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Shouldn't food service professionals "get" vegetarian?


Ok, I realize this is likely to spur some anti-veg backlash, but having just returned from a week long, food included conference, am for the umpteenth time wondering why so many professional cooks just don’t seem to “get” what vegetarian means. I’m talking in relation to the food guide, not simply “meatless”.

I’m one of those “meat free” people who doesn’t typically make a fuss, am more than happy to eat a slice of bread for a meal at someone’s home, and enjoy many meals in restaurants that are meat free, but not necessarily balanced. This is ok for occasionals, and I can make up for it. I’ll even very occasionally eat fish, and I am , by no means, a picky eater. I realize it's a pain in the butt to a lot of people, and I regularly apologize for it. Really, i'm not trying to be difficult !!

I understand that it is difficult to feed a couple of hundred people and keep everyone happy. I also understand that the resulting food is quite often, not great. But this is a location where people go on conferences and training for weeks on end. Is it too much to ask for some protein?

The kitchen was advised well ahead of time that there would be vegetarians in the group (I was one of a few). While the carnivores in the group enjoyed a wide selection of dishes and various proteins in the buffet line, there were no vegetarian mains, only once a meat-free pasta option, and only once fish which I didn’t eat (it looked repulsive, but I was at least happy to see it there, for some variety).

Twice during the week, there were asian dishes, typically dishes that can quite easily be and often are by their own right, vegetarian. Once, there were burgers, but no veggie burger substitute. That one, I thought, seemed rather obvious to me, wouldn’t have even required an entire stand-alone dish.

I was quite excited to see a tofu hot and sour soup…..which was swimming in beef. I spent the week living off of rice, potatoes, cheese (which many veg’s won’t eat), salads/veg sides and the ever present chick pea in the salad bar. I ate eggs every morning for breakfast just to make sure I had at least some protein (you have to eat a lot of beans, eggs and cheese to get the daily requirement so easily gotten from eg. Tofu). I love chickpeas, but not for two meals a day, every day.

This might also be ok, if you’re in the “eat to live” category, which I’m not. I could regale you with other such occasions, and the interpretations of “vegetarian” which ended up on my plate (one example was the canned baked beans over pasta meal….WTH)

Needless to say, I felt ill and bloated by the end of the week, tired of eating the same thing day in day out, and couldn’t wait to get back to my own cooking. I wasn’t the only one. And no we did not have the option to go elsewhere.

I understand that not every person understands or wants to know how to feed a vegetarian, but shouldn’t a food service professional know how to do this, and provide balanced meals? And God forbid, with some variety?

  1. every year I go on a week long catered trip, at a boy scout camp of all places. We are most definitely NOT there for the food (the camp is located on Santa Catalina Island adjacent to world-class scuba diving). However, even though the food is nothing to write home about, every single meal's main course has a vegetarian alternative, (ie veggie burgers if the main dish is burgers, vegie sauced pasta, vegie chili on chili night, etc. Most of those vegie main courses are also vegan.

    Why? because the various groups who attend the camp when the boy scouts aren't there (typically, we will be one of several groups in camp) and who purchase the catering, insist on it and put it in the contract.

    The caterer deserves some of the blame, but I am sure they 'get it', they just don't have sufficient motive to do something about it. I'd join forces with the other vegetarians and ask your employer to intervene. If your job is secure, I'd even consider submitting a claim for meals eaten elsewhere since they couldn't accomodate you. (too late for this time, but to be considered for the next time).

    Advising the caterer isn't enough. When I have done event planning for my work, I have put it in the agreements that XXX number of vegie options will be available.

    1. Don't take this as anti veg - and also don't take it as an excuse for poor planning on the caterer's part.
      There are so many varieties (or degrees) of vegetarian (at least it appears that way to a full on carnivore like me) that if it is left strictly to the food professional to come up with acceptable vegetarian alternatives, they may fail completely in satisfying the non meat crowd.
      The caterer "SHOULD" know that at a minimum vegetarian attendees means to provide main as well as side alternatives.
      In situations like this it is important for the person or group hosting the conference to get input from the vegetarian(s) on what is acceptable fare. They need to relay this to the food service provider - not just a general "there will be some vegetarians".
      The food service provider should also ask for detailed input from the host in the case of general statements - Questions like "Vegetarian or Vegan?", "Strict or loose adherence?", "Is seafood acceptable or not?" and VERY important "How many vegetarians will be attending?"
      Without some fairly detailed input, the non meat eaters may be in for a crapshoot.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hannaone


        You took the words out of my omnivore mouth. What is the line about being a "level nine vegan - one who doesn't eat anything that casts a shadow?

        Given my dietary habits, I should be less concerned about level of vegetarianism and the foods offered, except that we host a lot of major functions. My assistant, and my wife's always get full disclosure on our guests' requirements beforehand. Each restaurant is given full instructions. To date, none has let us down. Heck, wife has some food allergies and we do a lot of "chef's tastings." With notice, all have come through.

        Now, we've hosted tables at charity events, where the folk did not respond to the question. Imagine the kitchen staff, when serving 1200 to try and create something just for this one person. Also, most events like this are on a tight cost budget, so they cannot be expected to have X different levels of vegetarian plates, in case someone wants them.

        I used to see similar, back when there were meals served on airplanes. People would demand a Kosher, or Veg plate, when we were in the air. Back when I first began flying, I learned that one could specify their food, from within several choices, before hand. Imagine the stewardesses (that's what they were called back then) trying to scramble around and "create" a special meal, when all they had to work from were other regular meals.

        Now, if a caterer does not listen to the needs of the guests, or the host/hostess is not sensitive to them, there is no excuse. Gotta' get with the game plan.


        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Yes, the one making arrangements should make sure that their needs are met. I agree; put it in the contract. If yours is not the only group being served that day, ask about typical menus. If they don't meet your needs, go elsewhere. Let the catereres KNOW EXACTLY what you expect, and vote with your feet if they don't provide it. (For example, it amazes me that so many people consider "vegetarian" to include fish. I would NEVER make that assumption, but I can only assume that a caterer might since so many of you do...).

          OTOH, the caterer should know their audience. I was once on a flight from Dubai to Mumbai. Just about every person on board was Hindu (Indian workers returning from the oilfields to their homes during a holiday period). British Air loaded several hundred meals, and all but two were beef (DH and I had pre-ordered the two vegetarian meals...we ended up giving them away). OK, maybe folks should have pre-ordered, but these were people who rarely fly, and BA should have known better.....

          1. re: janetofreno


            You make a good point about fliers, who have not done this most of their lives.

            It has also become easier, with on-line booking, to request a special meal, IF one is being served.

            Years ago, before the Internet, we'd get the "Seafood" dinners on our flights to HON, if we were not upgrading to, or buying FC. These were the better on UAL. Then, they went to imitation "seafood," and we quickly stopped that practice.

            For general group dining, I think that the onus is first of a host/hostess, and then on the diners. Too many complain that they did not get such-n-such and since they only eat_____, the hostess is responsible, or the restaurant. When pressed, they too often admit that they did not tell anybody, but:

            1.) any good host/hostess should know all guests' dietary desires
            2.) all restaurants should be able to accommodate anybody's special request, at a moment's notice.

            Heck, there are enough people, who RSVP'ed for the salmon, and then changed their mind to the chicken, just before the mains are served.

            I will have to say that my wife is much better at knowing the food dislikes of our guests, but then her assistant is better than mine - wait, you didn't see ME type that...


      2. While the folks who run the conference center could certainly prod the people who planned the conference to select balanced vegetarian items, ultimately the people who are putting the conference on are making final selections about the food.

        It may very well be that the food service professionals said to themselves "screw it, they'll find something" but it may also be that the people planning the conference didn't think it important enough to either pay a bit extra to have more complete entree choices available or more likely said to themselves "screw it, they'll find something."

        You're right, cooking for vegetarians in a healthy way requires some planning and thought and foresight. It also generally costs more than just cooking for omnivores. That is, cooking two kinds of things costs more than cooking one kind of thing, not that food vegetarians eat is necessary any more expensive than what omnivores eat. In my experience both handling the food service side of the catering/banquet stuff and also handling the conference planning side almost everyone says "screw it, they'll find something."

