The problem of non-vegan restaurants

On the one hand, it’s a better time to be vegan than ever before. The advent of the Beyond and Impossible Burgers have led even fast food places embrace plant-based meats whether by those producers[1] or even of their own design.[2] I even saw Beyond Burgers being flogged on the digital sign outside an Eat’n Park near my apartment.

There are some huge ‘buts’ that go with that. First, many vegans object to cross-contamination, where food is prepared using the same utensils or on the same grills with animal flesh. Second, it can be hard for vegans to walk into or even near places where the smells of burning animal flesh predominate.

The third is probably the most serious. For a while, I was in the habit of stopping at a restaurant in Cotati, California, for breakfast. They had a great tofu scramble that was marked as vegan on the menu. One day, I found a slice of pig flesh (bacon) in the middle of my food.

Then there’s that time I stopped at a hot dog place and ordered their veggie dog, which is vegan. It’d been a while and I’d forgotten how to order it. Glancing at the menu too quickly, I said veggie dog, Chicago, and seeing that it included onions and peppers, both of which I’m hypersensitive too, asked them to withhold those. The hot dog arrived with both those proscribed condiments, leaving me to wonder if, having gotten that wrong, they’d honored my request for the veggie dog.

Apparently, something similar happened to folks in Liverpool, where the Kentucky Fried Chicken served chicken flesh to customers requesting their vegan sandwich. This might indeed, as KFC claims, have been miscommunication.[3] But indifference or antipathy can also be a factor.

A charge commonly laid against vegans is that they relish their status as victims, but research suggests they have earned it. In 2015, a study conducted by Cara C MacInnis and Gordon Hodson for the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations observed that vegetarians and vegans in western society – and vegans in particular – experience discrimination and bias on a par with ethnic and religious minorities.[4]

A judge in Britain has ruled that veganism should be treated as a philosophical belief entitled to protection under anti-discrimination law.[5]

My Twitter feed is replete with fellow vegans fending off attacks from ideological carnists, people who insist that humans should eat meat despite the dire environmental and health consequences, to say nothing of the ethics of slaughtering sentient beings.

Vegans generally want restaurants to carry vegan options. Being stuck driving for Uber and Lyft,[6] I often find myself hungry—and a ways from home and from a fully vegan restaurant that’s open. It’s good to be able to stop some place, maybe even that Eat’nPark in Dormont my grandfather frequented, and eat.

Also, the availability of vegan options hopefully means that non-vegans will try them, find them palatable, and thus be relieved of the question, “How would I eat?”

But trust is difficult. Certainly my experiences don’t help.

These recent displays of enmity towards vegans represent a puzzling escalation in hostilities, just as a consensus is starting to form that eating less meat would almost certainly be better for everyone – and the Earth.[7]

Some non-vegans seem to find vegans a threat to all they hold dear. Which is to say that they cherish a practice that requires terrified animals, who clearly know they are coming to no good end, to have their throats slit or to be shot in the backs of their heads.

I struggle to understand that. It seems a strange psychological trick to insist that what is utterly wrong and regrettable is not merely good but a moral imperative.

To encourage restaurateurs to carry vegan options, vegans should patronize their restaurants. But that means we have to be able to trust their workers. And that’s going to be hard as long as we see so many attacks from ideological carnists.

  1. [1]Kate Taylor, “Evidence is mounting that fast-food chains from Chick-fil-A to McDonald’s will be forced to add vegan menu items — or face the consequences,” Business Insider, May 13, 2019, https://amp.businessinsider.com/vegan-items-sweep-fast-food-chick-fil-a-mcdonalds-eye-options-2019-5
  2. [2]Jenny Kirkham, “‘Hands up this isn’t great’: KFC admits selling chicken instead of vegan burger to vegetarians,” Liverpool Echo, January 3, 2020, https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/kfc-vegan-burger-chicken-vegetarian-17511479
  3. [3]Jenny Kirkham, “‘Hands up this isn’t great’: KFC admits selling chicken instead of vegan burger to vegetarians,” Liverpool Echo, January 3, 2020, https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/kfc-vegan-burger-chicken-vegetarian-17511479
  4. [4]George Reynolds, “Why do people hate vegans?” Guardian, October 25, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/25/why-do-people-hate-vegans
  5. [5]Telegraph, “Veganism is a philosophical belief and is therefore protected by law, judge rules,” January 3, 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/03/veganism-philosophical-belief-therefore-protected-law-judge/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  7. [7]George Reynolds, “Why do people hate vegans?” Guardian, October 25, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/25/why-do-people-hate-vegans

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