Should vegetarians assume they can eat French fries?

Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

French fries are the vegetarian’s last resort. When all the sandwiches on a menu contain meat and even the side of Brussels sprouts is fried in bacon, trusty fries are there like a port in a storm. Unless they’re fried in beef tallow.

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On Friday, a New York judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit against Buffalo Wild Wings that claimed damages stemming from vegetarians’ consumption of the chain’s fries. The suit alleged B-Dubs failed to disclose that its fries are crisped in beef tallow, rendering them non-vegetarian.

Whatever the case’s legal merits or lack thereof, the suit led to an engaging discussion around my house this morning.

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Me to boyfriend: “Do you assume French fries are vegetarian?”
Boyfriend: “Like with a burger?”
Me: “No, if you were a vegetarian and were ordering them at a chain restaurant. Would you assume the fries are vegetarian?”
Him: “But I’m not vegetarian.”
Me: “Right, obviously, but if you were, would you assume the fries aren’t fried in animal products?”
Him: “I guess I’d ask. Anyway, I’m gonna thaw sausage for dinner.”

Seeing as he and I are not the type of people who consider this quandary, it made me wonder what vegetarians or those who don’t eat meat for religious reasons generally assume about fries, mozzarella sticks, fried pickles, etc. (According to PETA, most fast-food fries—McDonald’s excepted—are vegan.)

But do vegetarians have to ask each restaurant which oil or fat is used for frying? Do they assume it’s non-animal-based? When they ask this, do servers actually know the answer?

I suppose this depends on how steadfast a vegetarian one is. If you were fairly lax about it, and a server told you that of course the fries were vegetarian, would you chance eating fries crisped in beef fat? Or would you avoid risking it and just order the hummus plate again? Please discuss in the comments, and thanks for tuning in to this week’s edition of Meat Eaters Asking Basic Vegetarian Questions.

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Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

sailorjupiter
Sailor Jupiter

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was six. I knew to avoid McDonald’s, but usually resort to fries vs. limp salads at any fast food place on a road trip. Glad to see my expectation of oil+potato+salt is generally reasonable.

It has never occurred to me to ask if fries at sit-down restaurants are cooked in animal fat, because generally the places that do that highlight it on their menu as a selling point.

I know some vegetarians are concerned about the food they eat being prepared on the same surfaces/in the same oil as meat, but I haven’t reached that point. I feel like there is some surrender of control when you go out to eat.

I don’t cook with fish sauce at home, but expect I am having it in Thai restaurants. Same with the miso soup I enjoy with my vegetable sushi rolls using fish broth. A little flexibility keeps me sane, and lets me enjoy and support restaurants cooking traditional food. But at the same time, I ask if soups are vegetarian at American style restaurants. I think we all have our compass to follow navigating as vegetarians/vegans.