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Being Vegan in Cowtown Isn't Hard, It Just Takes Some Know-how

03/12/2014 04:20 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

I've been vegan for almost three years, and vegetarian for roughly four years. I had always been more or less vegetarian since the tenth grade, but the idea of abstaining from meat in Calgary - a city whose nickname 'Cowtown' refers to the cattle industry our province is famous for - was sometimes bewildering.

While I eventually plucked up the courage to ditch meat and, later, all animal byproducts, my dietary choices sometimes puzzle many of my fellow Calgarians. They ask me, "How do you do it? Where do you go to eat?" as though I'm performing an unbelievably difficult task. In reality, though, eating a vegan diet in this city isn't all that hard.

Meat is definitely a fixture of many restaurants' menus, but the good news is that unless you're going to a steakhouse, there's a good chance you'll be able to find something to eat while out on the town. Here are some helpful tips I've found along the way.

1. Inform others of your dietary restrictions.

I know, I know, you don't want to be one of those vegans that uses every social outing as an excuse to either gush about their veganism or criticize non-vegans for their meat-eating ways.

In the past, I've worried about this endlessly and have avoided telling people that I'm vegan to avoid seeming preachy. I thought I would come off as annoying, demanding, or even picky and never wanted to make a nuisance of myself for my personal choices. But I've been pleasantly surprised every time I've opened up to even the most anti-vegan seeming meatatarians.

My boyfriend's parents hunt occasionally, eat meat often, and are surrounded by the taxidermied animals in their home constantly, and even they have been incredibly supportive when I visit them. They've veganized birthday cakes, breads, and pasta sauces for me, and have even tried out some tofu scramble themselves.

The point is I've never met a legitimate mind reader in my life and neither have you (probably), so you should speak up to let others know that no, that new seafood place is not a great place for you and your friends to grab some dinner. They won't know you're vegan unless you tell them, and once you do, you'll be surprised how supportive the people in your life will be.

2. Do your research

Calgary has a number of vegan- and vegetarian-friendly restaurants and to list them all would be exhausting. But if you're feeling curious about what this city has to offer a vegan palette, Urban Spoon and Happy Cow are great resources that tell you if the establishment you have in mind is suitable for herbivores. Both these sites usually link to individual restaurant's websites, too, which brings me to my next point.

Most every restaurant has a website where you can view their in-house menu. Utilize this resource and scope out, beforehand, possible vegan options at any establishment you're considering patronizing but are feeling iffy about. If there aren't any vegan options available, look for vegetarian options that can easily be veganized. Salads are a great place to turn, and a cheeseless veggie pizza can usually be improvised at almost any pizzeria or pub.

And if all else fails, call the restaurant up and ask if the chef would be willing to make a special vegan meal on the day of your reservation. More restaurants do this than you may think, so don't worry yourself with the idea that you're putting someone out.

3. Always pack a snack

If you've been eating a plant-based diet for a while, you know all too well how quickly you can get hungry. To stave off hunger pains when on the go, make sure you have a snack packed with you at all times, whether it be trail mix, granola bars, or some fresh fruits or veggies.

This will come in handy especially when you find yourself at that same seafood place or steakhouse where your only saving grace on the menu is a side garden salad and a butter-less dinner roll.

Some other tips to help you transition to veganism:

Before Going Vegan