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Dining with vegetarians - John C. Kirk

May. 13th, 2007

05:15 pm - Dining with vegetarians

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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?

Poll #983995 Dinner etiquette

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?

Yes - as the host, I should make my guests feel at home
10(76.9%)
Sort of - I need to prepare some of the food separately, but I can just give them a subset of what's available
3(23.1%)
No, but it's not rude for them to skip the food
0(0.0%)
No, and they would be rude if they didn't eat the same as everyone else
0(0.0%)

If you invite someone to dinner, and they eat things that you don't, should you prepare the Forbidden Food for them?

Yes - it's only fair
0(0.0%)
It depends - a BBQ has different rules to a candlelit dinner
6(50.0%)
No - if they don't have any moral objection to what you eat, you shouldn't compromise your own principles
6(50.0%)

If a vegetarian invited you to dinner, would you expect them to prepare meat for you?

Yes - a meal without meat is just a side-dish
0(0.0%)
Sort of - It would be nice for them to offer it as a courtesy, but I'd be equally courteous by declining
0(0.0%)
Nah - I can live without meat for one meal
11(84.6%)
No - I'd be embarrassed if they did that for me
0(0.0%)
N/A - I'm vegetarian too
2(15.4%)

Is there any veggie food you specifically dislike?

Boiled carrots
1(12.5%)
Fake meat
5(62.5%)
"Inorganic" fruit/vegetables
0(0.0%)
Other (specified in comment)
2(25.0%)


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.

Comments:

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From:sammoore
Date:May 13th, 2007 04:54 pm (UTC)
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I was brought up with the following rule:

"The host's job is to make the guests stay as comfortable as possible, the guest job is to make that job as easy as possible"

I always felt as long both parties followed this rule, there should rarely be cause for anyone to be offended.

I don't drink alcohol but I happily serve it at parties. In fact, I'd think a party without some alcohol unusual (but not unheard of). I personally choose not to partake but I respect others decision to do so.
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From:susannahf
Date:May 13th, 2007 07:53 pm (UTC)
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I also don't drink alcohol (mostly), so I generally wouldn't buy alcohol to serve, but I do sometimes bring alcohol to a party as a gift. Although if it's a "bring a drink" sort of thing, I'll bring something nice and non-alcoholic (which usually gets drunk faster than the alcohol as some people will inevitably be driving/wanting the odd non-alcoholic drink).

My main reason for bringing non-alcohol these days is that I did screw up once by bringing a gift of wine to a dinner that turned out to be hosted by a methodist minister and his wife. They kindly said thanks, and that we could drink it with dinner, at which point we had to point out that I don't drink, and my friend was driving...
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From:nou
Date:May 13th, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC)
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I think that if I invite someone to eat at my house then that carries an obligation to feed them in a way that's acceptable to them, without making them feel as though they're being a burden on me. I actively enjoy catering for special diets though.

Veggie food I dislike: cucumber.
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From:billyabbott
Date:May 13th, 2007 05:29 pm (UTC)
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That brings up a point that often sticks in my head: What's the different between a food with no meat in and a veggie food?

I'd class fake meat things and maybe soya as "veggie food", but this is probably because I am a meater who likes cucumber :)
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From:johnckirk
Date:May 13th, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
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As a general issue, I'd say there's no real difference. There was a debate in the letters column of the Vegetarian Society magazine a while back, where some people were arguing that all vegetarian food should go in one aisle together in the supermarket, rather than being scattered around (e.g. Quorn sausages next to pork sausages). I think the main objection to that is pizza: lots of people would happily eat a basic cheese and tomato pizza without thinking of it as a vegetarian option.

In this context, I'm asking about veggie stuff because I'm not particularly concerned if you don't like meat X :)
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From:billyabbott
Date:May 13th, 2007 05:21 pm (UTC)
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Gordon Ramsay's rudeness to vegetarians is part of his schtick. As for the Girls Aloud "incident", it is (afaik) on an episode of the F-Word, where everyone is invited to a restaurant with only choice on the menu...which pretty much always involves meat. That gives his comment a little more context, and as part of the "charm" of the show is his constant rudeness to everyone, a little more understandable.

