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Unfortunately, I know exactly what you're talking about. I live in Georgia where everywhere you turn there is a steakhouse or a car with a bumper sticker "Beef: its what's for dinner." It is nearly impossible for me to go out to dinner with my family because true vegetarian meals in restaurants are still virtually nonexistent where I live. I find that the general attitude towards veg*nism where I live is either ignorance to nutrition, or those that are aware of the consequences of a meat diet typically treat me as "what makes you think you're so high and mighty just because you don't eat meat;" both of which are excessively difficult to deal with.
In my humble opinion, a true change towards veg*nism has to start with our generation educating the next generation. Parents have to become more informed of what they're feeding their children, and schools have to do a better job of teaching children early about diets and foods (I didn't truly become educated about diets and nutrition until I was 19 years old in an elective class, and most people never become educated about diets).
A child that is brought up believing that there is nothing wrong with eating beef 5x a week will have an incredibly difficult time realizing that their diet will eventually do them harm, which is why I feel like there is such a small number (in relation to meat eaters) of veg*ns in our current generation.
Proper knowledge about veg*n diets and nutrition isn't where it should be right now, but the day is coming when veg*nism will be properly respected. We shouldn't be discouraged by the current lack of respect, but instead foster respect in the coming generations.
Living on the West Coast myself, I've found it's a good idea to do your recearch in advance to see if the place you're going to has vegan/vegeterian options. For spontanious outings, try to know a few places in your area in advance so that you can suggest.
Strangely though, it's been my experience that MOST places have veggie options, esspecially chain restaraunts (think Whitespot, Red Robin, Dennies, whatever) that are just part of the menu so you won't get any weird looks when you order. Wherever I'm going, I can usually count on getting a veggie burger.
Obviously if you mean vegan, you're going to have a hell of a time eating out because you're not only asking for the meat to be removed, but for the usual composition of the food to be changed. Most things served to you in a restaraunt have some ammount of pre-packaging so it's one thing to not add the meat, but another entirely to, for example, prepare a bread item without eggs or milk. The bread item is likely not made in-house in the first place and the restaraunt is unlikely to keep the vegan substitutes on hand even if they were. I'm not saying that's how it should be, but that is our current reality.
Hey Hayley:) I have been through that. I agree with what everyone else has written so far.
I feel like the more confidence that I had in my decision, the less people treated me that way..or the less I was concerned about it. As for what to order...I used to order side dishes or ask chefs to make certain dishes without the meat and cheese.
I hope this helps...
My friends and family always feel the need to explain that I am vegan, when they get those looks.