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When I order food in another country where I don't speak the language, what's the best way to explain to my waitress/waiter what I can and cannot eat as a vegan?

I'm doing some international traveling soon. Destinations include South America, Asia, and Europe. I know it's not possible for me to speak the language in all of the countries I'm visiting, so I'm looking for a fool-proof way to ensure that I don't get served meat or animal products when I eat out at restaurants.

a picture of a menu in greek script
I really want to order something, but I can't read the menu. And the waiter doesn't speak the same language as me.

I don't mind making a fool of myself. All I care about is that I don't end-up with animals or animal by-products on my plate.

What's the simplest way (that transcends the language barrier) to explain the plant-based diet when ordering food?

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2 Answers 2

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This is difficult because:

  1. If you say you're vegetarian, you may get served fish because many people don't realize it's not vegetarian
  2. If you say you're vegan, lots of people won't understand and will think it's vegetarian.
  3. If you say you only eat plants, lots of people will still serve you cheese and eggs
  4. It you try to just enumerate all of the things you can't eat, you may skip some culturally-relevant items, (eg crema in Mexico, paneer in India, leverpastej in Sweden, or furikake with bonito flakes in Japan)

Google Translate

The best thing to do is probably to just print a sheet of paper explaining veganism in the language of the country you're visiting before you go. Something like:

Hello, I am vegan. I am allergic to food from animals. I can only eat plants.

I cannot eat: meat, fish, eggs, cheese, ...

I can eat: rice, beans, vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, grains, etc

It would be a good idea to just spend a few hours googling "vegan in country X" before you do this.

After reading from other people's experiences, try to figure out what are the most common non-vegan ingredients (eg milk derivatives, fish condiments, etc) served in that country and add them to the list above before you translate it.

Vegan Passport

The Vegan Society maintains a little book called the Vegan Passport that is designed for this purpose.

image of the vegan passport explaining veganism in english and catalan

I haven't owned one, but my understanding is that they translate what veganism is in every language specifically for this purpose: so you can hand it to your waitress/waiter and they'll know what you can and cannot eat.

As far as I know, they take into account culture here, so they will specifically point out commonly-used ingredients for the given country that you cannot eat.

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"I'm looking for a fool-proof way to ensure that I don't get served meat or animal products when I eat out at restaurants."

You could try translating this into all required languages:

"I don't eat any part of an animal, bird, or fish, or any food that comes from one".

In any language, that sentence would probably only use words in the top few hundred.

But this meaning is not easy to communicate using sign language that everyone would understand.

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