Going out to eat can be a complicated experience for those with dietary restrictions. How does Winnipeg’s restaurant culture fare when it comes to accommodating allergies and alternative lifestyles?
“I’m one of the kids who has the nut allergy. That’s a fun one,” Lisa Kay says. She’s had to navigate several other food allergies since childhood. “I’m also allergic to eggs and seafood and sesame and beans.”
Kay likes going out to eat but isn’t able to be very adventurous when choosing somewhere to go.
“I find I’m usually going to the same few places,” she says.
Franchise restaurants have been accommodating to Kay, but even then she has to stick to specific chains.
“Moxie’s, for example, they’ll actually have a manager come out and talk to you and reconfirm your allergies,” she says. “Some places are really good, but I’ve been to JOEY or Earls. You go there, and they refuse to serve you, because they can’t guarantee anything.”
Eating out is a popular way to socialize, and it’s even been part of Kay’s work life.
“There are people who are like ‘Oh, just don’t go out to eat,’ but it’s almost nearly impossible to do.”
After having the same conversations repeatedly, Kay would rather avoid the subject of her allergies. When someone can’t cook for her, she’d rather be understanding than make it into an argument.
Joanne Pollock, a devoted vegan, is grateful to find some knowledgeable restaurant owners. However, she finds Winnipeg to be a little behind Toronto, where she lived for many years.
“It’s getting less hard, but it’s kind of a tough city to be vegan in,” she says. “A lot of it is the mentality of the people. I think a lot of people don’t take it very seriously and don’t know what it is.”
More often than not, Pollock says Toronto restaurants and cafes have at least one vegan option available, and it’s nice to feel included.
Kay can relate to feeling disheartened by a limited menu.
“One time I went out with some girlfriends … the waitress actually came out after I had told her my allergies and said ‘We can’t guarantee anything for you, but we can do noodles and butter.’”
In this and other situations, she will opt not to eat and instead just grab something later.
Kay says she’s become aware of more interesting food options, as more people begin to write about their dietary restrictions online.
“The whole rise of veganism has been awesome, because I’m able to find a lot of recipes that are egg-free,” she says.
Pollock mentions Cocoabeans Bakeshop locally, where the menu accommodates vegan and gluten-free diets.
“I think the vegan and gluten-free people can kind of relate to each other on a level, because they’re both annoying in restaurants, and people don’t really understand what they’re subject to.”
Pollock is passionate about the environmental and ethical reasons for her veganism, and seeing it as merely a diet or inconvenience can feel like an insult.