As a vegetarian, finding a restaurant that caters to my diet isn’t always easy. As a vegan, it would be even harder. More and more people are becoming vegetarian and vegan, and while there are therefore increasing amounts of specifically veggie and vegan eateries, a lot of mainstream places haven’t caught up yet. This is especially true when it comes to vegan food, and seems to be most notable in pubs, and other establishments specialising in English food.
What’s wrong with veggie options in non-veggie restaurants?
There are two main problems with the veggie options offered by non-veggie restaurants, plus a pet peeve.
Firstly, there’s the matter of choice. There isn’t a lot of it. What if all restaurants, cafes, and pubs had only two options on the entire menu? The likelihood is, neither option would be what you actually wanted to eat, and there’s always the chance that you wouldn’t actually like either of them. And what if you were allergic to something in one of them? You would then have literally no choice in which meal to eat.
I think you’d find it pretty annoying. Yet this is exactly the case with vegetarian food – and many places simply don’t offer vegan food at all. (And no, chips and a side of lettuce do not count as an acceptable meal.)
You’d at least hope that those two options were good, but alas… Not always. And this is my second main problem.
The same veggie options are offered in many cafes and restaurants. Plain tomato sauces, cheese sandwiches, quorn or bean burgers out of packages. It’s very basic food that we could make at home just as easily – for less time and less money.
It feels very much like an afterthought, and people don’t generally like being afterthoughts.
Finally, my pet peeve: when the menu doesn’t mark vegetarian options. It’s like the waiter giving you the menu, then telling you that three quarters of the food is out of stock. Wait, which ones can I have again? And remind me where on the menu they are? And are you really sure this one’s ok to have?
And while I find it annoying to trawl through the huge menu in search of the one or two veggie options on there, it’s just as or more annoying when the veggie options are marked inconsistently. Judging by the (v)s I can see on this menu, there are two veggie options, but this unmarked meal here sounds like it’s vegetarian… What if it isn’t marked with a (v) because it’s secretly made of pig’s liver or something?
The root of the problem
I think the thing is that many meat lovers simply can’t imagine a meal tasting good without meat, so they don’t think it’s worth it to put the effort in.
But not that much effort is actually needed. All it takes is a bit of extra thought about what else they could put into a vegetarian meal, or a quick Google search to find some good recipes – and voila! A beautiful and tasty dish, without the meat.
This laziness and lack of creativity is what leads vegans to be served nothing more than a mere plate of vegetables (and, yes, I have heard of this happening in real life), which is diabolically disappointing. Worse, it’s a surefire way to make absolutely certain no vegetarian or vegan ever eats at their establishment again. Which means they’ll be taking their friends and their money elsewhere.
And I can’t help but think that it’s rather close-minded of people to assume that just because they like meat and this meal doesn’t include meat, it can only be plain and boring.
You would think that if a vegetarian or vegan can cook a decent meal for themselves at home, then a professional in the food industry who is paid to cater to people’s food needs would be able to do even better. But apparently not – apparently many can’t even do better than a simple cheese sandwich or a plain tomato sauce. It’s honestly ridiculous.
And by doing this – by either including no vegetarian options at all, or including only one or two basic ones as an afterthought – you’re turning business away. If a group looking for a restaurant includes even just one vegetarian or vegan, anywhere that doesn’t cater sufficiently to that one person will be immediately ruled out.
On the other hand, since there are so few places that offer a good range of vegetarian and vegan food, somewhere that does cater to meat-free diets will quickly become a favourite and you can bet that every vegetarian or vegan that visits will tell all their vegetarian and vegan friends about your offerings.
For instance, in my first year of uni, I often went out with a group of friends which consisted of three meat lovers, a vegan, and myself, a vegetarian. As soon as we discovered that The Handmade Burger Co offered seven (seven!!!) vegetarian options, which included four (four!!!) vegan options, we pretty much never went anywhere else for a meal out. And we made sure every vegetarian or vegan we came across knew about this.
So what’s my point?
I’ve had enough of sighing in disappointment as I scour the menu in search of the one item I can tolerate eating. I’ve had enough of pouting in restaurants because none of the few basic veggie options are anything that I crave. I’ve had enough of grimacing my way through a burger because I had to choose between eating meat or going hungry until breakfast.
And I’m absolutely sick of being served a side salad as a main meal.
Restaurants can do a whole lot better in the veggie department – and they really should be doing. They literally exist to cater to people’s food needs, but if they don’t cater to everyone’s food needs, then they aren’t fulfilling their one job. And it simply isn’t good enough.
Sure, the problem’s a lot better now than it was, and it’s better here in England than it is in other countries. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.
So I’m really hoping that anyone in the food industry who may be reading this will understand where I’m coming from: vegetarian and vegan food is not boring and it’s not difficult to make either. So we’d really appreciate having as nice a time eating out as all our non-veggie and non-vegan friends.