        Most of the time, conference planners focus on the animal protein (should we have chicken and beef or chicken and pork) and figure if there's salad and/or pasta without any actual meat on it that vegetarians will be fine.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ccbweb

          I agree with much of what you should say but would like to note that I have planned or overseen the planning of many, many meetings and conferences, have always asked that the contract include veggie alternatives, and have never been charged more or have been told that it would cost more to include a certain number of vegetarian mains.

          I am not convinced it really does cost more, or that cost was a major factor in this instance: sure, you have to make more types of things, but particularly if you are talking about a venue that already does that (OP mentioned a buffett) the vegetarian options aren't going to cost more than the meat alternatives, and the vendor can make less of the meat alternatives.

          1. re: susancinsf

            Excellent points and I agree.

        2. Interesting topic. While I'm omnivorous, there are times when I just don't want meat, and that means having side dishes for a meal. It's unfortunate, however, that most people, when they think of a meal, center that idea around the animal. So, no-meat eaters are eating around the periphery. Have you EVER seen an ad for a restaurant that doesn't talk about the meat? No. It never, ever happens.

          But, there are so many fabulous things that can be prepared even vegan, so I do blame the caterer for lack of creativity, especially when they have been told in advance.

          1. I should clarify and indicate that this was not a catered event, nor was it in a hotel. It's an on site kitchen in a large facility expressly for the purpose of training etc. So while i know SOMEONE has to approve the meals eventually, I know this having planned similar events myself, but i'm thinking this type of facility doesn't have the same kind of oversight meals wise, as say in the case of a two or three day event.

            And I do understand it costs a little more, but that is in part what bugged me about this. The HAD the tofu there, then cooked it in beef. Obviously they had an endless supply of chickpeas, which would have been fine alongside the curries in the form of a chana masala.

            to answer susan, my employer does not allow me to claim for it. as far as anyone's concerned it seems, as long as i can eat SOMETHING be it a potato, a green salad, or what not, i'm being accomodated.

            My thoughts during these times are often on those who have religious observances or allergies.

            Glad to hear this is not the standard everywhere.

            1 Reply
            1. re: im_nomad

              It doesn't matter that it was a dedicated training facility: my answer stands. Someone at your company undoubtably signed an agreement for the provision of meals to your group. My employer quite simply will not pay for food service unless there is a signed agreement in place (and the agreement can specify what is included), regardless of the location or type of event. At my employer, which I don't think is unique in this regard: there are ONLY two ways that meals can be provided: 1.) someone pays for it personally and gets reimbursed, or 2.) a signed contract is in place with a food service provider, caterer, hotel or restaurant.

              However, I can believe that the employer won't allow you to claim other meals if they have an agreement that meals will be provided (my wouldn't either): and my point in suggesting that, assuming your relationship with your employer is otherwise good, would be to make a point and to let your employer know you weren't happy, not to actually get reimbursed. Obviously, that type of point works better if you area valued and preferably a long term employee, which is why I said it was only something to consider if your job was secure. That said, have you told your employer how you feel about what was provided? Does your employer know you were unhappy and didn't feel good about or as a result of the alternatives? If not, I would definitely let your employer know, preferably in conjunction with as many others as feel the same way as possible. They can do something about it if motivated to do so.

            2. Sounds like gross mismanagement to me. You have a bunch of people who don't have any choice but to eat the food you're serving, you know that some of them have dietary restrictions, and you just ignore this fact? Not just vegetarians, what about people who keep kosher, observe a halal diet, are Seventh Day Adventists, etc.?

              Maybe it's just a function of having lived too long in the land of fruits and nuts, but I've come to expect that ANY group meal that's the only option for the participants will provide a vegan alternative. It's part of the obligation of those who are feeding you. Sheesh.

              1. Jfood is one of those people who does not understand what a vegetarian can/cannot eat. ANd for good reason. Let's look at the OP.

                - why so many professional cooks just don’t seem to “get” what vegetarian means. I’m talking in relation to the food guide, not simply “meatless”.
                - I’m one of those “meat free” people...and enjoy many meals in restaurants that are meat free, but not necessarily balanced.
                - there were no vegetarian mains, only once a meat-free pasta option,
                - and only once fish which I didn’t eat
                - I spent the week living off of rice, potatoes, cheese (which many veg’s won’t eat), salads/veg sides and the ever present chick pea in the salad bar.
                - I ate eggs every morning for breakfast just to make sure I had at least some protein (you have to eat a lot of beans, eggs and cheese to get the daily requirement so easily gotten from eg. Tofu). I love chickpeas, but not for two meals a day, every day.

                jfood has no idea what OP's vegetarian requirements comprise.

                So were there vegetarian options or not? There were pastas with some toppings, there was a fish night, etc. And did the OP ever ask anyone if they might prepare a non-pasta veggie dinner or did they keep quiet. there have been lots of threads about speaking up.

                And if this was for a religious limited diet would the kosher or halal or any other religious dietary restriction demand a full buffet of choices or would a single choice to meet their needs suffice?

                So jfood thinks there are so many different interpretations of vegetarian that the OP should have asked if he could speak with the organizer, then see if the chef could meet these dietary requirements.

                But to expect any large gathering to have a separate buffet for each some group is asking way too much. And if the OP did not like the options, then OP could have spoken up or went elsewhere for the food to meet the needs.

                8 Replies
                1. re: jfood

                  The OP made it clear that going elsewhere for food was not an option. Therefore, the dining hall had an obligation to make suitable food available.

                  So the question is what constitutes suitable food. As somebody who's cooked for large groups of people with a range of restrictions regarding what if any forms of animal products they'll eat, I can attest that the answer to that question is a no-brainer. You don't have to tailor the meal to any one person's dietary restrictions, just have a vegan option available. It doesn't matter who eats veal or chicken or fish or shellfish or cheese or honey. Anybody who avoids those things can eat the vegan option. Done and done.

                  1. re: jfood

                    I think the standard vegetarian diet does not include meat (including, but not limited to, beef and pork), poultry (including, but not limited to, chicken, turkey and duck) or fish (including, but not limited to, swimming fish and shellfish... ummmm... unless there is no other kind of fish). It does, however, include eggs and dairy. A vegan diet includes all of the dietary restrictions above, as well as no eggs or dairy, as well as no animal "secretions" such as honey (though the last one is a point of contention for some vegans). People who make food choices other than the ones mentioned above, but call themselves vegetarian or vegan, are just looking for a word to justify their preferences. I am one of those people, but I don't expect restaurants/caterers to cater to my whims. Instead, I expect them to have at least one choice on the menu that meets the "standard" definition of vegetarian/veganism, and I'll work around that.

                    1. re: Jetgirly

                      I'd agree with this. If someone said "I'm a vegetarian", I'd assume this meant "nothing that required something in the kingdom to die" (e.g. meat of any sort (including fish), grease (ie rendered fat), etc), and would probably assume that if the option was available that they'd prefer more happy-friendly options for dairy/eggs/etc. If they said "I'm a vegan", I'd assume it meant "no animal products of any kind".

                      Anyone who uses one of those two labels and means something else - that's their problem. They can either communicate to me in non-ridiculous terms what they really mean (ie not saying, "I'm a vegetarian, but I also eat chicken and bacon") or to buck up and deal.

                      This doesn't address the OP's point though, as to whether or not the vegetarian side was adequately dealt with.

                    2. re: jfood

                      I'm not sure what was confusing there -- the OP said that there was only one pasta dish with no meat, and though there was a fish night, that's not vegetarian. There was no mention of a desire for a full buffet of choices, so I'm not sure where you got that -- just the desire for a main dish option that was vegetarian, or even some substantial sides that were not salad or carb heavy. It's pretty easy to have two main dishes for a crowd, and for one of them to be vegetarian, and I think that's a very reasonable request.

                      1. re: jfood

                        jfood, with all due respect, i was looking for primarily protein, and at least some semblance of variety that the other participants had on their plates. Pasta with toppings gives me nothing but a serving of carbs ( and crappy sauce, but that's another story). I'm talking the food guide here.

