Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The "Vegan" Menu

I want to say from the get-go that I am not a vegan, but have nothing against vegans. I think it's admirable when someone chooses that lifestyle and to me it seems like it would be a hard lifestyle to maintain. I have a lot of respect for those who are able to do it even if they only do for a short time.

That being said, I am often perplexed by vegan restaurant menus. I have only been to a few vegan restaurants in my day, but all of them have had "chicken" and "beef" and "pork" on their menus. I understand that these items are not actually chicken, beef or pork so I once asked a waiter at a vegan restaurant what the "chicken" wings actually were. He responded that they were mostly made of wheat gluten. I guess 'wheat gluten wings' doesn't sound as appetizing. To me it sounds like they've taken all the gluten that's been extracted from gluten free products and molded it into chicken wing shapes and then fried it. Definitely not something I want to be eating. Which brings me to my first argument against using animal names on vegan menus:

1. People want to know what they are eating. We've had a bit of a culture shift in recent decades where people are starting to care more about what it is they are actually eating. I would assume this to be especially true for a group of people who have decided to go out of their way to ensure they do not consume animal products. They are probably more aware of what they are eating than most of us who are otherwise health conscious, because I would assume they have to read labels of most foods they buy to make sure they were not accidentally consuming an animal product. Vegans may even not be at all turned off by having wheat gluten on their menu. Perhaps it is something that shows up in a lot of vegan foods. If you think it's going to hurt your business to tell someone what they are actually eating, maybe you should consider serving something different on your menu.

2. Vegan's don't want to eat animals. My second argument for not using animal names on vegan menus, is that those who chose to be vegan should not find animal products to be appetizing. You would think that seeing "beef" on a menu would make someone not want to eat if they've chosen to avoid eating animal products.

3. Vegan's don't (or shouldn't) want their food to taste like meat. I have heard someone say that they put the animal product names on the menu because that is what the vegan food is supposed to taste like. I would think that someone who has chosen to be vegan would also not want their food to mimic the taste and/or texture of animal meat. If you want to eat something that is called chicken and tastes like chicken, you can just eat chicken.

But all joking aside, my last and most poignant argument against using animal names on vegan menus is a more philosophical one:

4. Using animal names on menus perpetuates the idea of animals (and animal products) as food. Even if those ordering from your menus know that it is not actually chicken, by calling it "chicken" you are feeding into the cultural food norms that say chicken is a food. In fact, you are promoting the idea that "chicken" is a more valid food than wheat gluten since you have chosen to list "chicken" as the menu item instead of what you are actually serving.

Again, I am not a vegan. I am just someone who cares to know what it is I am eating. I don't object to eating vegan food and enjoy going to vegan restaurants with my friends. But I do get frustrated with not knowing what I am actually ordering because the menus aren't telling me.