Gluten-Free Vs. Vegetarian: It’s a Thing

gluten-free menusSomething has happened, you guys. And if you’re vegetarian, you’re probably already way aware. If you’re gluten-free, you’re probably also aware but not AS much, because the game is changing in our favor. I know. WEIRD.

Last weekend I went on a super fab getaway with even more fab friends, one of whom is vegetarian, and one of me, who is gluten-free. We did the resort thing close to our house because, kids. And, easy. And, Palm Springs. So you know, great idea. We posted up in the Westin Rancho Mirage and mostly wined and dined on site. I do love the Palm Springs, as you know, and have eaten SO WELL in that vacation heaven. Still, I was surprised to find gluten-free menus in every restaurant in the resort. Like this one-

gluten-free vs. vegetarianGirl, I had options. And I ate safely all weekend! Which was so cool! It really allowed me to relax and kick back on vaca. My vegetarian friend, however, not so much.

Our first meal at Pinzini proved to have this lovely gluten-free pasta option for me, as seen above. For him? Well, he ordered a salad . . . that came with salami on top. Even though it didn’t say that on the menu. OK, so it’s Italian and all, so maybe one might expect some antipasto on your salad. No? Yeah, no, I didn’t think so either. Anyhoo, dude got another salad and we all had dinner and it was fab. The next night, however, shit went down.

There was this big BBQ happening complete with country cover band (I totally mentioned we were at a resort, yes? K.) and admittedly I was a little worried but assumed I could grab a slab of meat or something. I approached the chef and asked him if there were gluten-free options around the BBQ table (especially worried about soy sauce, obviously) and the man in the big hat took me on a very detailed tour of EVERY SINGLE FOOD ITEM in the three table set up. He didn’t even stop when we got to salads and drinks, reassuring me of what I could eat and drink gluten-free. My husband tried to interrupt to ask about something, and the chef gave him a look like, “Go to hell. I’m helping the gluten-free lady right now.”

So when my friend went to ask where the veggie burgers were, one would think helpfulness was this guy’s middle name. Again, not so much. First of all, they were actually cooking salmon on the grill, and my friend will eat fish. So when he asked for vegetarian options and asked about the fish, you would think, OK, great. Instead the same chef told my friend the salmon was not for him but for “another party” and he couldn’t have it. Later we saw that “other party” sitting right behind us, clearly having paid the same price for the BBQ spread as we did. So then my friend said, how about a veggie burger (because we had been told they would have them when we inquired earlier) and the chef said, “You’ll have to wait 20 minutes.” That 20 minutes turned to 30, and when my friend went up again it turned out the chef had not even put one on the grill. Instead, another sous chef dug a veggie burger out of the cooler and had it ready in 5 minutes—which is what it takes to cook a veggie burger.

All of this is to say, I’ve been finding it easier and easier to dine out gluten-free. Of course, I eat meat. But I’m wondering if people are jumping on the gluten-free trend and forgetting about other people out there who pay cash money for a nice dinner but maybe don’t hoover the meat like say, I do. It’s true that I don’t see the vegetarian notations on menus like I used to, but I do spy the gluten-free. And again, while this is amazing for you and me, I wonder if the vegetarians are all hating us for stealing their special menu options. Has cooking with chicken stock increased? Are small plates all coated with bacon? I just have a feeling it’s getting harder and harder for the veggie types to dine out. And it seems to coincide with us gluten-free types having more options.

I’m sure restaurants don’t want to have a diner style menu in order to accommodate every single diet, but I know as someone who entertains I ALWAYS have enough food so vegetarians don’t go hungry. It’s second nature now, although admittedly, it wasn’t for me 10 years ago. I do wonder if it’s becoming an after thought and the gluten-free, paleo, farm-to-table, snout-to-tail is more easily accommodated these days. All I know is last weekend was the first time I had fewer issues dining out than someone else. Win?

What are you guys experiencing out there?

