactly how I felt after eating the rest of my salad. Eating vegetarian helped me recover from an EDNOS, but reading food blogs and really exploring my feelings about food (with help from CR!) has helped me put eating into a life perspective. It should be enjoyable, nutritious, and yes, ethical. But accidents happen, and bouncing back is just part of that. 🙂

    Thank you so much for writing this blog. It has helped me so much, and I can’t say thank you enough! This is my first time de-lurking, but I had to write in – I love your blog!

  41. I agree with what you said about it not being about personal purity. I had a circumstance where I was getting pad thai and made sure to ask a billion times if it was vegan and even told them to take off the egg. The one time I had leftovers that I took home my cat went wild over them. Then I realized it must have had fish sauce in it. I was grossed out and never ate there again but I didn’t consider myself non vegan.

    Lots of people who aren’t vegan try to assert that intention doesn’t matter, but I think it does. You can accidentally hit someone with your body or car, whatever, but doing it on purpose is considered criminal. Similar process with the food.

    Of course then there are the things that aren’t even available vegan, or are VERY hard to find vegan options for like glue, tape, etc. We just do the best we can.

    It is sad however when people use the fact that well-meaning vegans have mistake to excuse their entirely intentional consumption of an animal product. Not the case.

    • I think intentions have to matter, right? I mean, let’s pretend we have a person who eats vegan solely to look conscious and impressive and caring to his or her friends and the rest of the world, but in that person’s heart, there’s no care or compassion for animals, the environment, or anything else. It’s all just a show. Sure, we want the person to be vegan, because ultimately his or her choices save animals, but doesn’t the lack of conviction upset us? I think it does, because as soon as push comes to shove and the person’s commitment is tested, there’s a good chance the veganism gets abandoned.

  42. Great post! I am going to link to this post on my website. I hate the negativity that surrounds being vegan or veggie. Why is it so outrageous that we don’t all want to exploit and take from animals? Why is it controversial to want to eat a healthy, non-processed diet?

    There are tiny, “accidental” pieces of fish in many “veggie” dishes that are given to me by well-intentioned older friends and relatives. Even if I stop eating, I don’t point them out. I hate offending people when they have good intentions.

    Thank you!

  43. I was a pescetarian for about two months before I went vegetarian at around age 13. I was at summer camp and accidentally ate chicken salad that I thought was tuna salad. I felt awful but felt better upon learning that other people had made the same mistake.

    A year and a half ago after I went vegan, my mother had made latkes for Chanukah, and she said she would make them vegan friendly. It wasn’t until afterward that I saw the eggshells in the garbage, and she learned she screwed up just a bit. I’m so glad she’s finally on board with my vegan lifestyle, and she loves green juice!

    I hope life in D.C. is treating you well thus far! Looks like your new pad will be a home in no time. 🙂

  44. I love this post. I actually had an interesting experience in Salvador, Brazil on a medical volunteer trip. I was volunteering, working with young, poverty-stricken children with leukemia at a small center in Salvador. We were staying in this tiny hostel, and our meals were provided by the hostel staff. I was doing by very best to maintain a vegan diet the whole time I was there, but ended up eating lots and lots of salad and mangoes. I lost a lot of weight, actually, and was feeling really awful. Then, on the last day of the trip, a few of the children’s mothers came to dinner with the other volunteers and were so incredibly excited because they had scrounged together some extra reals to make us a dessert: these traditional Brazilian truffles, one part sweetened condensed milk, two parts cocoa powder. I was sitting next to the woman when she offered me one, and even though I knew it was not vegan, I took one and ate it with as much pleasure as I would have eaten a giant vegan cookie. Do I feel bad? Not at all, because I actually think in that situation, I did the right thing.

  45. What I find most challenging is when I’ve comprehensively explained my vegan requirements, received a signal of understanding from the server, and then dug into the dish, only to find myself doubting its veganism. I don’t have the bests non-vegan sensors (e.g. I always seem to think veges cooked in olive oil taste buttery) so I’m often left um-ing and ah-ing over whether to bother the server again (and bothering my dining companions instead to taste-test). I wonder, how far would you go to verify that a dish has no animal products when you suspect otherwise?

  46. I have to admit, I feel a little.. dismayed at the prospect of a vegan or vegetarian individual lying to a kitchen staff that they have an allergy or an intolerance. Primarily, for two reasons:

    Firstly, vegan/vegetarian clientele need to establish a presence in mainstream dining (as well as culture at large). The more vocal and active, the greater the incentive for establishments to be accommodating and respectful.