                        each meal, there was a buffet of choices with several meats prepared in various and new ways....the vegetarians had...........plain canned chick peas. Every...day..and these were in the salad bar that everyone had access to, and were highly scarce there might i add.. often they topped some rice salad or something......

                        As for whether I, and the other veg's spoke up, yes, we sure did. I spoke up very specifically about my needs before attending, as well as throughout the conference...others were even more vocal than i. Got alot of blank stares and we just got the impression that they didn't "get it". ...as I said.

                        I couldn't go elsewhere, unless you count the vending machines scattered around the place.

                        Yes, there are various interpretations of vegetarian, but i'm talking in the strictest sense of the word here.....not even getting into the whole ovo-lacto or vegan thing. Providing some form of plant based protein, and maybe changing it up a little, would meet many people's needs.

                        Let me stress that at no time was I ever expecting a "full buffet of choices". Again asking for protein, and for maybe that protein source to change from day to day.

                        After all, if you were at my house to visit, and i fed you chicken for lunch and supper, plain and served the same way day in day out......for three weeks or more, wouldn't you get sick of it?

                        1. re: im_nomad

                          jfood re-read the post more carefully as other responses to his post and stands corrected. He had a hard time following the first time and after carefully reading he sees that "regular" vegetarian choices were non-existent. That's a very bad oversight on the part of the organizer.

                          Did you think about pizza delivery? If jfood was subjected to chick peas for even a couple of days, even Dominos may have reached the radar screen.

                          So jfood apologizes for his initial comments and hopes that at least the off-site or conference was successful from a non-eating perspective.

                          1. re: jfood

                            not a problem, i had an inkling you weren't malicious :)

                            I loooooovveee pizza, and yes i did consider. I love me any bread-cheese combo. I was surprised though to find that after several days of buffet cheese and various carbs, I was a little tired of this. No worries, I am since reformed. besides, by the time i thought of it, I was in my PJ's . But to my original point, at least pizza seems like somewhat of a crowd pleaser, and this suggestion could have shown itself at lunch.

                            besides, if i want to get sticky on the food guide issue, it really does take a lot of cheese to get a daily requirement for protein, and therefore while filling the void in the belly, pizza wouldn't really fit the bill in that regard.

                            I am pleased to say I had a wonderful asian feast on the train during my return trip.

                            1. re: im_nomad

                              you should have brought some good chocolate chip cookies to the dark side convention.

                      2. The main thing I wonder is why vegetarians don't get vegetarian. I am always amazed to meet vegetarians who rarely eat legumes, eggs, nuts & substantial amounts of dairy. Maybe they will eat some Tofu or eat Boca Burgers like a staple etc., but I know veggies who can't possibly be getting enough Amino Acids... then of course these are also the "vegetarians" that succumb to an obsessive steak or prime rib bing every six months or so.

                        If many vegetarians don't understand how to eat naturally without meats & uber processed soy products... how can we expect food professionals to do so?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                          There's always the guy I knew several years ago who was vegan but mainly lived off of "bbq potato chip sandwiches".

                          yes, they were exactly what they sound like.

                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                            because the average person has not been trained to provide food service.....and food service professionals are not only trained, but paid to do so. i'm certain i've seen tofu on the Canada food guide.

                            I can only speak for myself....as a new veg, I did rely on simply meat-free, and needless to say also ate a lot of peanut butter....fine and dandy, but my diet was seriously lacking in protein, so i've educated myself, I now know, without pulling out a reference, what a standard food item will yeild for me in protein, and whether i need to eat it at each meal or am able to blow it all on say a slab of tofu. I also do eat legumes, grains, eggs, nuts, dairy, you name it, i eat it.

                          2. As a meeting planner, I agree with the other poster that said it's the conference organizers who decided what to serve, not the catering company.

                            I also agree that it does cost more to offer a vegetarian option. For example, almost NONE of the properties I've planned meetings at have access to vegetarian breakfast sausage, they only have turkey sausage as an "alternative" and they have to find a purveyor and order it special for my meetings, as we have enough vegetarians I find this an important thing to have on the breakfast buffet. So it's an additional/special cost.

                            Also when we do a big dinner, whether it's stations or buffet, many options do not including an actual veg. entree. So you might choose dinner buffet #2 which includes 2 meats, 2 sides and a veg but then you have to add on and order a separate vegetarian entree in limited quantity in addition to the buffet. It's always more expensive. I always order it, and our vegetarians are always appreciative, but I can tell you if I was told to really cut back on my food spending, these "extras" to accommodate vegetarians would be one of the first places I could cut and save money.

                            In general, it's just not the overwhelming norm and if I were a vegetarian going to a conference, i'd try to bring or procure a lot of my own food elsewhere. As someone who is generally a pretty healthy eater who doesn't eat processed food, when I go to a conference there's almost nothing for me to eat at breakfast as it's usually "continental" which means pastries, which I don't eat, corn syrup-filled yogurt which I don't eat, and maybe some fresh whole fruit. A couple of pieces of fruit is not enough for me so I bring my own bars, Kashi or gnu or something. I come prepared because I know my dietary preferences are not the "norm." I would think it would be logical to do the same if you were a vegetarian, instead of continuing to be upset that the norm isn't conforming to my desires.

                            19 Replies
                            1. re: rockandroller1

                              But I don't see why, instead of having two meats and two sides, you couldn't have one meat, one vegetarian choice and the two sides. I'm the only vegetarian in my close circle of friends, but most people I know would happily take a meatless option over a meaty option if it looked yummy! I think it's a weird attitude that the meat eaters MUST have a variety of meaty dishes to choose from and the vegetarians are an afterthought, when you could easily have an option with meat and an option without, and people could have choice in that way. I guarantee you wouldn't only see the vegetarians choosing the meatless dish.

                              1. re: Jetgirly

                                Because I don't create the standard menus, the catering company does. You choose from what they have available, and the standard buffets include 2 meats because that's what the majority wants. I don't know why this is hard to understand. If it only had one meat and a vegetarian entree, then I'd have to order a 2nd meat entree.

                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                  Sorry, but your answer still doesn't make sense. These contracts are signed way in advance. Sysco and other such standard ordering sources DO carry veggie sausage (just to give an example, and I verified this on their website: they call it 'meatless breakfast sausage'): so the catering company COULD vary their offered menu and if necessary order different numbers for that particular week if they knew the menu required. IMO, you are being handed a line if the catering company tells you they have no access to the products. and yes, they could order less meat and more of the veggie product if they chose.

                                  I'd suggest that you try being a little more assertive as a meeting planner. Tell them if they can't order the veggie sausage (or whatever), you will start looking at catering companies that will. Of course, this will require your employer to back you up, which in turn requires those who want those type of meals to start speaking up rather than just 'toughing it out' or bringing their own.

                                  As has been pointed out and implied in other posts, one of the big advantages in providing vegetarian options is that they also provide accomodation for many of those with religious issues (for example, someone who follows halal can still eat veggie meals). It is in the employer's interest to make these accomodations to get and keep the best employees, (and even in tough times you want the best workers for your limited money, that type of accomodation might help alleviate the pain of not being able to give the type of raises the employer would want to give, by making the employee feel valued).

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    As I mentioned earlier, I *do* insist they buy vegetarian sausage. I can tell you that nearly every property I have ordered this from has had to either look for a separate source or order it specially for our meeting because they don't normally stock it. One hotel actually had to enlist a completely different purveyor for it, but most just have to special order it because they don't stock it. I'm plenty assertive.

                                    My meeting attendees are a set group here at my job and everyone's dietary restrictions are recorded when they register. If we suddenly had some Kosher or halal type restrictions, i would accommodate those people singly, but I maintain my original position whether you agree with it or not. The majority of the group is not vegetarian, the majority of most groups are not vegetarian so catering companies and meeting planners don't necessarily go out of their way to accommodate them. In my case, I do have to spend more to accommodate the veg's AND please the larger majority of meat eaters.

                                    I don't think there are any studies indicating that the "best employees" are either meat eaters or vegetarians. However as a meeting planner I can tell you the biggest pains in the arse are the vegetarians, who seem to find a reason to complain about the food no matter what you offer.

