Greening the menu
"There are more vegetarian or vegan restaurants around, too, and they're not just catering to vegetarians, either - it's becoming more the case that not everyone wants to eat meat all the time."
How easy is it to find vegetarian food on a restaurant menu? It depends on where you happen to be and what kind of vegetarian you are. It also helps to have an unquenchable appetite for quiche, risotto or pasta with tomato sauce, the standard vegie options in many restaurants.
The choices are wider if you eat eggs and dairy products, but if you're a vegan who avoids both, along with meat, poultry and fish, it gets trickier - unless you're in a big city in the US. On a trip to Chicago, the managing director of animal-protection organisation Voiceless, Ondine Sherman, found so many vegan-friendly restaurants that she was spoilt for choice.
But while Australian restaurants increasingly offer vegetarian options and are happy to ''vegetarianise'' dishes by taking out ingredients such as prosciutto, many meatless offerings rely heavily on cheese, she says - and the term ''vegan'' can leave wait staff scratching their heads.
''I often have to explain what it means but hopefully this will change as more people ask for meals free from animal products,'' says Sherman, whose menu wish-list includes more dishes based on legumes rather than cheese.
Still, ordering an all-plant brekkie in Sydney is getting easier. Along with the usual eggy breakfasts, more menus now include toast with avocado, mushrooms and spinach.
Japanese food also has good options for vegetarians, including vegans, says Sherman, whose favourites include agedashi tofu (pictured), glazed eggplant with miso sauce - called nasu dengaku - as well as edamame (green soy beans) and miso soup.
''I'm also a fan of great Italian food like fresh pastas with olive oil and vegetables - but hold the parmesan,'' she says. ''Thai restaurants can be difficult for vegans because of fish sauce but they do offer many great tofu dishes. Indian food is ideal for vegetarians and very healthy with a variety of protein-rich lentils and beans.''
Sherman stresses that Voiceless isn't prescriptive when it comes to what people should or shouldn't eat. She believes a ''purist'' approach to eating isn't helpful to the animal-protection movement.
''Although most Australians might want to eat ethically, they're not prepared to become 100 per cent vegan all the time - but significantly reducing animal products and eating only free-range will make an enormous difference to animal suffering,'' she says.
In Melbourne, things have improved since animal advocate Glenys Oogjes gave up eating animal-based foods more than 30 years ago. Back then, eating out and being vegan often meant one option: a vegie stack.
''It's getting much better,'' she says. ''With south-east Asian and Indian food, vegetarian dishes are just a normal part of the cuisine - the preponderance of meat on some restaurant menus is often more a concession to Western tastes.'' Oogjes is the executive director of Animals Australia, the organisation that revealed mistreatment of animals in Indonesian abattoirs.
''I can also be reasonably confident that if I go to a Middle Eastern or a Mexican restaurant, there'll be something I can eat - although I'd be less confident in a French restaurant. There are more vegetarian or vegan restaurants around, too, and they're not just catering to vegetarians, either - it's becoming more the case that not everyone wants to eat meat all the time.''
Where to go?
Looking for menus that embrace more plant-based dishes? The Animals Australia website has a guide to eating out with tips for finding vegetable options, as well as listings of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in cities across Australia. See unleashed.org.au.