Thursday, May 8, 2008

Please Make The Gardenburgers Stop

This article in Slate Magazine has a great point:

"As long as we're discussing restaurants, allow me a quick word with the hardworking chefs at America's dining establishments. We really appreciate that you included a vegetarian option on your menu (and if you didn't, is our money not green?), but it may interest you to know that most of us are not salad freaks on a grim slog for nourishment. We actually enjoy food, especially the kind that tastes good. So enough with the bland vegetable dishes, and, for God's sake, please make the Gardenburgers stop; it's stunning how many restaurants lavish unending care on their meat dishes yet are content to throw a flavorless hockey puck from Costco into the microwave and call it cuisine. Every vegetarian is used to slim pickings when dining out, so we're not asking for much—just for something you'd like to eat. I'll even offer a handy trick. Pretend you're trapped in a kitchen stocked with every ingredient imaginable, from asiago to zucchini, but with zero meat. With no flesh available, picture what you'd make for yourself; this is what we want, too."

Knowing how easy it is to make a delicious, satisfying vegetarian (even vegan) meal, there is no excuse for restaurants that offer a vegetarian option, to offer something as revolting as a Gardenburger. Case in point 7 in San Jose , on my friend Larke's birthday(a warning on the link to the restaurant I provided, turn your speakers off before you follow it, unless you are super into cheesy 90's synth xylophone lounge music). They had nothing vegetarian on the menu, except on thing that would require some minor adjustments. I explained my adjustments to the waitress, only to be greeted by an interruption and a frowny face: they were out of that particular dish. I explained my predicament, she said, no problem, I'll have the chef whip something up.

My dish was an amazing stuffed bell pepper full of seasonal vegetables, flavoured with cumin & coriander and lovingly placed on a mat woven out of zucchini and carrot strips. In short, it was delicious. I sent my complements to the chef.

Granted this was a nice restaurant with real chefs, etc. But, so many times I've gone to similar establishments and had the waitress furrow her eyebrows and finally bring me out steamed vegetables with a side of mashed potatoes (incidentally, this has become my staple at un-vegetarian friendly restaurants. Chances are, if they have "Gardenburger" on the menu, they'll be able to make the dish for you and it will be at least edible - after all who can mess up steamed vegetables or mashed potatoes??).

It's an interesting article (albeit poorly written - his main problem appearing to be not having a thesaurus handy) and reflects a lot of my own sentiments about being vegetarian. Some particularly pertinent points:

"For those kind-hearted omnivores who willingly invite feral vegetarians into their homes for dinner parties and barbecues (really! we do that, too!), the same rule applies—but also know that unless you're dealing with an herbivore who is a prick for unrelated reasons, we don't expect you to bend over backward for us. In fact, if we get the sense that you cooked for three extra hours to accommodate our dietary preferences, we will marvel at your considerate nature, but we will also feel insanely guilty."

"The U.S. boasts more than 10 million herbivores today, yet most Americans assume that every last one is a loopy, self-satisfied health fanatic, hellbent on draining all the joy out of life."

"Now, when I say that vegetarians are normal people with normal food cravings, many omnivores will hoist a lamb shank in triumph and point out that you can hardly call yourself normal if the aroma of, say, sizzling bacon doesn't fill you with deepest yearning. To which I reply: We're not insane. We know meat tastes good; it's why there's a freezer case at your supermarket full of woefully inadequate meat substitutes."

(interestingly enough a lot of cultures have separate words for "hunger" and "hunger for meat", we also have an enzyme, that we create, in our bodies, for digesting cooked meat.)

"Finally, grant me one more cordial request: Please don't try to convince us that being vegetarian is somehow wrong. If you're concerned for my health, that's very nice, though you can rest assured that I'm in shipshape. If you want to have an amiable tête-à-tête about vegetarianism, that's great. But if you insist on being the aggressive blowhard who takes meatlessness as a personal insult and rails about what fools we all are, you're only going to persuade me that you're a dickhead."

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