In Our Pursuit For Vegan Perfectionism Are We Indulging In Human Cruelty?
Let’s not stress out waiters more than they already are
A few months ago, I came across a Tweet by a waitress in England ranting about how sick and fed up she was of vegan customers constantly asking her to veganize their food, and how some of them were insensitive enough to even send back dishes because their plates touched a plate containing animal products.
It got me thinking about all the instances my vegan friends and I have stopped waiters to interrogate them on the available vegan options at the restaurant and requested them to veganize our food. But for all that we’ve asked waiters to veganize our food and not to use common utensils over all these years, I’ve never encountered a situation where either me or my friends have sent back a dish just because the plate was touching a plate of non-vegan food.
This is the height of vegan insensitivity. If this isn’t the height of vegan insanity, then I don’t know what is.
To address this issue, we’ll have to go back to the very definition of veganism.
Veganism means not using animals or animal products for food, clothing, shelter, and other lifestyle needs and limiting their use as much as possible. This means restricting the use of animals and animal products in your life as much as realistically and logically possible in whichever situation you find yourself. This doesn’t mean you rain hell down on those who are unaware of the movement and are finding it difficult to accomodate your request in a 100% non-vegan world.
Restaurant scraps plant-based dishes after becoming fed up with 'holier-than-thou' vegans
Sally Cooper, the bistro owner who wrote the Facebook post, said that she made the decision to stop catering to vegans…
The Issue With Outdoor Dining
You might think this to be a trifling issue. Vegans are greatly in the minority, and restaurants encountering one, two, or even half a dozen vegans a day shouldn’t feel like a chore.
After all, what could the waiter possibly be so upset about when, for every regular meat eating customer, there’s a vegan who’s asking her/him about every dish and what can be veganized and what cannot? Ideally, it shouldn’t be a problem. But now we have to remember that vegans are a growing sect, and when those numbers start rising, it can really start being a pain in the rear for waiters to constantly be answering questions all day, and making an extra effort to see that vegan food isn’t contaminated by the utensils used to make non-vegan food. Note that all of these waiters aren’t going to be paid a single extra penny for answering all your questions regarding vegan items on the menu and getting the chef to veganize your food.
What was once a minor and trifling inconvenience, suddenly feels like a major chore that’s making your job difficult and unbearable.
One is bound to lose their marbles when their once mundane and basic jobs start turning into technical difficulties, especially when the pay remains exactly the same. Now multiply all those vegans with the number of days, months, and years, they’d have to be visiting all those restaurants constantly at the necks of waiters and supervisors, and we have a very real problem on our hands.
Waiters aren’t there to be interrogated and questioned about food preferences. They have a job to do. The volume of orders at their restaurants might be so high that they just do not possess the time or agency to ensure that a plate of vegan food doesn’t touch a plate of non-vegan food.
Now, one might assume that if something like this is happening recurrently, the management might ultimately resort to adding vegan options to their menus. But ground realities are much more complex. You cannot guarantee for a fact that a restaurant will add vegan options to their menus just because their waiters are constantly encountering vegans. They might not possess the expertise, have the required cooking staff, or it might just not be in their cuisine to serve vegan food.
This is the reason I refrain from dining at non-vegan restaurants altogether. When no questions are asked, no one's fuming or doubting about what the other party said and whether the waiter heard the order correctly or not. When vegan options are available on the menu by default, there’s no room for ambiguity (and arguments that escalate into fights) to creep in. Waiters are tired and stressed out as it is. Let’s not make their lives harder.
Here are a few steps, in the order of ease of implementation, that you as a vegan could take in order to reduce your burden on restaurant waiters:
- Dine only at vegan restaurants.
- Dine only at vegetarian restaurants.
- Dine only at restaurants that have vegan options.
- Order the most vegan-ish looking thing on the menu as per your knowledge of your country’s cuisine without burdening the waiter with a single question.
- Ask just a single question to the waiter regarding items which you think are vegan, but could potentially contain non-vegan ingredients.
- Order the most boring or insipid looking food on the menu, which is bound to be vegan. Like a salad, for example.
- If the food comes touching the plate of a non-vegan food item, don’t yell at the waiter or send it back. Instead, let your friends have it, or if you’re dining alone, get it parceled to give to a friend. Then order another dish.
