On a recent trip to Dublin, to celebrate Tom’s 25th Birthday and my 7th year blogging, we decided to spend the time sight-seeing the non-touristy areas. So did a lot of walking.25 miles of walking, our limbs felt like they were crying on the journey home.

On our way back into Dublin city centre we walked past a few O’Briens cafes and decided to treat ourselves to some food, as vegan food is limited and it became apparent it’s very limited in Dublin if you don’t know where to look. So we planned to have a lovely breakfast on day 2.

Which lead to suffering an allergy from a restaurant not serving the correct foods.

The email.

I’m looking to get a full response so if it’s possible could I have a direct email for press & complaints department (possibly a customer relations email?).

Over the last weekend (14th-15th) on a recent visit to Dublin. Me and my partner visited O’Brien’s, as it was one of the only, if not the only, restaurant and cafe chain that advertised a Vegan option in the window. Of the windows in O’Brien’s, all of them have the vegan poster up so we were very excited to have a proper breakfast.

We popped in to O’Brien’s on Lower Baggot Street, on the Saturday to ask if the vegan menu was running. Of course, it was so we planned to have it on our walk back into town the following morning and noticed one that was closer to our hotel on Upper Baggot Street.

The next morning we went in and ordered the Vegan Bagel and a coffee as the posters and staff said they did almond and soy milk. The bagel which looked and evidently, tasted amazing went down a treat.

However, we were served cheese and onion crisps, which we didn’t realise were cheese and onion until tasting them AND then had to ask if they were dairy-free (they weren’t). Along with being served cows milk with our coffee and a complimentary chocolate. When the coffee arrived, after asking for it with almond milk, we noticed it smelt like cows so I questioned it. The milk was then taken from us with a “No it’s not”, with no apology or gesture of goodwill (There was a Tesco’s right across the road – It had dairy free milks in!).

I understand that not everyone understands veganism or intolerance but when it comes to adding a new item to a menu I would expect a 5-minute check on what that requires from your staff. A quick google of the word veganism brings up the search “Dietary vegans (or strict vegetarians) refrain from consuming animal products, not only meat but also eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances.” This is something that could easily be implemented into all cafes and restaurants.

Luckily I am only mildly intolerant to dairy products so at worst I have a few hours of cramping and sickness, which did happen pre-flight home and then again during the night. I am now at work running on very little hours sleep and wondering why a big franchise such as yours hasn’t had these concerns brought up prior?

If this had been a severe allergy would this have been taken more seriously? After this incident we walked back through to Dublin city centre and walked past 3 of the 10 chains and asked about their dairy-free milks and non of them had any either. I’d like to understand why the staff aren’t trained and I’d also like an apology for this mistake.

The response.

Dear Amy,

Thanks you for your e-mail regarding your visit to O’Briens on Sunday.

The Vegan Supreme is a very popular new addition to the menu, and if a customer doesn’t specify that they are Vegan they have to date been served with the O’Briens Cheese & Onion Catering Crisps.The Allergen advice for these crisps is that they ‘May Contain Traces of Milk’, so in response to your feedback we will source some different Vegan crisps, and make sure to ask customers if they are Vegan when this Bagel is ordered.Apologies also that we didn’t have Soya or Almond milk available. Usually we would do have both of these items in stock.

The two staff members who were working on Sunday are off today, however I will speak to them both tomorrow morning.

Are you likely to be in Ireland again soon? If so, I could e-mail you an O’Briens voucher to be used in any O’Briens store.

Thanks again for the feedback.

Best wishes,

In the response, a few things stood out to me.

They have used the first sentence, not to explain how sorry they are that I have had these issues but, to explain that in fact it’s our fault for not telling them that when we ordered the vegan bagel with vegan milk, we should also state we’re vegan. 

Perhaps I’m being overly-emotive about this but when it comes to dietary requirements, allergies are just as important as religious requirements and moral preference. Considering I have had IBS and dairy-intolerances as a teenager I have constantly had to monitor dairy-products so asking for vegan alternatives became the norm, until I learnt more about veganism and wanted to be a vegan for my own reasons.