                                    1. re: rockandroller1

                                      the best employees are a diverse workforce who feel valued; I never said that vegetarians (or whoever) are better employees, and that wasn't at all my point. My point was about providing for a diverse workforce rather than just making the majority happy.

                                      Sorry, but we will have to disagree: I still don't buy it. If Sysco has veggie sausage, it can't be hard for a caterer to find. Given how pervasive Sysco is, it is hard for me to believe that a large hotel isn't ordering something from them or a similar supplier: it is a matter of changing the order that is given to an existing supplier. Yes, the caterer has to change their order, but that is only a question of adding more of one item that week and less of another item. I still think that the caterer is giving you a line if they tell you this is difficult to do. Next time they tell you it is more expensive, just tell them you want variety and it is fine to offer less of the meat whatever and more of the veggie whatever.

                                      It might also be worthwhile to do an anonymous survey of the employees you serve as to what their preferences actually are: it sounds from the replies as if there are a number of employees who are afraid to speak up or who don't want to 'make a fuss'.

                                      My bottom line: given the number of potential employees in a diverse workforce with health, religious, political or personal reasons for eating less meat, I think it just makes sense to provide for both the meat eaters and the non meat eaters, rather than just assuming that majority needs to rule.

                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                        Agree to disagree - there's something we can agree on. I might point out for the 3rd time that you are preaching to the choir, I am actually one of the people who DO provide for vegetarians in my programs. Many others do not.

                                  2. re: rockandroller1

                                    But why does the standard have to be 2 meat dishes? Why can't it be one meat and one vegetarian. And i think saying that is what the majority wants is misleading - I don't think the majority ever question it, they just eat whatever is put in front of them.

                                    I frequently both attend and host conferences, and I see a difference in catering in location. American venues are heavier on meat whereas Canadian and European ones are more veg friendly. I think it is often laziness on the caterers part, as it requires a bit more creativity and thought to make a vegetarian item that will appeal to a large audience, whereas you can just drop a huge roast in front of them and they will flock to it.

                                    1. re: Dan G

                                      I agree about not understanding why the second entree choice can't be a meatless one. My mom and i both eat meat, but often choose to have a meatless entree just because we don't love meat. I know other people who also aren't vegetarians but often choose to eat entrees that have no meat in them. I am sure that if they provided one entree with meat and one meatless entree, there would be many people who would choose to eat the entree without meat.

                                      1. re: iluvtennis

                                        Yeah, I was just at a similar training to the OP, and while the vegetarians were given special meal items (they had to identify themselves as vegetarian to the kitchen, and then were given their food on a plate), I wished that there was always a vegetarian option at dinner, because sometimes I just don't want meat, or sometimes the meat option just wasn't that good.

                                        1. re: JasmineG

                                          I'm going to stick this comment in here because it follows on the general idea here, but I do not intend to imply that you, JasmineG, do this, simply that it happens.

                                          Something I've noticed is that some folks will make known a dietary preference or restriction as a way to get what they think will be better food or have a better chance of being good than whatever else might be made. In this kind of case some may request a vegetarian option thinking that the vegetables are more likely to be fresh, or whatever, in the hopes of getting something that appeals to them. When they actually get to the meal, though, they find that something else looks good and they eat that since they weren't actually vegetarians to begin with. Then you have lots of leftover vegetarian entrees and the next time through the planners and caterers scale back.

                                          Alternatively, you have those who will opt for the vegetarian entree option when they didn't request one and when there aren't enough for those who didn't ask ahead of time. Then you get vegetarians or those who asked ahead of time in a bad spot. (These are all in the same boat as those who request the chicken or the beef and decide the other looks better when the meal hits...unless there's a lot of flexibility in what the kitchen can do on the fly, too bad.)

                                          Bad food is bad food regardless of the protein source (if any).

                                          My last thought is that even just in this thread, its hard to come up with a truly accurate, consistent definition of what constitutes "vegetarian." Some who self-identify as vegetarian eat fish, some don't. Some eat poultry and some don't. Most eat eggs and milk/cheese/butter but many don't. Vegan is a bit easier because with the exception of honey, there isn't lots and lots of debate: no animal products. Something that planners of such events and caterers/banquet folks should make sure of is that there is a narrow definition of what is and isn't allowed in the food.

                                          1. re: ccbweb

                                            Hah, I actually WILL sometimes request a vegetarian meal at events like this, because it often is more likely to be good. The difference is that I will eat the vegetarian meal, often to longing glances from co-workers sawing through their dry chicken breast.

                                        2. re: iluvtennis

                                          I find when I go on planes that include meals, I will almost always choose the vegetarian option over the meat ones. Even in other meal situations, I might choose the vegetarian option because I am unimpressed by the meat options. There are plenty of meat eaters that sometimes prefer to eat vegetarian options, so I don't think it hurts to provide them, especially in a buffet situation where everyone can choose them.

                                        3. re: Dan G

                                          I'm sure it depends on the group, but my large group is heavy meat eaters and very traditional meat and potatoes types. I would get into a lot of trouble if there was only one meat option made available. I mean, these people complain if there are less than 4 dessert choices. They complained when I tried to save money by not paying for expensive appetizers during a whole 25 minute cocktail hour before dinner. I must have had 20 people coming up to me going, "WHERE ARE THE APPETIZERS?!"

                                          I have really had to push and push and push to get catering companies to offer me anything creative besides pasta with marinara as the veg. entree. I make all kinds of suggestions but they are routinely discarded. I understand some of you think it should be different, I'm just saying this isn't the way it is in reality. Many people probably aren't pushy and nasty enough to insist on vegetarian entrees that aren't pasta with red as I am, or to insist on vegetarian breakfast sausage.

                                          the reason the 2nd entrees are not vegetarian is because those are not in demand.

                                          1. re: rockandroller1

                                            clearly, you don't work for a non-profit or a government entity if employees complain about not having four desserts. I'd say, get the boss to back you up, and next time you hear that complaint tell them that. 'sorry, boss says I have to watch our meal budget or there will be no money for raises this year. Talk to her if that bothers you'.

                                            Vegetarian dishes are clearly in demand in some areas and among some groups, and your experience that the workers where you work are meat-centric may not be typical of all employers or all regions of the US. (and I am assuming that the meeting planning you are doing is for an employer, *not* for a social group, in which case clearly there could be a situational bias for or against certain foods depending upon the nature of the social group).

                                            1. re: susancinsf

                                              the reason to try and spend less money on desserts is not really to cut the food budget, of course, it is so you can use more of your catering budget for better quality mains (including some without meat!). :-) Too many desserts make it impossible to get work done (and of course, since I work in the public sector, there is never money for alcohol: people have to buy their own. Which is how it should be, IMO).

                                              As the immortal Peg Bracken said as the sub-title to her Chapter on Desserts in the "I Hate to Cook Book": 'People are too fat anyway'.

                                              1. re: susancinsf

                                                ha ha, no definitely not government or non-profit. Unfortunately they go over my boss' head - he does back all my decisions but they complain to the executives of the company and I am told to "fix it next time" when I try to do something like this. Without divulging too much, those I plan the meetings for are all owners of the business and they want it the way they want it, and they don't like change. My job is just to order what they want and spend within what I'm given, not to try to satisfy vegetarians or decide if I can cut 2 desserts to offer a vegetarian main. Everything I order has to be pushed through an approval committee of several of the owners, including down to the wines, which I am not allowed to select myself even though I'm plenty knowledgeable about food and drink.

                                                1. re: rockandroller1

                                                  Oh I get it, you must work for a meat company!

                                                  Just kidding. However...

                                                  Mind you, I have nothing against dessert or alcohol, but I wonder if it is really in the company's best interests in the long run to be spending the F and B budget that way in the current economy. Moreover, unless your company is indeed in the food industry it is hard to think of a scenario where it is the best use of the owners' time and expertise to be sitting on committees to decide what type of wine is served at company functions. Unless, of course, they have even less expertise in the area of the actual business, and that is the managers' way of having them 'help' where they will do the least harm (in which case you have my sympathies).

                                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                                    oh honey believe me I completely agree with you that this is NOT a good way for them to spend their time, but it's not up to me. I wish it were all up to me and I could just plan things and be left alone, but many, many of the people here "enjoy" the details of meeting planning and "want to be involved at every level," whether I like it or not.

