FROM READERS: Eating vegan in Columbia

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Ann Wade is a junior at MU, where she studies strategic communication and sociology.

I started eating vegan in March of 2013. I switched from eating animal products because I had read a lot about how devastating industrial farming was on the environment. I also saw a documentary called "Earthlings." It was really graphic, and I wouldn't recommend it unless you want to be completely freaked out. I had also been reading about the benefits of a plant-based diet and how much energy people who lived that life have. Basically I wanted to try something that I thought would make me feel better and do just a small thing to decrease the suffering of animals and the planet as a whole.

As with any special diet, there are challenges to eating a vegan diet in Columbia. One of the most difficult things is having to ask about what's in a dish at almost every restaurant. Obviously if it has cheese or meat or eggs, it's a no-go, but some places cook their food in animal fats. Some sauces have milk or other dairy ingredients. Some pastas are made with eggs while others aren't. Luckily, lots of places indicate vegan dishes on their menu and servers are always willing to answer questions.

Another challenge can be the price. It would make sense for things without animal products to be less expensive but unfortunately, that is often not the case. Many of the restaurants where vegan food is easily found are more expensive than their omnivore counterparts.

Columbia does have a couple places that are either specifically vegan or are very vegan friendly. Main Squeeze and Cafe Berlin are two of my favorite places. They are both local businesses who get most of their food from local farms, which is such an added bonus. Not only that, but they have amazing food.

My favorite food is Thai, and luckily for me, Columbia has no shortage of Thai restaurants that offer vegan options. It's nice to be able to go into a restaurant and know you'll be able to eat more than just a salad.

I live in St. Louis, but I spend a lot of time in Kansas City, too. It's a little unfair to compare those two big cities to Columbia, but if I had to guess, they are probably relatively similar. Compared to other college towns, I would say its vegan options are about average.

The most important thing restaurants could do is have a vegan option. There is nothing worse than going somewhere with friends or family and finding out there is literally nothing on their menu you can eat.

The next really helpful thing would be label things on the menu that are vegan, just so that I don't have to waste the server's time going through four or five dishes asking what is in it. Finally, offer variety. It's really easy to substitute vegan products for animal products. It would be nice to offer that without the dollar extra charge, too.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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Michael Williams March 5, 2014 | 10:00 a.m.

So long as you do not try and force restaurants (by law under threat) to serve vegan, I have absolutely no objection to your advocacy.

You can even ask for a cheaper price.

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