This doesn’t mean my request for dairy-free products is any less important, so why does it warrant less attention and care?

Which meant I felt obligated to explain my reasons and respond, along with letting them know I wanted to talk about it.

Hi ***

I appreciate the quick response. I’d like to add that in by ordering from the vegan menu and additional products that are vegan, we would encourage staff to know that we are in fact, vegan. I don’t believe it’s something we should necessarily have to announce. When someone with a dairy allergy asks for dairy-free products it’s expected that we’re then served dairy free products.

An additional note is that we did visit 3 other stores in Dublin and none of them, on Sunday Morning, had dairy-free milk either. I doubt we’ll be returning in the next few years but I appreciate the gesture. I do run a website for food reviews and recipes, I’d just like to mention that I will be featuring this on there. I think it is great that you have added a vegan option and there will always be hiccups in a product launch, especially when it’s something unfamiliar (which I see is the case with veganism in Dublin in general).

I hope it’s seen as highlighting the issues vegans face. I just wanted to give a heads up as it can be seen as sly if I didn’t mention it prior to publication.

 

And really, the last sentence entirely sums up the reason for this post.

Vegans face issues like this everyday. Not because of ‘lack of food’ but because there’s a lack of understanding about the food people should provide. Vegan options don’t have to be limited but we find that in a lot of places, they still are. This is pretty much entirely because of lack of knowledge and understanding about what veganism is, whether or not it’s individuals need to understand; if they’re in the food industry then they should know about veganism and allergy restrictions. 

But also, children should be taught that there are other ways to eat other than the standard ‘western’ diet and that we should respect and, when possible, understand everyone’s choices to eat a certain way.

 

Amy-May Hunt

2 comments on “An open letter to all food-stockists, from a Vegan.”

  1. Hi Derek,

    I tried to list both issues, from a vegan standpoint I wanted to highlight the issues that many vegans face (as not everyone has an intolerance like I do). However, my issues are low on the scale of intolerance and I know how serious allergies can be so of course, wanted to include allergy training in my initial comment to the restaurant.

    I completely understand the severity of the issue wife faces with foods with Gluten in them. I had an extremely mild sensitivity to gluten a few years ago and it was agony. I can’t imagine your wife’s pain and struggles on a daily basis and hope her concerns are met with care when eating out.

    Me and my partner try to steer clear of eating out and as such have had no experience with having to tell people our dietary preferences (and intolerance).

    It’s a shame things can’t be simple!

    Thanks for the care in your comment.

  2. Hi Amy, your recent visit to O’Briens in Dublin was disappointing but you appear to have prioritised Veganism (a lifestyle choice) over your Dairy intolerance ( a medical condition) and I reckon it should be the other way round to protect you from potential problems!
    In a perfect world all staff working or serving in cafes, restaurants etc should be up to speed with all 14 specified Allergens but that is far from the situation anywhere in Ireland or the UK. If you add in Veganism and Vegetarianism they simply have two more scenarios to contend with.
    My wife was medically diagnosed as Coeliac about 14 years ago and for at least 10 of those years there was very little Gluten Free food available anywhere in Northern Ireland. As GF has become much better known more and more eating venues have jumped onto the bandwagon but not all really understand the problem or the trouble being Glutened can cause. At the same time a number of people have decided to go “Gluten Free” because they have heard it’s a good diet on which to lose weight or because some celebrity mentioned it- “Lifestylers”. These people will ask for a Gluten Free meal and then take a Gluten filled Dessert when nothing GF is available and that is simply confusing the staff. That means, when ordering food in any eating venue, my wife makes it clear that she is Coeliac and not simply Gluten Free. Furthermore, when we are talking to staff or catering students we tell them that it’s not their job to “spot the Coeliac” or a person with a food Allergy or Intolerance. It’s up to the customer to make the staff aware of the problem so to say you are Vegan does not convey the fact that you have an Intolerance to Dairy. That must be specified first if you want to keep yourself safe!
    We recently spent a week talking about Allergens and Coeliac Disease to Catering Students around Northern Ireland. If you would like to know how that worked out drop me an email and we can have a chat!
    Kind regards,
    Derek

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