20 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Vs. Vegetarian: It’s a Thing

  1. April, I am gluten-free *and* vegetarian, so I get screwed all the time. So much so that I get overly emotional when someone does accommodate me. I am in sales and I often attend conferences at hotels where they are totally unequipped to handle the GF/MF (meat-free) person. I have had so many experiences like your friend’s. Often I am sitting at a table with 9 other people who all think it’s strange that they are chowing down on their rubber chicken and I am still waiting for my food (after having sent back the vegetarian lasagna twice because the mofo’s don’t understand gluten-free). Last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself, and I end up having to explain what I need multiple times (usually whispering to the server, and then the service manager, while some sort of presentation is going on) and then my food comes 30 minutes after everyone else’s. Is it getting better? Yes, because there are more menus and restaurants that can accommodate special diets. Is it still a pain in the ass a lot of the time? For sure. Thank goodness for people like you who have a platform to increase awareness!

    P.S. I am going to look for you at the GF expo in Pasadena!

    • I feel your pain Amy. I’m Vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy free. I end up with a plain salad a lot. I remember snapping at a server once that I just want so etching to eat while I started to get teary. Not one of my finer moments.

  2. Honestly, I am flabbergasted and ashamed that I hadn’t even noticed this issue! I have a vegetarian friend who also has celiac, so I know what she likes to eat (lots of beans, legumes, gluten free grains, veggies, etc), but I never really thought that being vegetarian could be more difficult than being gluten free. Maybe the fact that gluten free can be a medical condition compared to the “choice” of vegetarianism?

    Personally, my experiences have been pretty good. I don’t go out to eat very often, though, because I generally find that I can cook better gluten free food in my own kitchen! 😉 Thanks for spreading awareness on this issue.


  3. I am a vegetarian, and I recently started eating gluten-free because I’m trying to fix some stomach problems that may or may not be linked. I never had too much of a problem finding things to eat as a vegetarian, but now it’s been more difficult since I started eating GF. I usually just get a salad. I’m fine with that, but I do miss being able to order a plate of pasta and/or bread whenever I feel like it. Now that I think about it, I have noticed that GF options are sometimes specified on menus, but I rarely see vegetarian sections on menus anymore. I’m glad this was brought up, because it can be very frustrating, especially when I become the center of attention because everyone’s trying to help get me get something to eat.

  4. Yes, definitely. I’m GF and prefer to eat vegetarian but will eat meat if there aren’t options. Two of my kids are also GF. One of my other kids is vegetarian. It is generally harder to find her something than the rest of us — other than for my son who is allergic to gluten and dairy, and it’s just flat out depressing trying to feed that poor boy at all.

    My daughter ordered a salad at a restaurant recently when we were on the road and it was covered in ham chunks, even though she’d ordered one at the same chain restaurant (different location) had no meat the day before and she thought it was one of the only things on the menu that she could eat. Even things that seem vegetarian often aren’t, like at the Mexican restaurants there is often lard in the refried beans and chicken broth in the rice. Same with soups that sound vegetarian, like the cream of broccoli soup at Panera Bread (which we obviously don’t visit since going GF anymore anyway) — made with chicken broth.

    Servers and cooks often act either perplexed (at ethnic restaurants) or annoyed (in the more “American” ones) to hear that she’s vegetarian, too. I think being GF is seen largely as an unfortunate condition people have no choice about, while being vegetarian is seen as some sort of disapproving or misguided choice.

    The one place where the whole family CAN happily eat is Chipotle. I love that my 16 y/o and I can order both GF and vegetarian easily (veggie burrito bowls), my son can have a big meal that’s tasty even without gluten or dairy, and my vegetarian 14 y/o can eat healthy, vegetarian food — and the rest of family likes it too. Plus it’s cheap enough for the 7 of us in our family not to go broke, and they make all sorts of sustainable food choices in the company too. I sound like an ad, but all of that is quite rare here in rural Minnesota. 🙂

  5. Amy I too am GF and a vegetarian. I have been a vegetarian for 13 years but just recently found out that I have to eliminate gluten from my diet due to a possible intolerance! It has been hard enough to find vegetarian options when I work ( I am a flight attendant) now I am faced with GF as well…it seems a little too overwhelming at this point only being one week into this new lifestyle change but any advice or suggestions to make it easier would be greatly appreciated

  6. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I am gf but not vegetarian. I quite enjoy meat thank you very much. My experience at many functions has been that if there is also someone vegetarian, the lazy chef will make the same bland, overcooked veggie dish so neither of us is happy.

