It’s the end of National Vegetarian Week, which for most of us has slipped under the radar like a slimy pile of Italian rice, so I’m punting out some of my opinions on the idea of vegetarianism and what that means to me personally and as a food business owner.
I’m a big meat eater. Meaning, I love the taste of high quality meat, which is cooked to perfection. It just gives me so much pleasure to eat it. But I stick to asking myself some basic questions when consuming such a readily available product.
1. Would I be willing to kill and butcher what I'm eating? (I've done a fair amount of this, but should do more.)
2. Did the animal have a good life? If not, don’t fuel an industry that revolves around animal cruelty.
3. Did that animal deserve to die for your pleasure, and was the meat handled with the upmost respect? If not, don’t swallow the guilt of over cooked, chewy steak!
Obviously as a meat eater I’m prone to wolfing down the odd bit of dirty dead animal, that kebab on a drunken night out, at some dinner party, or in certain restaurants when I’m too lazy to avoid meat that isn’t necessarily free range. I’m guilty and I hold up my bloody hands and step down from the moral high ground. I want to voice my opinion that it’s not always the fault of the meat eater and I want to propose that restaurants try a bit harder on the vegetarian options, which is too often an after thought, considered a lesser dish than the meat and fish. Please not another badly made risotto, I wince every time I see it on the menu. It’s simply a sorry excuse for a vegetarian option, there’s no reason why restaurants can’t produce something that is great and meat free.
I’d expect after Rene Redzeppi being at the helm of the advancement of European cuisine, there’d be a trickle down effect delivering vegetables into the mainstream or into high street chains, but it still isn’t happening. It seems ridiculous that vegetarianism is still stigmatised in the mainstream, like we're stuck in some 90's Linda Mccartney add where it's only for wishy washy yoghurt weaving hippies. Even the awareness for national vegetarian week has been low key, we have some amazingly varied textures and flavours in our produce that is grown right here and we should be shouting it from our roof top gardens.
In the UK we do have a few hero’s when it comes to seasonal veg done well, with Simon Rogan (Fera & L'Enclume) and Robin Gill (The Dairy, The Manor & Paradise Garage) leading the way. We also have some Westcountry hero’s of our own, with The Ethicurean and Riverford springing to mind. In Devon we have Otter Farm, Trill Farm, Shillingford Organic, River Cottage, Maddocks Farm & Ashburton Husbandry School championing the humble vegetable. We are producing some of the best shit in the world, yet I’m still unable to find them in our local restaurants being showcased as vegetarian dishes. There are restaurants in London, for example, The Palomar or Berber & Q, who are serving up a whole charred Cauliflower, but it seems us Devonians don’t have the stomach for such a thing. Even with the mighty Ottolenghi pushing this beast of a Brassica for years, it’s still perceived as a farty vegetable not fit for the dining-out experience.
Over the last two years I’ve been lapping up the Anna Jones book; A Modern Way to Eat. It’s enabled my wife and I to actually commit to being vegetarian during the week at home. And it’s great to see Anna is now writing for the Guardian. When it comes to dining out, the sad reality is we’re better off buying a weekly Riverford Veg box and cooking ourselves, as the standard of food is so poor for vegetarians.
In the bakery, we’re not so great either. We try to offer half of our savoury menu as vegetarian, although we only have five things to choose from and it hasn’t changed for a while. However we do our best to offer flavour and affordability, we also try to buy as much locally as possible, but fail to sync with seasonality (I do hope to change this over the coming year).
But the next time I see fucking Risotto on the menu, I may just go for the jugular and give the establishment a slap in the face with a wet rotten fish. Seriously, it needs to be stopped and the best way to do this is to refuse to order it, and insist that the chef cooks you something else. Perhaps they’ll then gain the skills, creativity and confidence to expand their meat free options.