Just to get things straight, I don’t have a synthetic skinned drum to beat regarding vegetarianism and restaurants. I eat meat. In fact I’ll eat anything that is placed in front of me. If a chef tells me it tastes good, then I believe them.
However, for a number of years I didn’t eat meat. There were a number of reasons for this. The first was that I moved in with two vegetarian girls whose sophisticated cooking (I’ll come back to this later) made the efforts prompted by my student’s cookbook look positively Neanderthal.
The second was that I lost trust in the food chain in the UK (it was the time of mad bovines) and the third, don’t laugh, was as a result of being quite moved by the film Babe.
I never gave up fish or seafood so was never a fully fledged card carrying vegetarian, more of a halfway house pescatarian; a term that had people thinking I was taking the pescatarian when I repeated it. Over a number of years of being sneered at in restaurants when I revealed I didn’t eat meat, I developed an empathy for the plight of the average vegetarian trying to eat out well.
Probably my worst experience was at a Christmas work’s ‘do’ in what was the Piccadilly Hotel in Manchester. As a non-meat eater my Christmas dinner consisted of the same veg my colleagues had with their slices of turkey. The difference was mine was paired up with pasta covered in a dour tomato sauce. Pasta and roast potatoes – it was never going to be a classic combo.
When I told the waiting staff that this culinary insult didn’t constitute a meal they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. So I asked them the question ‘would you eat this?’ The answer was a grimace and a ‘no’ followed quickly by ‘but we’re not vegetarians’.
First Culinary Mistake
Being a vegetarian doesn’t equate to meaning someone is happy to eat utter garbage.
I once interviewed a restaurateur who jokingly (I think) said they’d turn vegetarians away at the door. Another said that although they didn’t have vegetarian meals on their menu, they’d be happy to ask the chefs to ‘knock something up’ if a veggie diner asked for it. That statement took me right back to my Hotel Piccadilly Christmas meal.
I recently read a blog titled ‘Vegetarians are Assholes’ which bemoaned the rise in the numbers of vegetarians and that chefs were ‘being forced to throw a vegetarian option (usually a shitty one) on their menus.’
I’d argue that those chefs who throw a ‘shitty’ vegetarian option together are probably just ‘shitty’ chefs.
Second Culinary Mistake
Dishing up a ‘shitty’ vegetarian meal only harms the reputation of the chef and the restaurant.
Going back to when I moved in with the two vegetarian girls, what astounded me was how good the food was. It had such a diversity of flavours that I didn’t miss meat; many of the recipes from that time are still favourites (incidentally one of the girls is now the other half of Buzz Trips). That was the main reason I stopped eating meat. I simply preferred the goodies they were dishing up. People who dismiss non-meat dishes as boring either don’t understand food or are putting too narrow a focus on what they think of as vegetarian food.
We’ve recently been on a Moro cookery week in Andalucia when at least twelve of the recipes prepared by chef Tom Ryalls didn’t include meat. Every dish went down a treat with the rest of the carnivores on the gourmet holiday. Nobody put the food into categories, it was just all fantastic fare.
Simply put, talented chefs create memorable meals whether with or without ingredients that used to walk, fly or swim.
But I’m waffling. None of this has really anything to do with the main reason why ignoring vegetarians is total madness as far as restaurants are concerned.
The Third and Biggest Culinary Mistake
Any restaurateurs or chefs who boldly state that they’d prefer if veggies went elsewhere or that they’d turn them away are overlooking one vitally important point.
That veggie diner they are so contemptuous about has seven non-vegetarian friends. That’s not one person they’ve turned off from their restaurant, that’s a whole load of people in the one go. And they’re all going to bugger off and eat somewhere their veggie friend can have a decent meal and where everyone in the group is made to feel welcome.
From a business point of view, especially in the midst of an economic crisis that is lasting forever, treating vegetarians as second class citizens seems an unbelievably stupid stance to take.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites plus lots of other things. Follow Jack on Google+