Dining with vegetarians - John C. Kirk
May. 13th, 2007
05:15 pm - Dining with vegetarians
I heard a conversation on the radio this morning, where the two presenters were moaning about vegetarians. Apparently Gordon Ramsey (the chef) has been in the news recently for refusing to serve vegetarians at one of his restaurants; after doing a bit of digging on the web, I assume that they're referring to this story, where he criticised the pop group "Girls Aloud". (He served them venison, and Cheryl asked for an alternative because she's vegetarian; he said "Didn't you get the message? Vegetarians aren't welcome here.") I don't know a great deal about Gordon Ramsey, but I get the reputation that he's generally obnoxious to everyone, so I don't think he was singling out vegetarians in particular. This article also suggests that he's a bit more sympathetic: "We have the most amazing vegetarian menu here. For me, the biggest frustration about vegetarians is that chefs don't look after them enough. They oust them as if they’d been diagnosed with leprosy. They don't treat them as normal customers. Here, we make sure they have just as exciting food." As per my webpage on being vegetarian, I'm not generally keen on "exciting food"; I prefer basic stuff like sausage and mash, or burger and chips. I also think that the Michelin restaurants are ridiculously overpriced, so I wouldn't be going to them anyway. All in all, I'd say "no hard feelings": I'm not offended by his comments, but it hasn't given me any incentive to change my opinions about him or his restaurants.
Speaking of celebrity chefs, I do remember that the "Two Fat Ladies" were quite dismissive of vegetarians, on the theory that we were all malnourished and unhealthy. However, one of them died in 1999, so I think that makes the healthy score 1-nil in my favour.
Anyway, coming back to the radio DJs, they then started complaining about the accepted rules for inviting people to dinner. Their theory was that if a meat eater invites a vegetarian round, they have to prepare a special veggie option. However, if a vegetarian invites a meat eater round, they'll just prepare veggie food for everyone, rather than cooking a separate meat option. This does match my own experience, and I have sometimes wondered about whether it's unfair.
One of the DJs then went off on a rant about someone he used to go out with who was a vegetarian: apparently they refused to buy him a burger from McDonalds, on the grounds that "meat is murder". I don't have a great deal of sympathy for him here; he said that they were arguing about it in the car, so my basic response is "Get off your arse and buy it yourself, you lazy sod!" Still, this is something that I personally have no objection to. Back when I had a cat, I used to buy meaty food for her, so I don't see anything wrong with doing a favour for one of my friends, given that it won't make any practical difference (from the animal's point of view) who actually goes into the shop.
Coming back to the question of food preparation, I try to be fairly flexible. For instance, when I was an undergrad in Durham I used to spend Christmas Day with one of the college staff and his family, so I'd get the same food as the rest of them minus the meat, i.e. I'd get an extra portion of roast potatoes rather than a nut roast or anything like that. That was fine by me, since I appreciated his generosity in inviting me round in the first place. Also, if I'm at a barbeque with friends, it doesn't bother me if my veggie sausages lie on the same part of the grill that has previously been touched by meat, or get handled by the same tongs. I'm also willing to take a turn at minding the BBQ, by poking at the meat and turning it over when necessary. (Mind you, a fellow vegetarian did once tell me that this makes me worse than meat eaters, on the basis that I'm being immoral rather than amoral.)
As for the opposite way round, I used to eat meat (until I was 18), and I always figured that it wouldn't do me any harm to skip it for a meal if I was eating with vegetarians, as long as I was happy with the other stuff that was there. E.g. if I'd normally eat fish and chips, I wouldn't have any objection to eating chips on their own. So, when I have invited people to dinner, I haven't felt guilty about only offering veggie stuff, as long as it's food they actually like. (Given my limited cooking skills, this would typically involve something like macaroni and cheese.) From a practical point of view, there's an issue of leftovers: I try to err on the side of preparing too much food, so that nobody goes hungry, and then I'll stick whatever's left in the fridge afterwards and eat it by myself the following day. That's fine if I have extra veggie stuff, but it's more awkward if I have spare meat. Still, I've been to parties where people who don't drink alcohol offer it to their guests who do, and that does make me wonder whether I ought to offer a meat option to my guests.
So, a poll: what do the rest of you think?
If you invite someone to dinner, and they have a more restricted diet than you, do you feel obliged to prepare something special for them?
If you invite someone to dinner, and they eat things that you don't, should you prepare the Forbidden Food for them?
If a vegetarian invited you to dinner, would you expect them to prepare meat for you?
Is there any veggie food you specifically dislike?
Edit: Sorry to anyone who saw this entry go blip - I realised I'd missed out a poll option so I had to delete it and re-create it.