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I’m referring to a prevalent style of vegetarian food, more likely observed at eateries or hotels that cater mostly to patrons on conventional meaty diets. Save for a small handful of serious vegan/vegetarian food businesses run by vegans/vegetarians that know what its like to eat and live a completely meat-free diet, I’d say most of these mainstream restaurants painfully and wrongly assume that we vegans/vegetarians would necessarily like to eat like meat-eaters.

This is a big mistaken assumption especially when it seems to ignore the health-driven reasons many are motivated by when adopting a plant-based diet today.

Why must my food look, taste like and be held up to the standards of conventional meat dishes?

Of course I understand the ignorance of certain breeds of plant-based eaters who couldn’t give two hoots about how their eating habits impact their own bodies. Strange, especially since their concern over how it impacts other beings trumps concern over their own well-being, which is not only contradicting and confusing from an evolutionary standpoint, but in case they haven’t realised, the self is a kind of being too. So better start thinking of your health long-term in order it doesn’t end up impeding your choice for a humane diet.

We’ve all seen the many faces of vegan-vegetarian food. The faux meats, filled with ridiculous processed ingredients, derivatives of gluten and soy, that have little nutritive purpose other than to play in to familiarity and palatal stimulation. Local western ”vegetarian” menus, almost always substituting the meat component with ‘liquid meat’ – dairy products and/or eggs, continuously tread the well-worn path with the same tired menus.

What’s with all that cheese carpeting the surface and adding to the stodginess of pasta dishes? Even worse, what’s with bombarding a simple menu item with two or more of these dietary compromising foods eg. buckwheat crepes (using a batter already containing eggs) with cheese and egg filling. Have cooks’ creativity reached a limit, or do they simply lack the confidence such that they must more often than not reach for some cheese, some egg, some mushroom to bulk up their otherwise ‘lacking’ vegetarian menu items?

Must my food be made to sit in my stomach the way meat does?

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Cream of Asparagus tasted more like butter, milk and cream soup with two floating spears of asparagus..

I really don’t appreciate my soups, usually light and easily digestible fare, made indigestible with copious amounts of milk, cream and butter.

Now that switching plant-based has significantly rid the digestive system of stomach and intestinal somersaults, relieving the system of putrefaction of decaying meat, what sense does it make to douse the system with dairy products that we all know now compromise the system in various ways? Inflammation, leeching of calcium especially if the diet has become too acidified with an over-intake of animal by-products, plus always the looming concern of hormones and antibiotics that inevitably end up in the milk supply. Strangely, the plant-based eater going plant-based to avoid dietary complications in the long run now finds his/her objective thwarted by dairy-soaked menu offerings that ironically reproduce the same sense of heaviness and lethargy he/she sought to escape by going plant-based.

What makes you think non-meat eaters want to be inundated in dairy? (ethical irony of going plant-based)

This prevalent menu approach focusing on animal by-products as quintessential ingredients ironically perpetuates dependence on animals (and their continual exploitation) for food rather than works towards changing our meat-heavy eating habits.

If switching plant-based for the purpose of humaneness, what sense does it make to jump from killing to enslaving and abusing dairy cows for milk production their entire lives? Understanding that the essence of vegetarianism is undoubtedly rooted in compassion for animals will allow one to appreciate that it makes little ethical or moral sense, even to the point of paradox, to enforce the substandard treatment of animals through over-relying on dairy and egg products in many of the vegetarian foods on the menu.

What are only the same few ‘meaty’ vegetables served? 

Don’t get be wrong, I am thankful if restaurants make an effort to recognise those who don’t want their food tainted.

But my gratitude for vegan-vegetarian options, if any are offered at all, is equally balanced by a repulsion for been-there-seen-that-done-that items. Namely, I refer to the favorite veggies these cooks seem to worship. All hail mushroom! Tomato! Eggplant! Red and yellow peppers! Oh what art the vegan-vegetarian life without thee! Pasta, risotto, veggie stacks, veggie terrines, yes I bloody know of them you don’t have to shout it in my ear.

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Fried noodles with.. are those deep-fried fake prawns? with deja vu of grilled olive oil doused zucchini and eggplant, fried noodles and deep-fried beancurd. Um, last I checked I didn’t order that whole bottle of oil with my food…

”And hey, if that isn’t enough to suit your pseudo-non-meat diet let us know! We’ll throw in a whole bottle of extra virgin olive oil of the bestest best origin!”

They seem to say, when I find my vegetables completely soaked by more than an enthusiastic downpour of olive oil. In case it wasn’t known, extra virgin olive oil from whatever origin is still a fat, and if over-consumed will lead to heart complications (gasp!) making it only marginally better than the original health issue of ingesting fat of animal origin. Chefs and cooks who tout fine cuisine, please I beseech thee, do take an introduction course to nutrition. Vegans/vegetarians do not necessarily want to trod the same health-compromising path meat-eaters do especially when one of the perks of plant-based diets, if done right, is supposed to lead to an improvement of health and well-being.

Some possible solutions?

Once the misconception over the ‘lack’ in vegan-vegetarian food is cleared up, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating completely from plant origin, cooks might begin to appreciate the simplification in food prep and processing, the possibilities vegan-vegetarian food prep offers in contrast to the rigid procedures of undertaken in prepping fine cuisine, even the pay-offs in taste when allowing subtle vegetable flavors, usually unfairly covered by the intrusive taste of meat, to shine through.

Sometimes layers and layers of overindulgence isn’t necessary, especially when doing so only diminishes the impact of the one of two bold ingredients that if allowed to shine, helps keep the dish light and simple while simultaneously achieving impact in the flavor dept.

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Two chocolate mousse layers on top of hazelnut chocolate on top of a biscuit base with a lot of berries. I didn’t need two layers of chocolate mousse that tasted little more than sweetened milk powder. Hazelnut chocolate mousse tart studded with berries might’ve been simpler and better.

Restaurants and hotels are taking far too long coming to terms with the culinary milestones made by veganism/vegetarianism and are simply not exploiting the full array of options that have been made available. Some examples – cashews for creaminess in soups and dessert creams, beans rather than dairy to bulk up dishes, dates, nuts and seeds for simple butter-less tart crusts, taking a leaf from ethnic cuisines around the globe rather than relying on a the standard ‘western’-centric, meat-centric, dairy-centric approach to cooking.The answers are unsurprisingly not difficult. Cooks need to get round their narrow ideas of what constitutes food fit for consumption, stop resorting to uninteresting copy-paste solutions resembling the same approaches to prepping food revolving around meat, and most of all get in touch with culinary advancements in the real vegan-vegetarian field today that offer a wider array of possibilities to crafting vegan-vegetarian menus.

Okay so that was me ranting.

Readers, I’m interested to know what your thoughts are about vegan-vegetarian food served outside. Do you agree/disagree with the problems I’ve listed here? What are some things you like, do not like about restaurant vegan-vegetarian food and what do you wish to see changed about the way vegan-vegetarian food is served?

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