    Secondly, certain restaurants may no longer take allergy/intolerance requests seriously due to the sheer increase in number of alleged medical conditions (there has been a little coverage of this in the media). Essentially, actual allergies and intolerances are robbed of their meaning and acknowledged severity if so many diners claim the same. The allergies and intolerances are diluted to, and misconstrued as, simply a dining preference. As someone with anaphylaxis and intolerances this is beyond frustrating.

    Those adhering to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle should not hide behind an ersatz medication. They should be proud.

  47. granted a chef should know but in all honesty, lots of people are still confused by veganism. so i’m allergic to gluten and i avoid dairy since that typical upsets my belly too and people automatically assume i must not eat meat too?! it’s strange, i think it’s the exclusion factor of certain food groups that throws them off for some reason. i really applaud accomodating chefs, it makes me feel like a normal person when i dine out! i love dining experiences with friends and would be really sad if lack of dialogue and education prevented me from doing so!

  48. In my case, it’s rarely a case of unwanted ingredients, and almost a case of a food not meeting my expectations in one way or another (I expect it to taste good and it tastes awful, I expect it to be crisp and sweet and it’s mushy and sour, I expect it to fill me and it leaves me hungry, I expect it NOT to fill me and it leaves me feeling heavy … the list goes on). One reason I’m such a picky eater is that I don’t process food mistakes well, at all. I have a whole list of strategies in place for avoiding them, but they don’t always work, and inevitably, I eat things now and then that leave me feeling “icky.” Hate to admit it, but I usually end up fasting a good 24 hours after these incidents. I do think my physical discomfort is exaggerated, and not easily explained by the few bites of bad food … nevertheless, thank God for herbal tea!

  49. once i went to a restaurant, where they had two chilli options — vegan and non-vegan. I ordered the vegan kind, and took a couple of bites before I realized it was definitely NOT vegan. I called the waiter over, and he gave us our meal for free! It wasn’t worth how it made me feel, but at least he did something about it.

    Double checking is SO important! Besides being vegetarian I’m gluten and soy intolerant…dining out is difficult but there are a few places who are really great about accompanying my dietary needs.

  50. A few months back, I realized a dish I had eaten at a local restaurant several times had some chicken stock in the sauce. I felt terrible and downright embarrassed, since I’ve been a vegetarian for many years. However, it was also a reminder for me to be more vigilant. Sometimes, I assume that since vegetarianism/veganism has become more mainstream, everyone knows what it means. But just because a dish is comprised of only vegetables it doesn’t mean there are no animal products in there! I got over the guilt quickly and took it as an reminder to always double check when eating out.

  51. Gena…awesome post and for bringing up this whole topic!

    “as far as is possible and practical”— THAT says it all to me.

    As well as “have a sense of perspective”.

    I think that if one keeps BOTH of those mentalities/perspectives in mind, not only with regard to food, but to everything else in life, too, it’s a wonderful thing.

    You asked about food examples but I’ll talk parenting, instead 🙂 When every woman finds out she’s pregnant, she makes a long mental list of all the do’s and don’ts with her baby/pregnancy…will not have an epidural, will breastfeed for 2 years, child will only eat organic food, child will not eat bday cake frosting filled with HFCS and red dye #40, child will not watch more than 15 mins of tv per week, etc etc etc.

    It’s all well and good on paper, and as moms, we TRY to make sure those things happen according to our personal plan, whatever that includes or doesnt include (those are just hypotheticals) but sometimes…life, the Universe, the CHILD has different plans for us and we must adapt, do what is possible and practical, and retain perspective 🙂

  52. (OK–4th attempt at posting this comment–thank goodness for ctrl+C!)
    This is an awesome post and great discussion too.

    I want to go back to Dani’s question about claiming ‘lactose intolerance,’ because my first thought with the stories of being served dairy after assurances that there wasn’t any was that that would make me so sick! I know that my perspective is a little different because I’m not a hard-line ethical vegan and eat that way mostly for health/allergy reasons; on the other hand, I really believe that everyone has the right to choose what they put in their bodies and to be told what that is.

    I love your suggestion to give oneself a break if one has done due diligence: stressing and getting paranoid are unhealthy too! And the more one eats out, the more one exposes oneself to other people’s honesty and carefulness (or lack thereof). But even a control freak like me recognizes that it’s unhealthy to insist on only ever eating self-prepared foods–potential social disaster too.

