Being vegan isn’t all that difficult.  Great food, more energy…what’s difficult about that?  With a little careful planning, especially when traveling, a vegan diet isn’t difficult to follow.  But, what happens when there isn’t time to plan?

The Vegetarian Times states that 3.2 percent of US adults are vegetarians and .5 percent of those are vegan so dedicated vegan restaurants in Colorado are few and far between.  That being so, what is a vegan girl to do?  I wondered, can I walk into any restaurant and end up with a vegan meal?  One that does not consist of lettuce with olive oil and vinegar?  That felt like a challenge: one I was sure I was up for.  Now, all I had to decide was, when and where.

My family gave me the opportunity to meet my challenge.  We’d spent the day grocery shopping and getting caught in a rainstorm.  By late afternoon, we were tired, bedraggled, and unwilling to go home and cook dinner.  That left take-out or eating out.  Take-out interested no one and thus started the ‘where are we going to eat’ conversation.  I am the only vegan member of my family so, inevitably, the question becomes; where can Kate eat?  I can eat anywhere, I pipe up.  I can make a vegan meal out of side dishes, if I have to.  This is greeted with dubious looks but a decision is made:  we’ll go to Chili’s.

I feel a qualm.  I think I ate at Chili’s twice in the years before becoming vegan and not at all since then.  I can’t remember what was on the menu but I anticipate burgers, fries, cheese, cheese, and more cheese.  I find all of these things.  I also find chips and salsa, fresh guacamole, and the opportunity to sub a black bean burger for the meat in any burger Chili’s makes.  I decide to give that a try.  I size up our waiter and find him to be a helpful young man so I order the chips and salsa and the guacamole burger with the black bean patty, no melted mozzarella cheese, and no cumin-lime sour cream.  My meal comes exactly as I order it.

It isn’t bad but it isn’t something I would return for either.  I don’t wish to disparage Chili’s in any way:  the wait staff is kind, helpful, and striving to make me as happy as possible with my food, it just didn’t ring any culinary bells.  On a side note: that wasn’t the case with the chips and salsa.  The chips were fresh, crispy, and had the perfect level of salt.  The salsa was spicy without burning holes in my tongue and contained just the right amount of fragrant cilantro.  I leave Chili’s pleasantly surprised at the options I found and thrilled with the service I received.  But now comes the time of reckoning.  How did I do?

Google finds me Chili’s vegetarian menu and the black bean burger is listed as MAY containing eggs and dairy.  That’s a bit of a bummer.  Perhaps my meal was completely vegan: I can’t be sure.  Did I fail my challenge?  I don’t think so.  I have to do the best I can living this vegan life.  Nothing is ever perfect.  I am thrilled to see more and more restaurants seeking to accommodate a small but growing percentage of the population.  The lesson?  Do the best you can with what you have and it’s always a good idea to have a plan.