                                        4. re: Jetgirly

                                          It's called "playing the numbers". Having equally divided veg/non-veg dishes means a lot of veg leftovers.

                                          I agree that whoever scheduled the dining hall should have briefed the proprietors on number of vegetarian diners so they could plan accordingly.

                                      2. Not a big issue, I am a meatatarian, & for conferences I attend I always plan on the food being bad , so I make other plans, and find someway to eat before, after, or find something I can tolerate if going out is not an option.

                                        I just tough it out, and put up with the bad food until the conference is over. Perhaps the vegetarians out there could look at it in a similar way, and then they wouldnt get upset, or feel they are being slighted.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: swsidejim

                                          From a purely non-foodie perspective:

                                          You don't get what you want.

                                          You don't get what you need.

                                          You get what you negotiate for and what you contract for.

                                          The organizers of the conference are on the hook for your disappointment, not the food service organization. That is, unless, the organizers DID take into account the diverse dietary needs of the attendees and the food service organization simply breached the contract.

                                          Sorry if that sounds a bit heartless.

                                          My money bets that the F-S folks did EXACTLY what they were told to do.

                                          1. re: swsidejim

                                            swide, it's not a matter of feeling upset or slighted.....i too have attended lots of conferences, and three days or whatever, I can make do I guess, and no the food isn't often good.

                                            again, to stress, this is a facility where people live and train. It's not a situation of "make do til I get home" if you're there for weeks and weeks. How do you "make do" without any or enough protein?

                                            Believe me when i say that i'm not a difficult person to feed.

                                            1. re: im_nomad

                                              As an aside, I spent a few days at Kripalu in the Berkshires. It was 2 days before I realized that everything was vegan. The food was awesome. Vegetarians want (and need) more than pasta primavera! I agree with you im_nomad, I just don't know how to solve the problem.

                                              1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

                                                Kripalu is vegetarian, not vegan. Vegan is available, but they also have milk and egg products.

                                                1. re: Sooeygun

                                                  That was rather curt of me...I meant to add, that I know this because a friend who goes to Kripalu regularly raves about the full fat dairy they have.

                                          2. It's funny because in the line of work I'm in, when I go to conferences and things where food's involved, I have the opposite issue where everything is vegetarian. And it seems that that a few of the outings I did last year where food was involved, all the food was vegetarian as well. I guess my industry and my interests have quite a bit of vegetarians. I don't have issues eating vegetables and actually like vegetables, but I hate those mock meats, and can't eat seitan. I actually wish to see a couple of meat/fish dishes there. We should trade professions.

                                            1. Honestly, there are so many different types of non-meat eaters

                                              Ovo-lacto vegetarians
                                              lacto, but not ovo vegetarians
                                              Vegans, in multiple degrees of adherence - after all, that pasta may have been vegetarian enough for you, but it likely has eggs in it

                                              Not to mention multiple levels of adherence to halal and kosher (which for instance, in the most strict sense do not allow the same plate or utensil to be used for both dairy and meat, even at different times)

                                              Let's not even get into all the possible allergies people could possibly have.

                                              In order to prepare every meal permutation that would satisfy every possible dietary restriction AND every palate, food service professionals catering a banquet situation would have to serve more choices than there were people at any given event. These guys are doing mass serving of huge numbers of people at a time. They have a repetoire of just a few dishes that they have learned through experience work satisfactorally for mass serving. Learning a million permutations of piscatarian-ovo/lacto-vegan-kosher-hindu-halal - actually make that two million permutations because they need to have a backup in case you don't find the one thing they make that adheres to your restrictive diet appealing - is an unreasonable expectation. People with restrictive diets, especially those whose diets are restrictive by choice (this includes religious requirements) should take responsibility for their choices and not burden others with them. You made your choice, and this is one of the consequences, one of the sacrifices you agreed to when you selected this lifestyle. Just eat what you can eat and eat around what you can't, and accept that it is not going to be the most culinarily satisfying few days of your life - even us omnivores have to do that last part when confronted by rubber chicken and grisly beef at these banquets, why should you be special?

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Reefmonkey

                                                for the record, I would have been happy with rubber tofu........quality is not really the issue here.

                                                i'm not special, and i'm particularly not special in my need for protein, like everyone else, to survive. There are more forms of protein than beef, chicken, pork, fish, which people eat, even when they're not vegetarian. Lots of people don't eat red meat, that doesn't make them a "burden".

                                                Please..........you make it sound as if was faced with choices and simply "ewww"ed and "thats icky"ied my way through it.....my diet is far from restrictive, and this so wasn't about "appealing" to me.

                                              2. I am a catering sales manager for a company that does tradeshows and conferences only, no social catering :) I routinely plan meals for thousands of people (I've done 6000 pp at a meal--breakfast and lunch--for several days in a row). I will tell you that most professonal meeting planners take into account their guests culinary needs, and some go a few steps further.

                                                Just like everything else, event planners have varying levels of skill/experience so what eventually happens with the meal functions has as much to do with that factor as the sales manager's level of skill/experience. Some planners will be obsessive about all details of the meals, some much less so.

                                                In my early days as a manager, I was not as emphatic about discussing vegetarian or other dietary needs. I learned my lesson the hard way, I screwed up on a particular meal big time--and now I make it a point to discuss these needs early on.

                                                The company I work for is extremely accommodating when it comes to special meal requests and we jump thru hoops in that regard. We always include a vegetarian option, and if the chef doesn't see it on the event order he calls me. If I get the list of special meals in advance, then we can plan for vegan, gluten-free, lactose free, hallal and kosher. When we have box or seated meals, we check off the names to make sure that we don't give away a meal that has been specially requested. If a guest hasn't given advance notice of their need, then we'll do everything possible to take care of them. Just this past Saturday, I had a box lunch for 3000 pp and one guest said she couldn't chew food. I called the kitchen and ordered a pasta salad, and when I went to the kitchen, we added tuna for protein, mandarin oranges, jello (which we luckily had-we never do) and a lemno bar for dessert. The guest was truly grateful. Another guest needed a gluten-free meal so one of my servers got him a salad and some other sides. Kosher and hallal are the only meals we can't do on the fly as they have to be out-sourced.

                                                If we're doing a seated meal, we follow the same process but it's a little more difficult to get something on the fly in the middle of service. Last January I did a seated dinner for 3000 pp. The menu was short ribs and scallops, and the special meals list was extensive--we did all meat plates, all seafood plates, gluten-free, lactose free, kosher and hallal plates, in addition to the vegetarian plates. Everybody got fed. No one went home hungry.

                                                The food we serve is really excellent, we source from local purveyors as much as we can and organic if possible. No farm raised salmon, only wild, etc etc. Our clients always rave about our food, so any caterer that can't do quality, tasty food is just plain lazy and unimaginative, IMHO.

                                                1. among the first questions a large-scale caterer asks is about the number of special diet/vegetarian guests, and they expect the coordinator to either order one large menu option or give a specific number of special meals. in a buffet situation the veg meal would likely be plated and served to those who requested it.

                                                  duh--the caterer asked your meeting coordinator about special meals, your meeting coordinator was too lazy to figure it out, and figured all the veg, kosher and halal folks would be fine with the mac and cheese side. your boss/coordinator is the lazy one, and the one who doesn't get it-- not the caterer-- they can't magically anticipate that there will be a need for special meals when the coordinators tell them there's no need. get the vegs together, go to the boss/coordinator, and in a nice way, tell her/him you can't live on salad and canned cling peaches for a week. stand up and be counted!

                                                  1. For best results you need to be emphatic with the conference planner about your needs, particularly if they are providing you every meal. In general, conference food is crap whether you are omnivore, vegan or something in between. Even as an omnivore, it is often difficult to find something healthy to eat. The only way to get what you need is to be very specific with the conference planner in advance. It is the conference planner who can get the caterer to offer healthier cuisine of every variety if they are willing to put in the effort. If you medically or religiously require a special diet, you can be damn sure they are going to accommodate you, but again you need to be specific. And they may serve you the same thing repeatedly. Boring, but you're being accommodated. Maybe you don't partake in the buffet, but they set your meal aside for you to request. As a former conference planner, I have taken care of vegetarian, vegan, and kosher meals without incident for the past 20 years. As a whole food vegan myself, I expect to be disappointed, and I supplement with my own stash of nutrition bars, nuts and fruits. I'm not there for the food. The caterer is interested in repeat business from the conference planner, not you. It is up to the conference planner to properly represent you. If they don't you need to let them know, but in a professional way. If you have a good planner, they will work with the caterer beyond the standard menu options. A good planner will also appreciate positive input to help them do a better job.