    But I do get nervous with the ‘getting poisoned’ aspect of it, and I view people like myself as ‘canaries’ in a way, which leads me to believe that even people who don’t get sick should have the right to avoid those foods… Does that make any sense?

  53. What all-encompassing words. Veganism TRULY is about helping yourself and others in a practical manner. When it becomes impractical, then it is not healthy. I have had a few instances where I have specifically ordered no eggs, no meat, no dairy, etc. and still received a piece of cheese in my food. I just pick it out. Because truly, much of my reason for eating a plant-based diet is nutritional, and I realized that letting one animal product accidentally end up in my mouth is not going to turn me into a fat balloon overnight. It’s a rediculous fear, but it is a real fear for myself and many others who have recovered from eating disorders. However, I am proud to say that I have been able to get past that fear and not get too worked up about the accidents – it’s not going to kill anyone.

  54. I appreciate this post. It is about doing what you can, when possible. I have been feeling a bit anxious about this coming week. I am going away for work, and will be attending a cultural function. It is an honor to be invited and a meal will be served. It will not be vegan, nor vegetarian. There will most certainly be meat involved. To decline a part of the meal would be considered an offense. I’ve made the decision to put aside my own beliefs for this one occasion and to fully participate in the event, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes me. At least that is what I am thinking right now. We’ll see what actually happens next week.

  55. I like the message in this post about how the focus is not only to do what is possible and practical but that it’s to reduce as much animal cruelty and suffering as possible and it’s not really all about “you.” I don’t think that’s emphasized enough because some people use the title “vegan” as some sort of superiority complex and try to belittle everyone else. It also makes those of us who aren’t 100% vegan but REALLY close feel like crap because we’re harped at or get down on ourselves when making a mistake. This post sort of helps me get around a lot of the negativity I have toward the way I eat and the little choices that I make or don’t make; I just need to remember “practical and possible” and do my best, that’s all I can ask of myself.

    I know that Matt (NoMeatAthlete author) did a post about “accidents” a while back and said that, in the event of a meal containing animal flesh or products, he would attempt to find someone else who would eat it and if no one would he would eat it so as not to disgrace the animal that was sacrificed for the sake of a meal. I bring it up because it just made me a bit curious as to how you would react when you said you would stop eating if you found out in the middle of a meal. I’m not trying to imply anything or make it seem like you’d make a bad choice (sorry if this sounds like I’m being rude!); the statement just caught my interest is all.

    • Great comment, Daniel. I’m glad this was freeing and comforting for you! I do think that some vegans become obsessed with adherence to the lifestyle for the sake of pride/a feeling of being distinctive, and I think that misses the point.

      I’d stop because it would probably gross me out, because it wouldn’t feel right to me, and also because I try to set an example to others by eschewing anything I know comes from an animal. If no one else around me consumed animal products, I’d sadly have the dish taken back to the kitchen and disposed of. If I were with my Mom, for example, who eats animals as it is, I’d offer it to her.

  56. I am trying to transition into a completely vegan diet, but it’s things like this that have been holding me back – the whole “I accidentally ate something non-vegan” fiasco! But the reason that I want to become vegan is to eat a completely karma-free diet – that means not harming others for my personal nourishment or indulgence. I will never refuse an invitation from a friend to go to a restaurant that I know will be hard for me. I will never make my friends or family stressed about planning meals for get-togethers. Eating karma-free means not putting up a fight about it or making others feel inadequate. It’s about making karma-free habits in the long run, and that often means accepting mishaps.

  57. As always, a well thought-out and excellent post. Although I am not a vegan, I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup as much as I possibly can, for both health and ethical reasons.

    I once bought a box of All-Bran cereal and didn’t even bother looking at the ingredients…It’s All-Bran! It’s pure fiber, right?

    I later realized these were the first three ingredients: wheat bran (great), sugar (…OK), high fructose corn syrup (DANG!)

    I ended up dumping the rest of the cereal out but I’ve definitely consumed a good portion of the box at that point. Still, I didn’t feel guilty about it — it was an honest mistake. I think it just made me realize how deceptive marketing strategies can be and how important it is for me to be more aware and pay more attention to labels. I consider myself to be an “educated consumer” but I guess you can never be too careful!

    I agree with you, feeling guilty about things that are out of your control is unnecessary. After all, life happens.

