My visit to IHOP, the International House of Pancakes.

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When I was a kid I loved going to the International House of Pancakes. IHOP was a fun place to get fluffy pancakes topped with gooey sweet syrups. My favorite choice was Boysenberry. I had no idea what a Boysenberry was, but it was fun to say and I loved sugar and their syrup was super sweet. Years later I would check the ingredients of an IHOP syrup and learn that it’s made with genetically modified corn syrup, artificial ingredients, artificial colors and preservatives. The IHOP website is not forthcoming about specific ingredients but you can see what is in their IHOP at Home syrups, available for sale:

Original Syrup:
Corn syrup, high frustose corn syrup,water, syrup, natural and artificial flavor, potassium sorbet (preservative), sodium hexametaphosphate, caramel color.

Strawberry Syrup:
Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, strawberry puree, citric acid, artifical flavor, potassium sorbate (preservative), sodium benzoate (preservative), caramel color, salt, F.D.& C. RED #40, F.D.& C. BLUE #1

You get the picture. What is Sodium Hexametaphosphate anyway? It’s a sequestrant, a food additive used to improve the quality and stability of foods. It is also used as an active ingredient in toothpastes as an anti-staining and tartar prevention ingredient. That’s ironic isn’t it?

IHOPIt’s been a long time since I’ve been to IHOP. I no longer frequent restaurant chains featuring low quality, cheap industrial food. IHOP is one such restaurant. My dad wanted to go to one recently and I obliged. I thought I would order something small just to be social, and eat later when I got home.

Was I shocked or surprised that IHOP’s menu was going to be a nightmare for vegans? No. Not if my dad wanted to go there. I was certain it was going to be just how I left it, back in the mid-1960s when I was poisoning myself with chemically-treated Boysenberry syrup. IHOP is stuck somewhere in the middle of the last century and not in a good way. IHOP’s menu is focused on the Standard American Diet (SAD) of the baby boomer generation: cheap, industrial, unhealthy foods with government-subsidized meats, dairy, sugar, oil, salt and processed white wheat flour loaded with gluten. This also makes eating at IHOP a nightmare for someone with Celiac Disease. I have read that they add pancake batter to their omelettes to make them fluffier. I am not recommending eating eggs. I’m a vegan, I know better than to eat the ovary deposits of a chicken. It’s not just because egg-laying hens are treated horrifically which should be enough to deter anyone from eating eggs but if that’s not enough chicken eggs can give humans heart disease. But for those that do eat eggs and can’t eat gluten, these omelettes are off-limits and should come with a warning label on the menu. At the very least, the IHOP server should ask before taking an order if anyone at the table has any food allergies. I wonder how many people with gluten issues have unknowingly eaten an omelette at IHOP and suffered the consequences later.

With a few simple modifications, IHOP could be offering some healthier fare and make their restaurant more inclusive, where everyone could happily dine together without fear of an allergic reaction. It’s not as if they don’t have fresh vegetables. The IHOP menu does give you the option of making your own custom omelette. You can add “Fresh Green Peppers & Onions, Fresh Tomatoes, Fresh Spinach, Fresh Mushrooms and Avocado” adding fiber and phyto-nutrients to your cholesterol-laden dish, making IHOP omelettes “healthier”. But beware, it will cost you! Each item was $.99 additional at the restaurant we went to, making healthier eating more expensive then eating unhealthy, disease-promoting foods. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Take other chains like Olive Garden, The Cheesecake Factory and California Pizza Kitchen. These places would never be a first choice for me because I prefer restaurants that are 100% vegan and I especially love organic options. But when there is a group outing with people that have different food requirements these restaurants have figured out how to satisfy everyone. They have good vegan options and are sensitive to people with allergies, especially those who can’t eat gluten. And the servers are knowledgeable and helpful putting the customers at ease.

I’ve been a vegan for over 30 years. I’m trained for such outings with my parents and I’ve been on plenty with them over the years. I know what to do when we go to these types of places. I’ve been to more diners, drive-ins and dives in the last few weeks then I’ve been to in 30 years. So what do I do? I order the house salad. Everyone has a house salad, even IHOP. It is described online as follows: “A lush mixed green salad, topped with red onion, juicy tomato, served with your choice of dressing. Simple and satisfying.” The greens on my plate did not look as lush as the photo on the menu, nor were my tomatoes juicy. They were anemic and tasteless. Again, was I shocked or surprised? No. And when a vegan orders a house salad at a non-vegan-friendly restaurant I recommend requesting vinegar and oil instead of any of their dressings. The server brought a cruet rack with oil and vinegar to the table. Another thing I never do is use the oil in said rack for several reasons. First, I don’t put oil in my salad dressings. Fat is important and I get the fat from whole plant foods, like avocado, nuts and seeds that I blend into a delicious healthy dressing. The oil at chain restaurants like IHOP are cheap, genetically-modified vegetable oils that are rancid from not being refrigerated. And who knows how old they are? I splash a little vinegar on my vegetables. Here’s where I was surprised. When I grabbed the vinegar bottle I noticed it was filthy and sticky! The oil bottle was the same. Disgusting! If they are not cleaning these bottles, what else is not being cleaned? I did not want to dwell on this thought. There were some menu items that contained broccoli so I was daring and asked for it steamed. It came in a tiny dish. Like the tomatoes, this broccoli had zero flavor.

What would I do to change things at IHOP, to bring it up to the 21st century? To start, I’d make the International House of Pancakes worthy of their name. There is nothing “international” about their pancakes. Where are the French Buckwheat Crepes, the Italian Socca made with Garbanzo Bean Flour, the British Oat Cakes, the Indian Dosa made with Lentil Flour or Asian Rice Flour Pancakes from Korea, Taiwan or China? What is wonderful about all of these authentically international pancakes is that they can be wheat-free and gluten-free! And here at Responsible Eating And Living we make them all, without dairy or eggs. Our pancakes, crepes and waffles are 100% vegan.

My message to IHOP is simple: clean up your restaurant and your menu items. Include healthier options that are gluten-free and vegan. With a few modifications your restaurants will be more inclusive, and you will likely benefit from fatter profits and healthier customers who will live longer and be return guests for many years to come. It can be a win-win for everyone.

We have many pancake, waffle and crepe recipes on our website that can help. Take a look at all of them here.

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