                                                    1. I thought rather than start a new thread, I'd revisit this one as a continuation of the "Vegetarian in Captivity" series: the hospital edition. (dun dun dunnnnnn) :D

                                                      So, I had surgery this past week and spent close to 4 days in hospital as a result. I can honestly say it is going to be a while before I ever want a potato or a piece of bread again, because that was what I was offered at just about every meal as a vegetarian option.

                                                      Much in the same sense of my OP, I fully understand that large scale catering is not so great for just about everyone, and I understand the limitations of trying to please everyone, as well as keeping things kind of bland in a hospital setting where bellies may be a bit tempermental. I am ok with the fact that I didn't taste garlic, chilies or what not for the period of time I was there.

                                                      Again, it's about dietary needs, aka, please, may I have some protein? With the sub-issue being, why am I eating the 1950's food guide? More fruit and veg please :) (pudding and jello are not fruits, btw).

                                                      Because many of the meals ( both lunch and dinner), were meat dishes+ potato + eg.green beans + roll and not so great to begin with.... I think they only way they knew how to feed me was to take away whatever the meat dish was, and give me a scoop of potato, the green beans and bread, often the exact same thing for lunch and dinner. Once, I had (for dinner), a processed cheese sandwich, cream of celery soup....with a side of bread (huh?). There was no pasta, rice, or any kind of grain. I did ok with breakfast because there was usually an egg on offer, with toast..and a side of cereal, which I didn't ask for because that's way too much carbs through the day for me. I really don't like drinking milk, but drank as much as I could in tea. This is not the kind of place I'd ever expect tofu or vegetarian chili, but I would have LOVED a big salad with a few chick peas on top. Surely beans and such are just as cheap or cheaper than a cut of roast beef or turkey? Maybe some yogurt ? Hummus is everywhere these days! In retrospect, I should have brought some nuts or something with me.

                                                      By the end of my stay I literally could not face one more scoop of potato and carrots that were cooked within an inch of their life. Dietary wise, I did not feel well, even though I had eaten from the fruit basket friends bought, and ate every vegetable available to me. Thankfully my stay was relatively short, and otherwise everyone took exceptional care of me (which is the most important thing), and there were lovely people working there. I am happy to be home, and healing.

                                                      But wow, does the hospital food need to improve, and boy oh boy, does it ever need to get with the times in relation to food and in my case, vegetarian diets.

                                                      29 Replies
                                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                                        and, not wanting to sound like a broken record myself, per some of my responses above, but you need to let them know how you feel about your experience. At the very least, I'd send a letter, perhaps with a copy to the head of the auxiliary board if they are private, letting them know that, while you may not have had a choice this time, you will make every effort to use another facility next time you are in for something that is not an emergency. I also hope you said it to those great caregivers: if they are as good as you say, they'd pass it along. My experience is that hospital food, and the effort put into it, does vary considerably by institution. It is also my experience that they do listen to complaints if they hear them often enough, given that most of them are in the business of making money, and given that, as your post implies, it is one relatively easy way to accommodate the customer. (or at least the patient. I guess for most hospitals the customer is really the insurance company; those without insurance are most often treated at public hospitals. Perhaps you should also copy your insurance company).

                                                        one of the big health providers in Northern California, Kaiser Permanente, puts major emphasis on nutrition. Indeed, the Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco hosts a weekly farmer's market on site.

                                                        Here is an interesting article about my local hospital's effort to improve the menu when they opened in a new building. BTW, this is a small town, and the hospital is the only game in town (basically the only game within at least 30 or 40 miles), but sounds like they are trying to be accommodating (and they are part of a large hospital chain):


                                                        Fortunately, I haven't had occasion to visit as a patient to see if they have followed up, but the article certainly sounds promising.

                                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                                          re: insurance company, fwiw, i'm in Canada, insurance companies don't come into play with the exception of whether you get private rooms / tv etc. I was sent to the nearest hospital that had the best surgeon...I would never factor food over that. But I did pass along my comments yes.

                                                          A pizza oven sure sounds good though :)

                                                          1. re: im_nomad

                                                            hmm...could be that the trend isn't catching on in Canada. To be honest, I'd trade our system for yours, bad food and all, although I suspect that if enough people started complaining, they might at least look at those fixes that aren't expensive or that don't necessarily cost more. Indeed an argument could be made that the right food choices would get folks healing faster and better, which would save money in the long run. (I've seen some docs and nutritionists argue just that). It would be interesting to know if there is a nutritionist on staff at the hospital you went to (since it sounds like a big part of the problem is lack of thought about the menu; they aren't necessarily serving the least expensive options, as you point out).

                                                            The other option would be bring along food or have family bring it: come to think of it, when hubby was hospitalized about a year or two ago I did bring him stuff now and then. The food wasn't bad. he was in a Kaiser and did have lots of fruits and veggies, and they had vegetarian main dish options, but he was in for something that allowed him to eat whatever he wanted, and he got bored with the blandness of the food (actually, he was bored stiff overall, he didn't feel bad physically, which meant he was particularly bored having to stay in bed in the hospital. Garlic and chile, in the form of Chinese food, to the rescue. :-)

                                                        2. re: im_nomad


                                                          First, I'm sorry to hear about your experience.

                                                          But that said, if what you mean by "food service professionals" are the kitchen staff at hospitals then I would say asking them to "get" vegetarian is asking quite a bit because most of the time they cannot even "get" regular (meat and vegetable) diets with no restrictions.

                                                          1. re: im_nomad

                                                            My mother was in rehab recently, and her elderly roommate (a lovely lady) didn't eat meat. I believe she just didn't like it (rather than having ethical or religious restrictions) and had gotten out of the habit. She got the usual lunch or dinner that my mother got, just with the meat left off, and a peanut butter on white bread sandwich added. Always. Every lunch. Every dinner. For weeks.

                                                            And I went to what I suspect was a very pricy wedding recently, at which we were offered a choice of beef, fish, or vegetarian entree. I'm not a vegetarian, but I suspected the beef would be blah and I'm really tired of poached salmon. So I asked for the "vegetable melange with Bearnaise sauce", thinking it might be more interesting, and less production line. What I got was a bowl of penne with a handful of sauted squash and green pepper and something that was definitely not Bearnaise.

                                                            3-4% of the population is vegetarian. Surely chefs and cooks have met some of them? Even had to feed some of them, somewhere along the line? Is it really that hard?

                                                            1. re: Meann

                                                              3-4% of the population is vegetarian. Surely chefs and cooks have met some of them? Even had to feed some of them, somewhere along the line? Is it really that hard?


                                                              Assuming your numbers are true (which I am not sure it is), it does not make economic sense to cater to such a small percentage of the population.

                                                              Lets say a catering service for a hotel offers up 3 main entrees. If it decides to offer 1 vegetarian option out of those 3, then it's devoting 33% of its time, labor, energy to cater to 3-4% of the population -- even assuming that the hotels guests represents a random, normal distribution of the entire population in general.

                                                              That makes no sense, economically.

                                                              Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to belittle vegetarians or denigrate their dietary choices. All I am saying is that it should not be expected that food service professionals would necessarily want to cater to them, or even need to.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                They're providing a CATERING service. Catering to people's needs is exactly what they should be doing.

                                                                By these lights (not "catering" to the minority) we should ignore people's allergies and religious restrictions.

                                                                It's unconscionable that an elderly lady in a nursing home, or an employee at a work-related training center for weeks on end where the meals are required to be eaten on site (eg there is no per diem allowed for outside food), should not be provided with a variety of things that fit their dietary requirements.

                                                                It's not that hard. As has been pointed out, the non-veg's can eat the same stuff as the veg's, and it doesn't work the other way 'round.