  58. I couldn’t agree more. Wonderful post. All we can do is our very best, and any time spent feeling guilty for these mistakes is wasted. Just learn from them and move on. I accidently ate a non-vegan veggie burger from TJ’s when I was newly vegan because I didn’t read the label before to find out it contained eggs. Completely my fault for not reading the label (veganism 101!!), but it happened and I didn’t feel guilty. From then on I learned not to eat or buy that brand of veggie burger, simple as that.

    One of the first weeks I was vegan, however, I did consciously eat veggies cooked in butter. I met my aunt and uncle for dinner in NYC at a very famous but meat-based restaurant with a plan to order sides. When I asked if they could cook their veggie sides in oil for me, they flat said no. I thought that was ridiculous (and will not be going back there!), but I was with my extended family who were treating me to dinner and there was NOTHING else on the menu. My uncle had been looking forward to this place and I didn’t want to make a scene or give up our reservations so I went for the buttered beets.

    I don’t feel guilty about this, but I do feel confident that I’m much more equipped to handle a situation like that now. First of all, I would have called ahead, and hopefully they would have been more receptive to my needs with advance warning. If not, I probably would have suggested an alternative place to dine. I think we vegans get better and better at dealing in a non-vegan world and really need to be forgiving toward ourselves along the way.

    • What a great way to reflect on how you’ve gained pride and confidence as a vegan eater! I’m passionate about helping people get over the pressure to eat in a way that isn’t in line with their ethics to please others, so this resonates.

  59. Great post, Gena. This is something I struggled with a bit while I was converting to veganism. I bought rice cheese shreds once that I thought were vegan, but actually had egg whites in them or something. I gave it to my non-vegan mom. I also ordered edamame at Cheesecake Factory that were drenched in butter, which the menu did not specify and I didn’t think anyone pairs butter with edamame. That was a fun send back.

  60. Great post! I live in East Texas which is NOT veggie friendly. I do my best to question the kitchen staff and choose the vegan options, but I don’t beat myself up over the inevitable mistakes and misinformation that happen. I also hate to waste food so I would rather do my best to pick off the cheese, for example, then to send it back to the kitchen.

    Once at a Chinese restaurant my partner ordered a vegetarian dish. It came with chicken on top. When he pointed out the mistake the server argued that chicken didn’t count as meat. Um… yeah. Nice try. We haven’t been back to that place since.

    Another time we ordered a pizza without cheese at a restaurant in town and the chef came out from the kitchen, walked up to our table, and told us in a loud voice that he didn’t mind cooking for our kind of people because he liked a challenge. He didn’t agree with us, because cows will die if you don’t milk them, but he didn’t mind. (I don’t really know where the “challenge” of leaving an ingredient out of a dish is, but I didn’t ask.)

    • LOL chicken isn’t meat! I get that ALL THE TIME here in Indiana — not at restaurants, where i don’t even bother, but from friends & clients: (in a proud tone of voice) “Yeah, we hardly cook any meat at all anymore, just chicken and fish, but when we really want meat we’ll go over to [steakhouse].”


    • I’m also from East Texas. Luckily I have lived in large cities on the West Coast for many years so it’s much easier, but when I first became vegetarian at 16 (early 1980’s) my uncle loudly asked at Thanksgiving whether I was a Communist. My dad (the sweetest man in the world) still tries to serve me chicken – he’s not trying to get me to eat meat, he simply doesn’t understand that chicken is meat! I thought it was just a redneck thing, but I had the same problem in Paris. Me: “Je ne mange pas de viande.” Garcon: “Très bien. Puis, le poulet.”

  61. Thank you for this post! I go back and forth on this issue a lot. I tend to draw a hard line with my diet in my own home but am slightly more flexible when eating out. If something has an animal ingredient, even a trace that I am aware of, I do not eat it when I am on my own. And I used to grill chefs, waiters, etc. about how food was prepared.

    But then I read The Animal Activist’s Handbook by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich. They advocate making veganism look as easy as possible to non-vegans so that they too will be more willing to reduce their consumption of animal products. So if I am in a restaurant and the only veggie option is a garden burger, I will take it. (I’m also very comfortable with ordering off the menu. I make it work!) Chances are there may be egg whites in the burger and whey in the bun. But if me eating a veggie burger in front of my omnivore friends shows them how vegans can eat out and be social and still enjoy a meal, it just might encourage them to order a veggie burger next time. I am always trying to promote veganism as a very positive, very do-able lifestyle. And I always encourage people to do whatever they can, every meatless meal is a victory for the animals.