“Veganism means not using animals or animal products for food, clothing, shelter, and other lifestyle needs and limiting their use as much as possible. This means restricting the use of animals and animal products in your life as much as realistically and logically possible in whichever situation you find yourself. This doesn’t mean you rain hell down on those who are unaware of the movement and are finding it difficult to accomodate your request in a 100% non-vegan world.”
Now while we’re on the topic of restaurants, let’s talk a bit about production lines and speed.
Restaurants with a high volume of customers are constantly at each others necks racing to get orders fulfilled without any delays or mistakes. When waiters, supervisors, and managers are stressed to their limits, it makes no sense to burden them further with unnecessary requests which might only add to their workload and increase the chance of them committing errors. Also, lets not forget that many of these restaurants use the same pre-made ingredients as a base for multiple dishes to save on time, so its unlikely that they will prepare the very same dish for you right from scratch just so that it can be labelled vegan.
High volume restaurants are a strict no-go for vegans purely for this reason.
Do not dine at popular or busy restaurants. The volume of orders is so high at these restaurants that it is unlikely that waiters will be able to accommodate your request. They’re in a mad rush to fulfill orders that they just wouldn’t possess the time to stand around and answer to your vegan interrogation. Also, it is very unlikely that you might find anything plant-based in such restaurants. That’s the reason they are so popular and busy. Health food restaurants that serve plant-based options are usually the least busy. The vast majority of people usually dine out to eat something unhealthy and indulge their taste buds a bit.
“If I wanted to eat healthy, I’d just eat at home. Why go outside and pay more to eat healthy?”. This is the line of reasoning that I usually receive from my friends.
Most restaurant staff have absolutely no time, patience, or energy for anything out of the ordinary. Even if they did, the chance that they might mess up the order is so high that it's not even worth it. In such situations, I’d rather just stick to some fruit or packaged food in case there’s no other smaller restaurant near by.
To conclude, let’s look at the following two scenarios:
You find yourself in a non-vegan restaurant where there are no discernible vegan options on the menu. Which scenario do you think would be helpful for the vegan movement?
I am defiant and uncompromising in my ideals and cannot tolerate it if my plate was found touching a plate of non-vegan food while being transferred from the kitchen to the table.
I yell my lungs out at the waiter after the food comes, or explain this to them very carefully in the very beginning, greatly burdening them with their already heavy workload for the day. I finally get my 100% vegan food, which has neither been prepared with non-vegan utensils, nor has touched the plate of a non-vegan dish as it was being transferred from kitchen to table.
I have sent a very strong message to the management that vegans are not to be messed with, and that I will not even swallow a single drop of dairy or a morsel of meat which could have been a possibility had I not strictly made myself clear to the staff while ordering. My “victory” has although, come at a cost. I have attracted the scorn, ridicule, and absolute indignation of all the waitstaff at the restaurant due to my behaviour, there by creating a bad name for vegans. I have unnecessarily increased their workload for the day for no extra pay and this has caused them immense stress in an existing pressure cooker environment. They are now wary about letting people like me into their restaurant ever again.
I am flexible and reasonable in my approach towards the waitstaff and kindly request them to not prepare my food alongside meat based dishes or with common utensils, and to maintain as much separation as possible.
I look forward to them acceding my request, but I am totally okay with it if it isn’t. I let them know that I am flexible about my request too.
I see that the restaurant is bursting at the seams with customers and that the waiters have their hands full, quite literally, and do not have the time, energy, or agency to process any special requests. I know that my food will most likely arrive at my table touching the plate of a non-vegan food item as the waiters are too busy to take care of such minute details. I am totally fine with this, and let the waiters know that it isn’t their fault but make the suggestion that they could add vegan options to their menu so that vegans don’t have to make any special requests, especially during periods of heavy workload.
I swallow my food unflinchingly without making a fuss, knowing that I’ve done my very best to get the food to be veganized and that none of this is anyone’s fault.
Which scenario do you think will make waiters and restaurateurs more open and accomodating to the vegan movement? Which scenario will make waiters and restaurateurs respect vegans more and have a higher opinion of them? Do let me know in the comments bar to the side.
Let’s not get sucked up into the vortex of perfectionist and idealist veganism. Let’s not allow perfect to be the enemy of good. We have to take as many neutral steps as we can to realize our dream of a cruelty-free world.
And if I have to risk having my vegan food getting mixed with non-vegan ingredients, or being made in the very same kitchen as animal products, then so be it.
Nothing great came without a bit of sacrifice, anyway.