As for hosting parties/going to parties - I consider it part of the fun of cooking for someone to make sure that I cook something that both they and I like. But then again, I do like fancy food :)
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From:terpsichore1980
Date:May 14th, 2007 10:27 am (UTC)
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Catering for special diets they know about is the host's job, including if necessary a seperate veggie option. However, it is the guest's job to make sure the host knows in advance about any special requirements. It is definitely not reasonable to only anounce you are a veggie on the doorstep, or to expect the host to have prepared something veggie on the off chance. I would consider this to be unacceptable even if the veggie concerned is prepared to just eat the veggitables as it deprives the host of the opportunity to cater for the guest concerned. That's my twopenneth ;-)

I am happy to eat veggie food, but if I am catering for a mixture of veggies and meat eaters I generally do two seperate dishes and make sure the veggies get first refusal on the one without meat.
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From:pozorvlak
Date:May 14th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)
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Having been bitten by this kind of thing before, I'm now paranoid about asking what dietary restrictions my guests have (veggies are one thing, but you've also got to think about people with religious convictions and allergies). Vegan food covers most things, but I'm not a terribly good vegan cook.

I think "live and let live" is in order: you don't bug me about eating meat (and ideally don't kick up too much of a fuss about cross-contamination etc: I'm prepared to use separate utensils for meat and veggie food, but it is a hassle), and I won't, say, call you a hypocrite for eating fish/wearing leather/whatever.
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From:pozorvlak
Date:May 14th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
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To clarify: I will, by default, make my best effort to use separate utensils for meatstuff and veggiestuff, but I really appreciate perspective and sanity: it really won't matter if meat and veggie sausages share a grill tray, and if you'll overlook me turning them over with the same pair of tongs in the heat of the moment that would be much appreciated. wormwood_pearl is wonderfully reasonable about this kind of thing.
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From:shuripentu
Date:May 17th, 2007 03:52 pm (UTC)
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I'm trying to think of a non-religious reason for wanting seperate cooking implements that doesn't boil down to "eww, squicky". Not that "eww, squicky" is an invalid objection when it comes to food, of course, but in this case I wonder if it's not something that's worth overcoming. After all, it does create more washing up. ;)
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From:johnckirk
Date:May 17th, 2007 03:56 pm (UTC)
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The main reason I can think of is allergies, e.g. if someone is likely to go into anaphylactic shock if my peanut burgers touch their beef.

I think there is a question of context as well - if you're cooking a bunch of burgers from the freezer, then you probably wouldn't even know that the same utensils had been used for meat and veggie unless someone told you. On the other hand, if people are cooking rare steaks, and the tongs are literally dripping with blood, people might feel that this spoils the taste of their lentils :)
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From:shuripentu
Date:May 17th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)
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Ahh, I meant that comment in the context of vegetarianism; I don't think allergies to meat are very common. :)

I guess changing the taste of the food can be an issue - if you pick all the bits of meat out of a dish, you can definitely still taste it there. Which isn't a problem for me now, but there was a time when the smell of bacon made me feel ill, so...
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From:pozorvlak
Date:May 14th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC)
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OK, I've now read your "being a vegetarian" page. I liked this bit:
More generally, I try to avoid irritating people with this. My friends know that I'm vegetarian, and so they're used to the idea that if they offer me a biscuit then I'll ask to check the list of ingredients on the packet. However, I respect their choice to eat meat, and so I try not to force my views onto them.
If only all vegetarians were like this, I think the movement would get much more respect.

BTW, I have eaten a couple of animals that I have killed and/or skinned and gutted. If the fish came with the heads on, then I cook them with the heads on, and I'll probably eat the eyes as well. While conditions in factory farms and some slaughterhouses appall me, I have no problem with the essential process.

And haggis is lovely.
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From:johnckirk
Date:May 15th, 2007 12:09 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - you may find this old post interesting too.

I probably need to update that webpage a bit (along with the rest of my main site). Back when I first wrote it (in the pre-Google days), the only people who would bother looking at it were people who already knew me. I found that sometimes I'd get into conversations at parties, where I'd mention that I was vegetarian, and people would ask "Oh, is that a religious thing? Or just for ethical reasons?" etc. Since I try to avoid being militant, I figured that my website was a fairly discreet option: if people wanted to find out more about my reasons, then they could, but I wasn't forcing them to. (I have a similar attitude to my LJ in general - people who are interested in the minutiae of my life can stay up to date, but I'm not spamming all my friends with frequent emails if they're busy.) Nowadays, people may come across my website before they spend much time with me in person, so I don't know whether that skews the balance.
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From:shuripentu
Date:May 17th, 2007 03:54 pm (UTC)
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This is why militant vegetarians, vegans, animal rights terrorists activists, and hippies rub me up the wrong way so badly. They shout louder than we do, and they make the rest of us look bad. :p

I suspect Muslims and Christians often feel the same way...
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From:shuripentu
Date:May 17th, 2007 03:56 pm (UTC)
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...just to clarify, I meant militant vegans, militant animal rights activists, and militant hippies.
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From:pozorvlak
Date:May 14th, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC)
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I'm not generally keen on "exciting food"; I prefer basic stuff like sausage and mash, or burger and chips.

I take it you don't make your own tofu, then?
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