  7. So I’m sympathetic to y’all who are vegetarian, but I have another weird take. Like Amy, I attend a few conferences and such. Because they’re usually in bigger hotels, they tend to be all over the gluten-free. Twice though my gluten-free was vegetarian–without my asking (or, honestly wanting). Huh. I guess it is better that they accommodate both and understandable that they might want to do it “efficiently,” but, yeah, I need animal flesh.

  8. I’ve had the same experience as joelmw and g murphy – I’ve been grouped into the vegetarian option when I just need the gluten free multiple times. (The worst – I was at a wedding (as a bridesmaid – the bride totally knew and asked about gluten) and I was served two raw portabello mushrooms with sauteed onions and peppers. Everyone else was having steak or grilled chicken with baked potatoes, and I was told that my mushrooms were the only thing gluten free. REALLY?) And people seem to think anything vegan is gluten free, which what?? It’s not that hard.

    • Erin,
      I think a lot of it is attributable to ignorance and arrogance; a very bad combination. I have to occasionally go to events that are work related. In one location, the chef is very accommodating. He admits that he is not an expert and asks to meet with me in advance to review the menu. In another location, the message has been I know what I am doing, how dare you question me. This is the same chef that proudly offered me a bowl of roasted vegetables over toasted barley. Great for a vegetarian, not so great for me.

  9. I have a dear friend with an enzyme deficiency and the only reliable treatment is a vegetarian diet (sound familiar)? In San Diego, she has it pretty good. She can go to a steak house and once she makes sure the fries aren’t cooked in meat fat and there isn’t any hidden chicken broth, she happily mows down sides. We didn’t have much luck the other day at the farm-to-table pork palace, though. They had a good veggie special, but sold out, and their usual veggie option was adequate but nothing to write home about. It’s a major treat when we find a place where we can both have good options. And since she’ a been navigating her issues for so long, she’s been a huge help in learning to advocate for my needs.

  10. As many of the above posts have said, I, too am vegetarian and gluten free. To make matters even more complicated, I am allergic to both sweet potatoes and quinoa (every restaurants gluten free, veg alternative!) …Sigh.

  11. Pingback: CDF Bloggers | Gluten-Free Best Friends

  12. I’ve had the experience of more vegetarian/vegan options than GF, which kind of ticks me off since, while I get that there are people who forego meat for medical reasons, there seem to be far more who do it out of smugness. But what grinds my gears even more is being forced to pay upwards of double the price for something if I want it to not kill me/ send my gut into digestive paroxysms. Seriously, if you made everything on the menu more expensive by a few pennies, I’m sure it would more than make up for the extra expense of all that GF food you’re shifting. By making me pay more, you are punishing me for eating at your establishment. Vegetarian options, by contrast, are of equal – even lesser – value than their omnivorous counterparts.
    I’d also like at least one list of GF restaurants in my area to not be predominantly vegetarian / raw vegan / Asian. Don’t get me wrong, I love some food from foreign lands, but throw me a bone and tell me where I can get my grubby mitts on some GF fish and chips, please!

    • I hear you. Most restaurants that are big on g-free in LA are also raw and vegan. Are they good? Pretty much all of them. But yes, give me something deep-fried, people!!!!!!

  13. Being vegetarian or vegan is a choice– being celiac is not. I chose to be veg/vegan for a good two decades (hurting my health in the process)– tried to do the gluten free vegan thing after finding out I had celiac– but gluten free got easier (& my health improved) after adding a bit of animal products. I think when it comes to preparing menus, restaurants think it might be better to give a wider option to people that really get sick from gluten than people that can probably alternate a few items on the regular menu if they’re morally opposed to eating something (although GF items are $5 more expensive than other menu items and vegetarian dishes are the cheapest). Having said that, I find a lot of things are vegan/gf on menus but they’re loaded with soy & other veg staples I’ve developed sensitivities to. I’m like joelmw now– after starting to listen to my body, I need some fish or at least an egg. Haha (by the way, I used to be one of those super militant vegans that would be annoying in restaurants & preach about how the diet was the best for the planet, animals, every single human— I think now that my body rebelled against my brain and celiac disease is my karma for those years!)

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