                                                                Ignoring the whole whose-fault-is-it issue brought up in the original post, the situation most definitely should have been handled differently. Any catering or food service business that can't come up with at least 5 different vegetarian entrees isn't worth its salt. How it gets those entrees to the person who needs them is yet another issue, but at the very least they could have plated it up and served it to the people who needed it on an individual basis, even if it DIDN'T go out on the buffet.

                                                                And I truly truly feel for the poor woman being fed PB every single day. That's just ridiculous.

                                                                1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                  It's not that hard. As has been pointed out, the non-veg's can eat the same stuff as the veg's, and it doesn't work the other way 'round.


                                                                  Unless it's a religious or a medical issue (is there such a thing?), who says a vegetarian cannot eat a non-vegetarian meal?

                                                                  Generally speaking, with those two caveats mentioned above, vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice.

                                                                  By that same account, one could argue that a non-vegetarian cannot eat a vegetarian meal because the non-vegetarian has chosen just to eat meat.

                                                                  I mean, what if there some person who's on an extremed modified Atkins type diet and eschews any and all fruits and vegetables, carbs and most grains. What then? Would you say this person "can" eat a vegetarian meal? If so, then by the same token a vegetarian "can" eat a non-vegetarian meal.


                                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                    Actually I would say that whatever the dietary needs are there should be a serious attempt made to meet them, without making judgment calls about whether they "need" them.

                                                                    Religion is also a lifestyle choice. Should we therefore start requiring Hindus to eat beef, and Jewish and Moslem people to eat pork? Shall we force the devout among them to either break the religious requirements that food be kosher/halal, or starve?

                                                                    Ignoring your strawman about meat-only eating people, most vegetarians are vegetarian for ethical reasons. Why are those ethical reasons less valid than someone else's religious strictures?

                                                                    And how about the people who don't eat meat because they can't physically tolerate it?

                                                                    It seems you hold some value judgments about how reasonable it is (or is not) for a person be eat a vegetarian diet. Again, we are talking about professional caterers and food service businesses here. They are in the BUSINESS of meeting people's dietary needs. Because it's physically possible for someone to eat meat doesn't mean they should be forced to do so. And there has been no suggestion made that a purely vegetarian menu should be provided and all forced to partake of it.

                                                                    Only that some reasonable options be made available to people, even though they are in the minority, so they won't get sick because their dietary needs are not being met, WITHIN the stricture (whether based on religion, ethics, or medical considerations) of their normal diet.

                                                                    One would hope you do not suggest that we should say to a Moslem or Jewish person, "Hey, there's ham and pork chops, dig in or go hungry!". It's no more acceptable to tell a vegetarian that he or she must eat meat or do without protein altogether simply because most people are NOT vegetarian.

                                                                    I'm a Buddhist. It is part of my religious tradition to be vegetarian. However not all Buddhists follow this and I do eat meat at times. We don't eat meat not because God said not to eat meat - even the Buddha didn't forbid his followers to eat meat (the Buddha did in fact himself eat meat). It is strongly suggested to avoid it though for ETHICAL reasons, as it requires not only that an animal die to provide the meat, but that some one has to kill that animal, thus putting people in the position of having to cause suffering (in the process of slaughter).

                                                                    Why do you think these ethical concerns, not based on some kind of pronouncement from a supposed deity, are less important than the purely religious rules of halal and kosher?

                                                                    And of course there are medical issues! Don't be obtuse. Allergies are a prime example. Many people have food sensitivities that don't quite meet the requirements of a full blown allergy but nonetheless cause them physical distress if ignored.

                                                                    Moslems CAN eat pork. Physically (in general, ignoring medical problems). Jewish people CAN eat pork as well. And shellfish. And meat with milk. Hindus CAN eat beef. Physically they are all as capable of ingesting and digesting these substances as anyone else. That doesn't mean it's OK to tell them, "eat (whatever the taboo thing is) or go hungry" in nursing homes, or hospitals, or at company mandated training centers. These are all involuntary situations in that the person who is there is there because they have to be there for some important reason, and they cannot avoid having to eat what is served them. Vegetarians warrant and deserve the same consideration for their dietary restrictions as the religiously devout. It is a CHOICE to follow religious rules about diet. Vegetarians have also made a CHOICE to avoid meat. Those choices should be respected.

                                                                    Again, I'm not saying these needs must be kowtowed to in every single situation, say in your personal home, nor that every restaurant on the planet must be halal or kosher or vegetarian. I would hope, however, that we could still be respectful of people who make choices we don't understand and/or don't agree with in these situations, and at least try to help them feel comfortable and find SOMETHING they can eat.

                                                                    I know there are obnoxious vegetarians. There are also people who get just as obnoxious ABOUT vegetarians. That doesn't detract from the need to be respectful of and to meet people's dietary needs in institutional settings.

                                                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                      The reason why religious concerns and dietary concerns are different from ethical (or lifestyle) choices is because it is LEGALLY required that those concerns be recognized.

                                                                      Now, whether you agree that the government should give special consideration to those of religious devotion, that's a separate matter.

                                                                      The law recognizes Jews (for example) as a special protected class and businesses cannot discriminate against them based solely on their regilion. No such protection exists for vegetarians who choose to forgoe meat for ethical or personal reasons.

                                                                      Again, let's step back because I think we are getting a bit too heated and that's not what I was aiming at.

                                                                      In no way am I suggesting that vegetarians (be they religious ones or lifestyle ones) not be given consideration, or due respect.

                                                                      My only thought -- and it was just for a point of discussion -- is why do certain vegetarians who choose to be vegetarians for ethical or personal reasons have an EXPECTATION that their needs be catered to?

                                                                      Religious vegetarians can rightly have such an expectation because the law recognizes certain religons as protected classes.

                                                                      This isn't the case with non-religious vegetarians.

                                                                      Needing to be respectful and expecting others to accomodate your requests, I think, are different (albeit not mutually exclusive).

                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                        All I can say is that just because it's not against the law doesn't make it OK. And it actually WOULD be against the law.

                                                                        The whole thing boils down to service. Food service/catering is a SERVICE. Especially with a captive consumer base (in nursing homes, hospitals, etc) the needs of the minority should also be met. If you can meet the requirement to provide a vegetarian meal for a person of the Hindu faith, you can as well meet it for a person who is vegetarian. You're saying that the Hindu HAS to be accommodated, by law; given that, ANY vegetarian person can be accommodated. The support structure is (presumably, in order to meet the requirement of the law) already in place.

                                                                        At any rate, if a business can't or won't meet the needs of its clientele, then presumably it will eventually go out of business. In this case it would appear to me that the most likely culprit needing to bear responsibility for the OPs disastrous training trip is whoever made the arrangements with the catering company primarily, and with the catering company secondarily. Even if the contract wasn't written properly to start with, they could and should have made more of an effort to help the dozen or so people (I think that's what the OP said, somewhere in all that stuff up there) who needed some consideration. That's just part of being in food service. If they don't build extra costs into their fee structure to cover such incidents, they're going to lose money, and not on vegetarians. Nope, it'll be because of the majority non-vegs who show up and want something other than what they opted for originally, and it wasn't taken into consideration. A measly 3 or 4% of people who want some veg dishes isn't going to tip that boat.

                                                                        Something else to think about - vegetarians may not be specifically covered as a separate category under the law as it applies to religion, but formal religion isn't the only criteria used to determine discrimination under the religious protection clauses. Refuse to hire someone because they're vegetarian, and see how fast you get sued.

                                                                        From the EEOC website, defining protection of religion:

                                                                        "Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs."

                                                                        Vegetarians get the same consideration and protection under the law as any religiously devout person,and for the same reason - "sincerely held religious, ETHICAL, or MORAL beliefs".

                                                                        And btw I am feeling no heat over this issue. It's been an interesting discussion however.

                                                                        1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                          ""Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs."

                                                                          Vegetarians get the same consideration and protection under the law as any religiously devout person,and for the same reason - "sincerely held religious, ETHICAL, or MORAL beliefs"."

                                                                          Trust me, that's incorrect.

                                                                          See: http://www.veganvalues.org/veganism_r...

                                                                          Vegetarianism is not a protected class under the Constitution, and even if it were it would only be entitled to "rational basis" review.

