To complain or not to complain, that’s always the question. As a ‘weirdo eater’, I am always pretty humble about anyone who will feed me something I can accept: ‘Thank you, O normal carnivore establishment, for thou hast condescended to cook something I can eat.’
And that’s me, really. Ever grateful that someone has cared enough to make me a meal. This is the bottom line, the base line, the starting point. I am always glad.
I’ve been with friends who have whinged – the coffee is cold, the portion is too small, bring out the chef and hang him or her from the rafters because the meat is raw or the meat is black. And I am peaceful and smiling. Usually.
I did slightly lose it on an aeroplane once when an air hostess shoved a plate of Quorn in front of me and told me it was vegan. That was ten years ago when even the Vegetarian society weren’t happy with the use of battery hens’ eggs in Quorn. I have to admit, I did tell her where she could shove her food. Interestingly, on the way home the flight was taken by a Dutch airline who were horrified that the UK company couldn’t accommodate my food request and the crew had a whip round of their own sandwich boxes to find me some fruit. How sweet!
As a non-conformist eater, I do occasionally have to clarify what vegans can eat but I don’t mind. One of the worst meals I ever had was a buckwheat and carrot salad which was tooth breakingly bad. I offered it to a friend’s dog, and the dog was sick over it, making the point quite colourfully.
I recall being at the end of a lovely meal in a local curry restaurant and the poor waiters were run off their feet by a raucous party. After waiting for 50 minutes, I phoned them to ask for a cup of coffee. I know that’s a bit mischievous, but the coffee was lovely!
However, this brings me to the point of my blog. I went out for a meal last weekend. I don’t see my brother often enough, or my sister-in-law, whose birthday it was, so I booked the table in the restaurant section of their local gastro-pub and drove for 200 miles to arrive in time for lunch.
Great pub, great setting, popular place, busy carvery. I’d already told them I was vegan and I would be happy with a ‘veg curry’ and, to my delight, there it was on the specials board.
Oh, what splendid food. We sat around the table and the others enjoyed baked brie and then came the fish, the chips, the steak pie, all the usual fare, piled high on plates. Then the veg curry, with rice. Ahh!
I wasn’t going to complain because everyone was having a great time and so was I, and it was just about edible to a vegan with determination to enjoy the birthday lunch. But would you have eaten it? Would your dog take a nibble?
I didn’t see anyone else with the ‘vegan option’. I’m not surprised.
The rice was ok, plain white Uncle Ben’s. Fine. The curry was mulch brown, the colour of diarrhea, but with no curry flavour, just a bit floury. The vegetables were from the carvery: just swede, sweet potatoes and potatoes. Not an onion, not a green vegetable, not a leaf of spinach in sight. And the vegetables weren’t cooked. I mean they were hard enough to be almost raw but not quite and slathered in a non-curry sauce. But I expect someone thought it was perfectly adequate for the vegan who will eat anything and be grateful, being used to there being either nothing on the menu or the ubiquitous microwaved jacket potato or green salad. And I’ve even been offered salads and potatoes and carrots that were not vegan, so I do humility and thankfulness really well.
If my local curry house can make an 8/10 vegan meal and I can cook an 8/10 at home, then this vegetable slurry was a 2. Maybe. I should have complained for the sake of all the other ‘dietary differents’ out there, and I have no qualms whatsoever about politely telling someone their food isn’t edible, but I didn’t because the occasion was bigger than my private satisfaction.
( I did ask if they had any chutney or anything which might make it taste more like a curry, though.)
It’s time to mention the people who get it right. My local Middle Eastern restaurant can fill my belly to bursting with vegan food. Most curry restaurants, bar the ones who insist on beef gravy in everything, are wonderful. In France recently I asked if it would be possible to have a vegan pizza (in French) and the waiter replied ‘Here, madame, everything is possible.’ What a great attitude.
I think it is the proper thing to politely point out if my food isn’t nice, because that happens so rarely nowadays: the world is so much more vegan friendly. But I think it is important to expect what I eat to be not too far below the level of satisfaction that my carnivore friends can enjoy, with their high-piled plates of fish and steak pies. And it is important to be vocal about the expectations, politely, that vegan or vegetarian or any other type of food is treated with equal care and pride when it is served up.
Sadly, this was not the case with the curry-less, vegetable-sparse vegetable curry, and rarely have I waited until I arrived home to register how uninspired I was by the worse than bland uncooked vegetable lunch.
Importantly, though, everyone had a great time and this is the primary function of a meal: to share, to laugh, to enjoy the company.
It does help a bit though if the food is eatable! (Apparently, the brie starter was fantastic, fish was nice and the ice cream puddings were delicious.)
Who’d be a vegan, eh? Next time, I’ll just ask for a salad. They can’t get that wrong- can they?