    I had a tough situation come up over the holidays though. I was at my parents house fora big family get-together. I had prepared a couple vegan dishes that were very well-received (hello vegan trifle!). My dad, who is very considerate of my vegan diet, had prepared a sweet potato dish. It was all vegan, except he had greased the pan with butter. I turned it down politely, and it hurt his feelings. Granted, he was mostly mad at himself for making the mistake of using butter. But he was also frustrated with me for drawing such a hard line. I told him that I felt like I had to, if folks saw me eating this dish with butter then they would wonder why I was not eating this other dish with cheese. In the end, we were both upset. Looking back, I am still not sure how I should have handled the situation. (It did not help that the next day, my step-mom gifted me with a basket made with leather handles!)

    Phew, long comment, and I am a lurker here but a religious reader of your posts! Always inspiring and motivating!!

    • Thanks Priscilla!

      I admire Bruce very much, though I’d say that I don’t tend to bend my veganism to set what he would consider a healthy and flexible example as an activist. I really do abide by the “possible” standard: if I know it’s not vegan, and it is possible for me to avoid it (which, given my good fortune socioeconomically and in terms of lifestyle, it always is), I always will opt out (so this will apply to restaurant food).

      But when it comes to eating something by accident, I do feel that the remorse and self-loathing just miss the point: it’s about doing something good for the world with our food choices, not about adhering to a meaningless standard. If you eat something and didn’t know, move on.


  62. I like this post too! I have certainly dealt with this before. One of the more recent times was when I ordered a salad, asked for no cheese, they served it with cheese, I reminded them, they took it back and brought it back seemingly cheese free, BUT much to my hospitality legally aware mind, they just tried to pick the cheese off and I found plenty hiding amongst the greens. I know I technically could have sued them for that and they certainly would pay more attention in the future to customers who have such requests, but I went for the more peaceful approach of just picking out the bits of cheese as best I could and eating what was clear and not giving them my future business. It still pisses me off though. I’ve also had circumstances where I ask certain questions but forget others and end up with butter or cheese or beef broth when I wasn’t expecting it. I won’t eat them generally, or I’ll do my best to eat around if I can. Those happened further in the past, but now I know better questions and such. I feel guilty if I eat some before realizing it, but I don’t get hung up on it anymore. Either stop eating it, or eat around it, and be more thorough next time.

  63. Yep. Once, in the Midwest, I ordered baked beans, took the first bite…yep…pork. Totally freaked. Picked up some noodles from health food store, made them and when cleaning up looked at the label. Eggs. I never made noodles, I had no idea! I’d like to say that I’ve lightened up about it, but I haven’t. Maybe this post will nudge me more to the side of “mistakes happen.” Sigh.

  64. So true!!

    I had an interesting moment as a vegan a few weeks ago. A friend had invited me to attend a birthday dinner with her at a pizza place. I’m gluten free and vegan so I knew there weren’t going to be many choices for me, but managed to find a bean salad on the menu that sounded good.

    The table ordered some appetizers, including some salads. There had been a mushroom salad on the menu that I had been contemplating, but had chose the beans for more protein. When the apps arrived, (what we thought was) the mushroom salad was sent down to our end. My friend asked the server if there was any dairy in the salad to which she replied no. I put some on my plate, took a bite and started chewing. I was playing with the food on my plate and picked up a “mushroom”.

    I showed the “mushroom” to my eating companion and exclaimed – “um, that’s an octopus”

    I promptly spit out the bite in my mouth and shoved my plate to the side, feeling utterly disgusted!! Some mushrooms are chewy and it wasn’t until I really looked at the plate did I realize that they had sent the octopus salad instead of the mushroom one. The server hadn’t lied, there was definitely no dairy in the salad, but I guess we forgot to inquire about the crustacean comment.

    When I told my roommates they thought it was horrific/hilarious and wrote “Ashli / Octopi” on the chalkboards in our kitchen.

  65. Great post! I’m not vegan, but it seems like a great perspective to take.

    I felt terrible a few months ago when I discovered Sephora stopped carrying my fav moisturizer because they found out the company was using endangered whale by product in the cream! Of course, I couldn’t have known but I was mortified.

  66. This post is wonderful. Thank you for talking about this!

    I’ve bought a few things before that weren’t vegan and I didn’t notice until later. The first one that pops into my head is rice cheese that had casein in it. I’d already opened the package, so we went ahead and used it for pizza. It was annoying that I somehow skipped over that ingredient before buying it, but no big deal. We save the lives of animals on a daily basis, mistakes will happen and we can’t beat ourselves up for it.

