THE MEATY VEGAN'S GOT BEEF
Me and my friends felt like eating a pancake, so I called a locally well-known and well-loved pancake house to see if they had any vegan options.
"If you have any allergies or if you are lactose-intolerant, then yes," the restaurant employee told me. "Otherwise, we're more than happy to serve you something else of the menu, like our tomato soup."
I didn't understand at first, though I thought I did. “Ah, sure,” I said. “I should've called earlier.”
It had been an unusually hot summer and the pancake house, with its huge garden terrace, must’ve been packed during each of those long evenings. They’d probably appreciate any dietary requests to be made well in advance.
"No," the employee said in a friendly tone, "it's not about calling earlier, it's about us not being able to accommodate your needs. Unless you're allergic or lactose-intolerant. Otherwise, we're more than happy to serve you our tomato soup."
Stop talking about tomato soup, I thought, and I reiterated, just to make sure: "So if I'm vegan because of health reasons, you will make me a vegan pancake; but if I'm vegan because of an ethical choice, you won’t. Is that correct?”
We were on a nearby terrace ourselves, about to finish our second white beer, surrounded by people who’d shared the same thirst. My slightly alcohol-fuelled bewilderment spread out to my friends and some of our terrace’s neighbours, who were eavesdropping with amusement.
"That is correct," the employee said, "but we're more than happy to serve you our t-"
"Thank you," I said, cutting him off, thinking: I could say that I'm lactose-intolerant. I haven't told him I'm not.
After a day’s swim and two beers, it was a very tempting thought, but I decided against it. I didn’t want to resort to lying about something like an allergy, which must suck to actually have, in order to get an overpriced pancake. This place was not worthy of my money.
(We went to this sweet pizza place instead.)
I told my new friend Billy this story over dinner. I thought it was a hilarious story about a business turning a blind eye to a commercially interesting movement because of some weird personal resentment towards vegans.
She somewhat sympathized with the pancake house, though. However old-fashioned their stance might seem, she could relate to a busy kitchen not being able to cater to more luxurious needs when their menu technically did not exclude anyone from dining with them (except maybe those with severe coeliac disease).
“I have a friend who’s a chef and he got really fed-up with vegetarian customers”, Billy said. “He told me he would go through all the trouble of creating a special vegetarian menu, completely meat-free, only to discover that when presented with a platter full of meaty snacks during drinks, the same customers suddenly weren’t so vegetarian anymore.”
Now, I’m not done with the pancakes but first, let me say a few things that I spared Billy that night, because she still thought I was a nice, easy-going person and I liked that image of me to linger a little bit longer.
But I take a feeeeew issues with that chef’s story.
First of all: it sounds really… unfortunate that this happened to this chef on such a regular basis that it has profoundly shaped his views of his audience, to such an extent that he’s now sceptical of anyone saying they’re vegetarian (or just wanting to EAT something vegetarian, for that matter). According to this battered chef, and thanks to one or two veggie customers with the munchies for mini meatballs, all vegetarians are essentially hypocrites.
Working in a kitchen with such a narrow perspective, sweetie, I’d be surprised if you still got all of your fingers.
Second: how does this guy know that every single time he was slaving over that completely meat-free meal, his vegetarian customers (remember: all of them, every time) had a croquette? Wasn’t he supposed to be – I don’t know – in the kitchen?
And third: jee, don’t strain your back with all that self-patting of yours. It’s not that difficult to cook “completely meat-free”. And if you insist that it is, you might want to rethink your current occupation. *
This chef might have worked at the same pancake house I was having an issue with, because assuming the employee had been a bit overenthusiastic, I emailed the restaurant’s manager to ask about their policy concerning the physiological versus the ideological backgrounds in their customers’ diet wishes.
The manager immediately apologized for the employee’s behaviour.
The employee had been nothing but polite, which I had already explained in my email, but the manager was intent on throwing this on a ‘wrong tone of voice’-kind of argument.
The right tone of voice still wouldn’t have baked me a pancake, sir.
Making a vegan pancake is very time-consuming and might be slightly wasteful, too, the manager went on to explain. After all, for every vegan pancake, other (new) ingredients have to be used.
I can only assume he meant vegan butter and almond (or whatever) milk, because I don’t see this restaurant using (the fairly expensive) No-Egg anytime soon. For those of you who aren’t familiar with plant-based milk and butter: it beats the expiration dates of their dairy counterparts by weeks. That shit stays good.
On the other hand, the use of almond milk in normal pancakes is also, of course, widely known as a potential health hazard for non-difficult people.
Anyway, “it’s a tough situation and we don’t want to disappoint or exclude anyone”, wrote the manager. “That’s why, on our menu, we offer a nice vegan tomato soup.”
Seriously, conservative chefs of the Netherlands: even the loud and obnoxious and macho Gordon Ramsay has been trying out vegan recipes lately. I don’t care that he’s “just” doing it so he can make money. I care about as much about his motivations as he should about mine. The same goes for you lot. If you don’t want to cook vegan; fine. By all means, don’t cook vegan.
But don’t do this thing where you DO cook vegan - unless it’s for an actual vegan.
Because this whole ‘I don’t want to exclude anyone except for those I don’t agree with’?
It stinks up your kitchen.
Now, I’m going to have my pancake and eat it, too; It just won’t be at this place.
Any recommendations (preferably in the province of Utrecht, but a wider range is fine too) are appreciated.
* Oh, and bonus fourth: if you know there’ll be a vegetarian in the group you’re catering for, present them with some fucking vegetarian snacks. I’m not exactly saying these customers were force-fed chicken fingers, but I am saying that you apparently send out snack platters knowing full well the vegetarians would have to do without. Don’t be a dick policing other people’s snack habits while simultaneously expecting a medal for, let’s be honest, what was probably just a vegetable lasagne.