I’m a vegetarian.
Admittedly, a fairly new one, having not eaten meat for just over two years now, but I’m vegetarian through and through. In a time where more and more people are choosing meat-, and, increasingly, entirely animal product-free, lifestyles, you’d think this would be something fairly manageable. I mean, cafes and restaurants are legally required to have at least one meat-free option on the menu, right?
“At least” one option.
This is where it gets complicated.
A lot of the more upscale places I go to eat, usually with meat-eating companions, will serve as few vegetarian choices as they’re allowed: one starter, one main. Sometimes, the Soup of the Day will be a veggie one, but, just as many times, it’s not. My vegan colleague and I were discussing why meat is always the centrepiece of pretty much any British (and US) meal, and apparently it’s to do with ancient traditions of animal sacrifice, that sort of thing. Now, though, it has me wondering why we’re still so into this. To me, in this day and age, hugely meat-focused menus suggest a lack of imagination. There’s plenty of vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, cheeses, creams, legumes, nuts, you name it, that you could cook with, all with a huge variety of flavours. There’s pretty much no excuse for not having a varied vegetarian menu, certainly when you have dishes like chicken risotto with no meat-free alternative (cook without the chicken?), or roast potatoes cooked in animal fats (why?). I’ve noticed that in more modest, usually chain, restaurants, the vegetarian menu is a lot larger, almost the size of the meat menu. I’ve always wondered why that’s the case. Not that it really affects me, as the people who usually take me out to eat (family etc) will choose one of the nicer, more expensive, pub food places. Obviously a nice meal out is no bad thing, and I’ve nothing at all against against pub food, but it’s a bit tiresome sitting there having had my choice made for me, while everyone else is debating over the other six items on the menu.
(Actually, why do meat-eaters tend to disregard the vegetarian option? Is it because it’s vegetarian? Guys, you’re allowed the vegetarian option even if you’re not a vegetarian…)
“Not a lot of choice for you, is there?”
No, no there isn’t, couldn’t we have gone to an upscale Italian restaurant or somewhere where I actually get a choice? I’m tired of feeling like I’m an inconvenience, just because of a dietary choice I’ve made.
This feeling isn’t limited to meals out, either.
Family meals are just as hard, if not worse, since, unlike restaurants, they’re not restricted on what they could say as they’re not in danger of a bad review on TripAdvisor. Imagine going for a Sunday lunch, or even just any lunch, seeing and smelling everything being cooked, it all seems delicious… and then it’s ruined by someone bringing out a frozen meal to be ‘heated up’ for me, though I can still have the vegetables as well! Not the gravy, though, I’m putting the juices from the meat in that. Oh, it’s okay, she can have some, she’s only a part-time vegetarian!
The above statements actually happened last time at a family gathering, and I was a little bit annoyed, to say the least. I’m not a “part-time” vegetarian, I just really dislike cold, dry food. Which is exactly what I’d ended up with, as they’d ‘forgotten’ to put my ravioli on to boil. I love ravioli, of course I do, and it was good, but I didn’t ask for it. I’m always okay with just having the vegetables, as I don’t eat huge portions during mealtimes anyway.They always insist, though, on giving me my own meals, the ‘vegetarian alternative’ as it’s jokingly called, and I always feel uncomfortable about it as it makes me out to be this difficult, demanding individual who’s desperate to be catered to. That’s not the case, I don’t ask for special treatment, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone. Yet? I’m always made into an inconvenience.
The even worse case of this, was when we had to stop off in Sainsburys to get me a frozen meal to have alongside everyone else’s. I’m not even a fan of ready meals due to the high salt content. It’s like I’m a child that won’t eat the grown-ups’ food because they’re stuck in their ‘fussy phase’.
Perhaps, if you’re not willing to make a vegetarian meal for all of your guests, a better way of doing it would be:
“Hi, Liz, the meal tomorrow will be chicken, there’ll be vegetables, potatoes and salad and everything, is that okay? Or do you wanna bring something we can heat up?”
“No, it’s okay, I’ll stick with the vegetables.”
“You sure? You’re welcome to bring something if you change your mind. See you tomorrow!”
When I get my own place in August, I will always serve vegetarian meals to my guests as I don’t handle meat. When my vegan friends come to visit, I’ll make vegan meals. That’s just my take on the matter, though.
Obviously restaurants aren’t going to see this, but, to anyone who does, if you’re not going to have a meat-free meal (trust me, there’s a lot of them) when some of your dinner guests are vegetarian, at least give them a choice as to whether or not they want an alternative, rather than singling them out when it comes to dish up.
Or, at the very least, when you forget to cook my alternative, please try your best not to finish your plate in the five minutes it takes to warm up on the stove.