Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk to another expert from the restaurant industry. Kelli has been working in the restaurant industry for several years and is in the process of getting her degree in Hotel and Lodging Management, with a Sommelier minor. She’s also a vegan and an amateur chef. Below, Kelli and I discuss allergies in restaurants as well as healthy eating at home.
From your experience, are there specific allergens that are more challenging to avoid in a restaurant?
Any allergen that isn't obvious takes more care to avoid. For example, a shellfish allergy is easy to accommodate, but a gluten allergy can take a little more care since gluten is hidden in everything from soy sauce to the coating on fries. I'm sure you experience a similar difficulty with soy, especially since it is not as visible as gluten intolerances are now.
Is it difficult for a restaurant to accommodate guests with specific needs?
I can only speak from the front of the house perspective. If a guest has an allergy, they should always be sure to inform their server. Typically, the server will put a note in with the food order identifying the allergy and inform a manager as well as the chef to ensure proper food handling. At every restaurant at least one person working in the kitchen must have a ServSafe certification (ServSafe deals with safely handling foods to avoid cross-contamination in regards to food hazards and allergens). As a vegan, I know it can be difficult to accommodate my specific dietary needs. As someone who also understands the difficulty behind dealing with an allergy from the restaurant's perspective, I recommend calling restaurants ahead of time to inform them of your allergy or intolerance to see what they suggest. This gives the restaurant time to figure out what you can and cannot eat, without the added pressure of dealing with a busy restaurant at the same time. If I am going somewhere for a work outing, or any other event where I did not get to choose the location, I'll call the restaurant between lunch and dinner because that is usually a slow time and they are able to take the time to answer my questions.
What are some inexpensive ways to eat healthy? Do you have any preferred foods to choose for healthy eating?
In my experience, people tend to assume that a healthy diet has to be an expensive diet. However, the cheapest foods are some of the healthiest! For example, beans, lentils, and peas are all great sources of protein and other nutrients while also being extremely affordable. Grains are also some of the least expensive items on the shelves and are a great source of fiber as well as essential vitamins. In addition to buying these on a weekly basis, I shop for whatever produce is on sale and pick up some inexpensive staples like kale, carrots, and potatoes. My sister, although she eats meat, also avoids buying animal protein because it is one of the more expensive options. Because of this, my personal recommendation in regards to a healthy and inexpensive diet is to limit the consumption of animal products and to turn to minimally processed plant-based options.
Do you have any last tips to share?
Don’t be afraid to try a vegan restaurant! They are allergen-friendly and typically very aware of offering soy-free items (and labeling them on the menu). As a result, they are great options for eating out with minimal stress. I use happycow.com to find vegan-friendly options, even when I am outside of the US.