I’m a vegetarian who gave up meat because I don’t want my eating habits to cause other sentient beings to suffer. Because I consume so little dairy, you might even call me vegan-ish. My husband and son, on the other hand, are bona fide meat eaters. One of their favorite food groups: bacon. That’s followed closely by hunks of meat that are wrapped in bacon.
You might assume this causes lots of stress in our house, but it doesn’t. I’m both open-minded and adaptable, and so are they. I don’t force vegetables on them and they don’t force meat on me. A typical dinner at our house consists of them eating pork chops with a side of rice and me eating rice with a side of butternut squash (or some other veggie option). It works for us.
It used to be, though, that eating out together was a huge challenge. I always wanted to go to the one vegetarian restaurant in town and the husband always wanted the steak house. This has all changed in the past few years, however, as more and more restaurants began offering veggie options. According to Techomic’s menu monitor database, vegetarian restaurant selections jumped 22 percent in the past year alone. These days just about every restaurant offers at least one veggie dish, including fast food chains like Subway and Burger King. And at restaurants that don’t feature true veggie main courses, I can still usually manage by ordering side dishes. At Perkins, for instance, I’ve been known to order a side of baked potato and a side of steamed broccoli for dinner. At another chain restaurant, I’ve ordered the grilled chicken salad without the chicken and the cheese. Usually I get a sideways look, but the end result is a decent-sized salad.
This allows our family to eat out together, and I’m grateful for that.
There is one restaurant, however, that I avoid … Applebee’s. That’s because every single one of their entrées is built around either a slab of meat or a bunch of fish or shellfish. On the appetizer list, the only non-meat options are either deep fat fried (mozzarella sticks and onion rings) or smothered in so much cheese (spinach and artichoke dip) that they leave any health-conscious person feeling that going hungry would be a much healthier option than eating. My kid loves Applebee’s. So does the husband. Still, since all of the other family-style restaurants near us offer vegetarian dishes, I avoid the joint.
During a recent road trip, though, my husband pulled off the highway, spied an Applebee’s and pulled right into the parking lot. Feeling a little unloved, I offered to walk the dog around the parking lot while the husband and son ate at the restaurant and ordered me something to go. I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast that day, and I was feeling beyond peckish. As my hunger morphed into full-blown starvation, denial set in. “Maybe this Applebee’s has a better menu than the one at home” and “I haven’t eaten at an Applebee’s in a while. Maybe they finally added a veggie burger to their menu.” Doing so would be a smart business practice, after all. It’s hard to call yourself a family-style restaurant if you are purposely excluding all of the families composed of vegetarians, right? Plus, considering that 3 percent of the population is either vegetarian or vegan and another 14 percent mostly vegetarian, any restaurant that offers at least one veggie option increases the chances of having all of its tables fully packed on a regular basis. By not offering veggie options, Applebee’s is telling as many as 28 million Americans: “Please don’t eat here. We don’t want your money.”
They had to have at least one option by now? Right?
The denial only grew stronger about 45 minutes later. That’s when the husband and son emerged with a take out container.
We got into the car and my husband pulled onto the highway. I opened the container. It was filled with lettuce. Next to it was a container of vinegar. People, I’m all for lettuce. I love my green foods, but a container of lettuce just wasn’t going to take the edge off.
“I’m sorry,” I heard my husband say. “They didn’t have a single thing on their menu for vegetarians. I couldn’t believe it.”
“Yeah, Applebee’s is the worst,” I said. “At Ruby Tuesday, there’s a huge salad bar and a spaghetti squash dish. At Red Robin there’s a veggie burger. Even Subway has a veggie sub. But Applebee’s has nothing.”
I thought about mentioning all the times that I’ve asked for us to eat anywhere other than Applebee’s. I thought about mentioning how many other places on that very strip of highway served at least one veggie dish. Oh, people, I thought about going on a good long rant about how every single restaurant seems to have a gluten free and even a low calorie menu, but how some of them (Applebee’s!) still don’t offer anything for vegetarians!
But I didn’t have to rant. My husband did it for me.
“Let me tell you: I let the manager have it.”
“Really?” I asked, suddenly feeling exceptionally loved and cared for.
“How hard is it to offer a veggie burger? That’s what I kept asking him. You just order a bunch of frozen burgers and you keep them in the freezer. You just keep them on hand for vegetarians. They’re frozen after all. It’s not like they are going to be tossing bad veggie burgers in the trash every day if enough vegetarians don’t order them. How hard is that? This is a family-style restaurant and they don’t even have one vegetarian option!?! That’s ridiculous! Think of how many people are vegetarians! All the other chain restaurants have something. Does Applebee’s? Nope. Well, I’ll tell you this: I did everything possible to make sure that restaurant puts a vegetarian option on its menu.”
Some people know their spouses love them when they wake up on a holiday and find a new car in the driveway. Others feel loved when their spouses go out of the way to do kind things for them like scrub the grime out of their hub caps with a toothbrush.
Me? I knew my husband loved me when he argued my point of view on my behalf. He’s not a vegetarian and probably never will be. If Applebee’s ever adds a veggie burger to its menu, my husband won’t order it. The Applebee’s menu does not affect his happiness, but it does affect mine, and that’s why he cares.
Did I marry a keeper? I think I did.
So I ate my carton of lettuce as if every piece of romaine had been dipped in love. A woman can subsist a really long time on love, you know?
Plus, not many miles later, my husband pulled into a Subway. Yes, it’s a sub shop, one the features lunch meat. But even Subway has a veggie sub. Someday I hope Applebee’s follows their lead.
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.