I’m currently vacationing with my family in Florida (goodbye miserable Philly weather.) Yesterday, we went to Olive Garden for lunch. I’ve never been a fan of chain restaurants, but my family has always enjoyed them. Olive Garden recently overhauled its lunch menu much like I’m trying to overhaul my diet. I was looking for a healthy vegan option since dairy has increasingly been upsetting my stomach. I was happy to see a “healthy” (read: low-cal) section on the menu. I quickly eliminated the meat-based entrees and narrowed in on the Capellini Pomodoro.
Here is a screen shot of the menu description:
Seems pretty vegan right? It was actually a pretty light and refreshing pasta dish that wasn’t drowning in sauce or covered in cheese. I was so pleased about the meal that I came home and tweeted about it. Within moments, Olive Garden tweeted me back and wanted to discuss the meal. At first, I was excited, I thought maybe I was selected to sample new, healthy vegan menu items. Maybe, they wanted to ask me to take a survey on how I liked dining there as a vegan. NOPE. Olive Garden wanted to tell me that the dish was, in fact, NOT vegan. While I haven’t completely given up all dairy products yet, my heart was pounding that I mistakenly eaten meat. I inquired whether the sauce was meat-based. Thankfully, it was not, but the dish was made with a dairy base. Confused, I went back online to check the ingredients. Upon searching “Capellini Pomodoro Olive Garden,” the first result was a Olive Garden recipe (notably posted by Olive Garden.)
Again, still looks vegan. Even if I had researched the meal before ordering it, I probably would have stopped there. However, according to Olive Garden, this information was clearly expressed in their allergy guide. First off, being vegan or vegetarian is not an allergy. I will not go into anaphylactic shock if I mistakenly eat chicken broth or parmesan cheese. However, if there are hidden animal products in a dish I think that should be disclosed somewhere more obvious than the “allergy guide.” Estimates state that over 10% of the U.S. population is vegetarian and an increasing amount are vegan. Call me a naive newbie veg but I wouldn’t think to check the allergen guide before dining out. In Olive Garden’s defense, their customer service was fantastic, informative, and quick to respond.
Unfortunately, my dining experience yesterday reaffirmed many of my feelings about chain restaurants. What you see isn’t always what you get. Olive oil and marinara sauce doesn’t mean olive oil and marinara sauce. You live and learn and maybe you’ll ask some more questions before ordering (even if it makes your dining partners cringe a little.)