Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Education: Vegan is Not an Allergy

Brunch when I went to Vermont for a weekend.
The waiter that helped me get to this option was very helpful.

I have heard it over and over again when I inquire about food options. “Well we have options for people that have a gluten allergy – so I think we can accommodate you.”

Hmm, really? Because if your gluten free dish with rice is served with lamb, I’m not going to eat it.

The food service industry is so funny, and not in a “ha-ha” way. They educate about nut allergies and gluten allergies, yet a lifestyle choice is not mentioned. Most of the time it’s nowhere to be found and normally leaves us vegans with a blank stare from the wait staff and a bartering exercise.

Now let me clarify two things. First, I understand the importance of educating about an allergy comparative to a lifestyle choice. The allergy is detrimental to a person’s health and could cause serious medical issues.

Secondly, I also understand that working in a service position can be difficult. I was the front-end manager on the weekends and during the summer of a busy beach town grocery store at age 16. I would be lying if I told you there weren’t multiple occasions when I had to restrain my varsity shortstop skills from chucking a head of lettuce at the back of customers as they exited the store. Feisty? Maybe. But I’ve seen a 60-year old cashier brought to tears over a can of green beans because people can be so cruel. Honestly, it’s like what do you people want from us?

And that’s my point. I want more education.

The food industry really needs to do a better job at training their employees. Associates should know the difference between gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options.

They need to go beyond listing it on their site and actually train the people that are the face of their company. For instance, I went to Chipotle this week for dinner, who addresses vegan options on their site (click here), and this was the way my order transpired.

Me: I’ll have the salad please
Woman: Would you the like the dressing?
Me: What’s in it?
Woman: It’s a chipotle-honey dressing.
Me: Ok, no thanks. It has honey and I’m a vegan.
Woman: OK, would you like any beans, meat or rice?
Me: Just the rice and veggies please.
Woman: Cheese? Sour cream?
Me: Nope, just the salsa and guacamole.

Cleary there was disconnect in service here. I stated that I was a vegan and she was unaware of what that term actually meant and therefore proceeded to ask me about the meat and dairy items. This would be a perfect opportunity for education about what a vegan is and how we make our food choices. But guess what, I’m not going to explain it to her when there are five people in line behind me waiting to be served. 

I appreciate the workflow of effective business models and it’s Chipotle, people want their burritos.

So I guess I’m just asking the food service industry to be a little more responsible - to pride themselves on educating their employees on food safety, allergies and lifestyle choices. Employees will be able to help customers in ways they couldn’t before. Leaving us vegans happy and more satisfied.

But until that day my vegan friends, keep up the negotiations at the food service counter and next time you’re in the grocery store give a little extra credit to your bagger. One day he’ll realize that putting the bread at the bottom of the bag is a bad idea.


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