Why Vegan is Different to Vegetarian in Your Travels

In the last few weeks, my vegan food travel has involved some family dinners at local omnivorous restaurants. If I’m dining at a new restaurant, I check out their website to research their vegan options (if any).  If I can’t find any options, I call the venue to ask if any if their vegetarian options can be veganised (prepared as vegan).

Reactions and responses from these restaurants have been positive in my vegan food travel so far. However, a couple of my phone calls have been met with responses such as “oh, but we have vegetarian options”, to which I ask, “But can any of these options be made vegan?” Vegetarian is different to vegan. When I explain this to restaurants through thorough questioning, I’m met with a long-winded “oh”.

Here are some thoughts I’ve prepared to decipher the confusion for restaurants that may not serve to vegans regularly.

Let’s look at the definition of vegetarian

Vegetarian Victoria defines vegetarian as “the practice of living on products of the plant kingdom, with or without the use of eggs and dairy products, but excluding entirely the consumption of any part of the body of an animal as food (including chicken, fish and seafood).”  In the context of the hospitality industry here in Australia, the most common manifestation of vegetarian is lacto-ovo vegetarian (with the use of dairy and eggs). So, many vegetarian options on menus contain animal-based cheeses, milk, yoghurt and eggs.

In comparison, vegans are perceived as pure vegetarian…

If we read Vegetarian Victoria’s definition for vegan, it states that vegans are “pure vegetarians who exclude animal products from their entire lifestyle (e.g. wool, leather, soaps that contain animal fats, products tested on animals etc.).”

So, what are the best questions to ask?

Once you’ve determined if a restaurant has vegan or vegetarian options on their menu, you can then question if your food choices can be catered for. Questions like “is it vegan?” or “can you make this dish vegan?” are too general. You need to dig deeper in your research. Ask specific questions like “what kind of cheese do you use?”, “are animal-based stocks used?”, “are eggs used?”, “do you use honey or seafood products in this dish?” and so forth. This type of questioning then creates a two-way benefit. You benefit because you’re ensuring your food choices can be catered for successfully. The restaurant benefits because you’ve educated the venue in what to expect when they’re catering for vegans. When dining in Asian restaurants, (Chinese in particular) some sauces like oyster sauce is used in vegetarian or vegan dishes so you need to be particularly careful and ask if a soy-based sauce can be used instead. When dining at Indian restaurants, I have found that using the term ‘pure vegetarian’ works particularly well. If your research is conducted on phone or email before you visit the restaurant, then it’s also a good idea to get the person’s name so you can refer to them when you arrive.

As a side note, menu coding can be confusing. Know what to look out for…

What is interesting in Australia is that the dietary coding on menus is inconsistent; not standardised by law. Some venues use VG to denote vegan options as well as vegetarian options, and same goes for the V symbol. I’ve also seen VGO to indicate that a vegetarian menu item can be made vegan. To complicate the matter, even VGN is sometimes used for vegan items. Is your head spinning already? As a vegan, Australia’s coding can be an exhausting experience and you need to know what to look out for. Mostly, menus do have a key to guide diners when they’re dining at a particular restaurant. If there are any discrepancies between coding and the ingredients in the dish, then ask the waiter for clarification.

But what if a restaurant ‘can’t do’ vegan?

If you can’t get the clarity you need in your research or you feel uncomfortable with the answers you receive, then you may need to re-consider your choice of restaurant and go elsewhere.  You can have a read of my Aussie Vegan Directory for places I’ve experienced in my vegan food travel around the country to help you make a more informed choice.

Have you had a positive vegan dining experience in your travels? Or, are you someone who is just starting out in your vegan journey and is struggling to find options? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment and let me know how you fair in your vegan food travel.

Join the Fire & Tea mailing list.

Want to discover new travel tips on how to travel the vegan road?


Subscribe to the Fire & Tea mailing list and join me in my vegan food travels.