I’m making a Vegan Babka, but let me take out 5 minutes to reflect on Vegans Vs Vegetarians.
This week has seen vegan blogging god Sean/Fat Gay Vegan criticise a new Nottingham cafe being run by Vegans for not being completely vegan – he asked a legitimate question as to why two vegans wouldn’t open a vegan cafe when they’re in a big city with a diverse potential clientele, and instead chose to go Vegetarian only.
There’s been a lot of reaction to the post on FGV’s Facebook, some of which has boiled down to it not being nice to criticise anyone ever if you’re Vegan, especially small businesses, and I wonder how those people live their lives. I tweeted FGV to say I thought he should have given the business owners in question the chance to have a right of reply, because like him I can’t fathom why you’d do this. I think vegetarian food isn’t so mainstream and loved that it would bring in the hordes to make this business a success, with good vegan food now being popular with non-vegans sufficiently to make it work. I’d like to hear it from the owners of the cafe however – I suspect they’ve been badly-advised and got cold feed on how to make the cafe work.
The discussion got me thinking more widely about my attitude to Vegetarians. They identify as being in the same camp as us Vegans. and we’re usually placed in the same section of the menu in ‘general’ restaurants, with that section normally offering a handful of Vegetarian options and one cursory Vegan one that’s usually some roasted vegetables. Vegetarian cafes and restaurants often have decent Vegan options, but they’re rarely more than 25% of the menu at best, with the rest of the menu being Cheesified beyond sight, and with the pudding menu usually untroubled by a real Vegan option once the bought-in Vegan Ice Cream is discounted. I think the time has come – we need to distance ourselves from Vegetarians, with whom we have little in common when it comes to cooking in or eating out.
Vegan food is a different kind of cooking – when you can’t use cheese or eggs, you make different things. I think Vegan food is better-tasting, of course, but that’s not my point. Nor is this an argument that Veganism is the logical and more ethical end point of going Vegetarian – it IS, but that’s another matter. My point is that think Vegetarian food is completely different, as different as the Meat or Fish sections of the menu, and we shouldn’t accept their kinship in cafes as some kind of step towards wider acceptance of Veganism. It’s either Vegan or it’s not, and nothing else comes close.
By identifying too closely with Vegetarians, we say that Vegan food isn’t good or important enough to justify its own cafes and businesses. It’s not a question of ethics, it’s one of strategy, numbers and quality – basic fact is that there are enough Vegans to justify 100% vegan places to go to, and that doesn’t just mean in big cities. It’s not just that though – the vegans are just the core of Vegan businesses, non-Vegans will go there too – food-eaters are interested in nice cafes with nice food and good atmosphere, regardless of whether they identify with the ethos of the place. If it’s a fun place to go, people will go there. The vegan menu is only one attraction,
There’s a bigger point here. General restaurants don’t have enough Vegan options. Compare the number of Vegetarian or Gluten-free options on most restaurant menus to the Vegan ones. There are loads more. There are hardly ever any vegan options, because we’re not making ourselves known out in public for being different, and a group who need to be catered for. We need to send the message that we’re not like Vegetarians, and they’re not our brethren, so businesses with animal products shouldn’t think about us as being covered in their Vegetarian options, and they should try harder.
That’s the problem here – that by thinking a Vegetarian Cafe is good enough for Vegans, in this recent case and in all other ones where it’s been apparently OK to hide the Veganism in the Veg Menu, we send a message to the wider world that as Vegans we’re not a group important or strong enough to be catered to.
We’ve all been at parties and pubs where we tell people we’re Vegan and they’ll say “Oh I’m Vegetarian – great”, and we pretend we’re in the same boat. Now’s the time to say we’re not, and to demand our own public presence. This isn’t about self-righteousness, it’s about forcing the issue and getting more specifically-Vegan options everywhere.