    Also, I totally agree with Allysia, “I am as careful as I can be, and if other people still screw up, it’s up to me to help them understand how to better cater to vegans!”

    I do have a question, though. Do any of you ever say you’re lactose intolerant or have food allergies instead of saying you’re vegan? Folks are more apt to be truthful about what’s really in the food if you say you have allergies. I hate downplaying the fact that I’m a vegan and that it’s important to me, so I don’t do that myself, but I know people who do. I understand wanting to avoid the headache of questions, back-and-forths, and feeling crappy later when they lied about the food, but I still can’t bring myself to lie. Can anyone comment?

    • I have used that to servers in the past because, as one who works in the industry, I know that servers are much more likely, as is the kitchen, to respect the “allergy request” than the vegan one. Though both can seek legal action if the establishment claims that it is vegan (or allergen free) and it isn’t, the allergy sufferer will have a nasty reaction and potentially die, which is a heavier burden for the restaurant. I don’t use it so much anymore, but if I server asks me, “oh, allergies?” I say “yes” if I feel that the server, or establishment, isn’t going to truly look into a vegan request. I usually don’t choose to go to places like that anyway….

      • I actually do have an dairy allergy in addition to being mostly vegan, so depending on the vibe I get from the restaurant I will flip flop between the two options. But I also live in East Texas, where the sympathy for non-meat eaters is not what you would call high. 🙂

  67. I had the same problem as Kelly with almond and soy cheese, and with some beverages too. At first, I felt REALLY guilty for not doing my homework and reading carefully the labels. But then I realized that mistakes are human (we cannot be perfect!) and you can use those mistakes in a positive way: learning from them – as since that day, not a label goes unnoticed!
    I also have another funny experience, in which I ordered a dish with chopped shiitake that REALLU tasted like meat. I got really annoying that day, asking more than 4 times: it this mushroom? are you SURE??? Can you triple check? They waiter truly earned his tip just by not getting mad at me 🙂

  68. I made the mistake of ordering a pasta and veggie dish that had pesto sauce on it. Of course I know traditional pesto sauces have cheese in them, but for that moment in time, I completely spaced out and forgot. When my meal arrived, I realized my mistake immediately, but it was hardly the restaurant staff’s mistake. I didn’t want to waste the food that would be thrown away anyways, so I ate it and vowed to pay more attention the next time. And I have.

  69. Oh man! I totally agree with you, and then some. There have been times where we’ve asked for pizza with no cheese TWICE, since the first one was lathered in cheese (and asking “no cheese” is pretty clear, I thought). Or the chana masala I ordered a few months back, advertised in the menu as being vegan, and then noticing that the broccolini was most likely sauteed in (non-vegan) margarine.

    But you’re right; it’s not worth making a huge fuss over. Sh*t happens. It’s about doing the best you can – like you said, it’s not about perfection or ultimate purity. …Or if it is, I’m doing it wrong. 🙂 I am as careful as I can be, and if other people still screw up, it’s up to me to help them understand how to better cater to vegans!

    • Yea I asked for a skinny cinnamon dolce latte with almond milk at Starbucks and afterwords I felt stupid because I forgot to say no froth/foam on top and I’m pretty sure that has milk in it

      • Hey girl! This post is old so I don’t know if you’ll every see this, but I used to work at Starbucks. The foam is actually made out of whatever milk you choose ( so almond milk) and is just a byproduct of steaming the milk! Continue enjoying our cinnamon dolce almond lattes 🙂

  70. Fantastic post! Like I told you at your goodbye dinner, I ordered what seemed like a delicious vegetarian meal — Pumpkin Ravioli with crushed hazelnuts. Yum, right? But for whatever reason, the restaurant decided that pancetta belonged in this dish. I don’t know why! And because I assumed it was a veg dish, I didn’t really question the word pancetta because I never heard of it before! Silly me, but oh well. So as I was eating I noticed a strange taste, and you can figure out the rest. I was upset about it; more upset about how gross and nauseous I felt (in my head or real, who knows). But I moved on and now I have a story to tell about how I never knew the word pancetta. I’m sure it’s happened at other times too (rice, ugh) but I do my best and that is what matters.

  71. I went dairy free for a while to find out if dairy was causing the mystery pimples on my face. I accidentally bought almond cheese that still had dairy caisin (but didn’t eat any) and felt really stupid for not noticing the dairy. Why the heck do they even make almond cheese that still has dairy in it? What’s the point?