Last month we heard about a disgruntled customer who complained that a café specialising in vegetarian food was “too veggie” and “lacking in meat”. The customer in question aired his disappointment on TripAdvisor, where the owners of the café (the Retreat Tearoom and Bistro, Grassington) expressed their amusement at his strange complaint, pointing out that there are “six cafes” and “many pubs” in the same village that serve non-veggie food that the customer could have chosen instead. In April this year, another confused meat-eater took to TripAdvisor to express their annoyance that the vegan diner V Rev in Manchester had “no option for non vegan [sic]”.
Although complaining that a veggie or vegan restaurant doesn’t serve meat may seem absurd, there are many people who share this sentiment, arguing along the lines of “if you expect “normal” restaurants to have veggie options, why shouldn’t veggie restaurants serve meat options?”. Here’s why this argument is non-sensical:
Meat-eaters can eat veggie food
This may seem obvious, but there is a persistent idea in our culture that a dish isn’t a “proper” meal unless it contains meat. A personal experience illustrates this: After suggesting dinner at a vegetarian restaurant with a group of friends (a vegan, a vegetarian, and two meat-eaters) I was told that we should go somewhere “that caters for everyone” (we ended up at a steak house, where the only vegan options were salad and chips, but I digress…). The issue is, people think vegan food is weird and different to what they’re used to, but many everyday foods are vegan: The onion bhaji, chana masala, and aloo gobi you get from your local Indian takeaway, beans on toast, chips, pasta with tomato sauce, not to mention hundreds of accidently vegan snacks and treats. Maybe people think vegans eat nothing but boring salads, probably because sometimes that’s all that’s available in many non-vegan establishments. However, if looking at the menus of vegan joints like V Rev in Manchester, Stereo in Glasgow, Matter Fast Foods in Bristol, or Fed By Water in London, it’s clear that vegans can enjoy burgers, pizzas, creamy pasta dishes, fish and chips, ice cream, cake and other filling, decadent dishes.
Serving meat goes against vegan ethics
Funnily enough, owners of vegan restaurants tend to be vegan, and will therefore probably not feel great about using their hard-earned money to buy things they fundamentally disagree with. On the other hand, providing a vegetarian or vegan alternative on an otherwise animal-heavy menu is unlikely to go against anyone’s deeply held beliefs.
Ethics aside, it seems a bit silly to demand that a vegan restaurant serve non-vegan food…
Imagine for a moment that the owners of a vegan restaurant have no moral objection to the unnecessary killing of animals for food (it may seem unlikely, but perhaps they are only in it for health reasons, or maybe they are just cashing in on the recent vegan population surge). In that case the vegan menu at that restaurant would just be their theme or unique selling point. Even then, complaining that a vegan restaurant doesn’t serve non-vegan options is like bemoaning the fact that an Italian restaurant doesn’t serve curry, or that a garden centre doesn’t sell wedding dresses.
When it comes down to it, restaurants are free to serve whatever they like. If a restaurant decides it doesn’t want to accommodate vegans, that’s their choice and vegans will simply take their money elsewhere. However, with the rise of veganism in recent years, many businesses have seized the opportunity to capitalise on this growing market, and there have been numerous investments in plant-based alternatives. Recent market research suggests that pubs that do not serve vegan options could be missing out on over 5k of additional profits per year. By all means, businesses can ignore the rising demand for vegan food, but they may risk being left behind by those who are willing to embrace animal-free alternatives.