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The confusing world of food icons on menus

You walk into a restaurant, sit down and have a look at the menu. Let’s assume you’re gluten free and that’s it, so you look for a label or icon that says ‘GF’ and you immediately know what you can eat.

Taking that a step further, what if you’re vegetarian? That’s also easy – you just look out for a label or icon that says either ‘vegetarian’ or simply a ‘V’. It’s good that if ‘V’ means ‘vegan’ you’re still covered.

But this is where it starts to get hard. You’re vegan – that is you don’t eat any animal product or anything that contains animal protein. Some cafes and restaurants show the abbreviation ‘VGN’ to denote a vegan dish, but not all. Sometimes it says ‘vegan friendly’, but confusingly there’s often not a legend, or an indication on the menu of what the symbols and letters mean. ‘V’ could mean vegetarian or vegan. In most cases it means vegetarian, so if there’s only a ‘V’ symbol, you have to ask what it means. In our experience not all restaurant or cafe staff know what the ‘V’ means and in some cases are unaware of the difference between vegan and vegetarian.

So let’s assume you’re vegan and you’ve been able to work out which dishes are vegan on the menu.

Let’s take it to the next level and assume you are vegan AND gluten free. Now you’ve got to look for both symbols on a dish before you know you can eat it. Good luck with that one. In our experience many restaurants and cafes have these symbols plastered all over their menus, but often there is not one dish with both symbols on it. The only alternatives at this point are to…

  1. give up your dietary requirements and sacrifice one (or more) of them
  2. not eat anything
  3. go up and ask the staff if they have anything
  4. stop going to restaurants (or only go to vegan ones – at least you only have to look for the GF symbol)

For omnivores, perusing a menu is fun – plenty of options and you can choose anything. But as soon as you add in more than one dietary requirement, reading a menu becomes a real mental challenge and the last resort is talking to the wait staff to see if they can accommodate you. Not everybody wants to be that awkward customer, or reveal to the people you are eating with that you are one!

So, what’s the answer? We humbly suggest adding one more food icon to menus – VGF. Vegan (and) Gluten Free. It’s already in our name.

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