                                                                          But whatever, this isn't a discussion on equal protection laws ...

                                                                          My bottom line is simply this, and I'll leave the issue as it is:

                                                                          For vegetarians who choose to not eat meat for personal reasons, they have no right to expect that their lifestyle choices be accommodated (in much the same way that a "meat-only" person has the right to accept such accommodations).

                                                                          Nice discussing this with you. Cheers.

                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                            OMG, that's about a VEGAN who refused a mumps vaccine.

                                                                            Nothing to do with vegetarianism and harassment or nonsupport at work. According to the court's ruling, in fact, vegetarianism IS supported under California STATE law. That guy sued under STATE law. They rejected veganism because of specific wording in state law, where vegetarianism was found to be covered, but they decided veganism was not. Under STATE law, not federal. He should have sued under Title VII.

                                                                            There's more to that case:


                                                                            The conclusion:

                                                                            "Friedman lost his claim, not because it was considered frivolous, but because serious consideration of the specific language of the California law was deemed not to apply in his circumstance. Had Friedman brought his claim under Title VII, there probably would have been a different result. The lesson: employers are well advised to suspend their incredulity when an applicant or employee requests accommodation due to claimed religious beliefs.

                                                                            Unless, by way of example, the individual wants to leave work at 2:00 p.m. every Friday to take communion at his local pub, "Our Lady of Budweiser," serious consideration should be given to the request. Analyzed on a case by case basis, it is often better for the employer to determine whether the requested accommodation is reasonable than to fight the battle over whether the claimed religion will pass muster under Title VII. Because, it appears, it usually will. "

                                                                            Vegetarians are protected under law, same as Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, Jews, etc etc etc.

                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                              I do agree.

                                                                              When it comes to dietary restrictions, we always let the restaurant know, before hand, and never expect them to just magically accommodate us. I can eat anything that I like, but my lovely wife has a few restrictions. We notify any restaurant of these, when booking, especially if we hope to do a "chef's tasting." Many restaurants have a dossier on my wife's restrictions, and we make note of those. No problem.

                                                                              The problem that I encounter is when a vegetarian, or vegan, wishes to proselytize on their healthier-than-thou lifestyle, and expect that the world must be instantly prepared for them.


                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                I understand that and I even agree (about last minute accomodations). However that was not the case in this instance. Folks were asked and did respond that there was a need for some decent veggie choices. They just didn't get them.

                                                                                And it wasn't a short term thing either, it was a weeks long (that's plural weeks) training thing, with no per diem provided so the onsite food was not optional. I think that makes a difference too. You can always up and go to another restaurant. It's a different kettle of fish when you're more or less a captive audience.

                                                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                            Why do they have an expectation that there are reasonable choices available to them?

                                                                            Because lots of people do not eat meat, whether for health, religious, ethical, environmental or other reasons. There are entire cultures that do not eat meat. This is not a particularly specialized or out-of-the-ordinary restriction.

                                                                            Because meat-free options are often less expensive and healthier, and dietary guidelines encourage greater consumption of fruits and vegetables and less consumption of meat. (For EVERYONE. There's no rule that omnivores must have meat, let alone multiple kinds of meat, at every meal.)

                                                                            Saying that in a setting where you're forced to eat multiple meals and have no real alternative (hospital, training center), you expect to have balanced meals available without eating meat isn't really a special accommodation. It's not the same thing as, say, a religious objection to eating a certain type of meat.

                                                                            Personally, as an omnivore who likes a good salad, I would be appalled if a hospital, of all places, offered me the all-carb meals being described above as the only alternative to meat.

                                                                            1. re: Pia

                                                                              People who are vegetarian for any period of time will also have trouble digesting meat initially. Whether they're a protected class isn't really relevant when you have a captive audience in a hospital environment who are probably not in the best health as it is. Adding in either an unbalanced diet or this idea that you should suddenly be able to take meat without any adjustments is just ridiculous. In order to keep costs down, the goal should be to get people out of the hospital as quickly as possible. That's not going to happen when people are trying to subsist on PBJ or other unbalanced meals for days if not weeks on end in the hospital.

                                                                              1. re: queencru

                                                                                Long ago, my wife's hospitals initiated a "custom" menu for all patients, with multiple choices. Obviously, there can be major dietary considerations, but if one can think of a menu, the hospitals will provide it.

                                                                                BTW, they also cater, and we use them for many events from small diners to parties for 250 of our "closet friends."


                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                  That sounds wonderful. I had a former vegetarian friend who was planning on going into hospital nutrition. I haven't talked to her in a while but I wonder if she had some horrible experiences in hospitals that inspired her to want to go into that field.

                                                                                  1. re: queencru

                                                                                    I think that many hospitals are going beyond the "old school" thinking, and everyone wins. Many seem to be embracing the full menu route, so long as it does not conflict with major dietary constraints.

                                                                                    Going back some decades, my wife's hospital put in a full open-service kitchen, and also several specialty restaurants. Even the locals (in New Orleans, LA) would dine there, even if they did not have family in that hospital.

                                                                                    Now, it's similar in Phoenix, where the locals will come to the cafeteria to dine. Hospital food is not what it once was!

                                                                                    My wife began her collegiate career in dietary, and then moved on to nursing. Now, she runs several hospitals, and they all win tons of awards, and not JUST on the dietary end of things.

                                                                                    Now, is the person, who you reference, a former vegetarian, or a former friend? [Grin]

                                                                                    Good luck to them, and they should not be bashful about shaking up the status quo, regarding hospital cuisine.


                                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                      We've lost touch but she was a vegetarian until she went to culinary school.

                                                                    2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      I personally know a large number of people who are not vegetarians but who prefer to eat meatless dishes. A lot of them haven't "gone veg" due to pressure from their families (mom's gotta keep dad and the kids happy!) or a real lack of kitchen confidence (can't go wrong with meat and potatoes!). When I'm dining out with these people they usually (if not always) go for a vegetarian option. So while only 3-4% of the population are vegetarian, that definitely doesn't mean that only 3-4% of restaurant diners would opt for a well-prepared vegetarian choice.

                                                                      1. re: Jetgirly

                                                                        Whatever the %, I would say that it was up to the chef/owner to either go with their "vision," or build in some meals that can accommodate those, who want vegetarian fare. If the chef/owner does not succeed, then their next decision might include different dishes.

                                                                        It's similar to a recent thread (maybe here, or maybe on the Wine Board?), where a high-end restaurant did not provide White Zinfandel on their wine list. What if X% of diners want that choice? It is up to the chef/owner/sommelier to decide what IS on the wine list. If that % of diners, who want White Zinfandel is high enough, then the free market will sort things out. Otherwise, it's a business decision, and that is where it should stay.

                                                                        What I fear is that some government entity (US primarily) will soon dictate that a certain % of meals be vegetarian, or other, regardless of what the chef/owner wishes.


                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                          Wow, what happened to this thread?

                                                                          The comparison to wine lists and restaurants are respectfully very far off the mark here. When I visit a restaurant, I can remove myself and go to another if I do not like what's on offer, or simply not return. Ever try that in hospital? Besides, that's just one meal, not a week or so of that being the only option.

                                                                          And in relation to this: "The problem that I encounter is when a vegetarian, or vegan, wishes to proselytize on their healthier-than-thou lifestyle, and expect that the world must be instantly prepared for them."

                                                                          Wow. While I understand there are a few vegetarians out there who are like this, and i've met them, I'd add that I am very much NOT this type, and also add that there are just as many omnivores who make themselves P.I.T.A.'s in this department.

                                                                          1. re: im_nomad

                                                                            Sorry to follow along with the trend of the thread.


                                                                        2. re: Jetgirly

                                                                          @Jetgirly, I also know plenty of people who choose meatless dishes on occasion because they enjoy a balance in their diets, i.e. beans, nuts, tofu etc in addition to animal sourced protein. I really didn't think it was all that novel for people to eat beans and stuff.

                                                                          The (sort of) funny part about this is that the hospital pamphlet that accompanied the meals had stuff about eating beans and whole grains and all that stuff as part of a healthy diet. Maybe they were pressed into the paper, lol.

                                                                          1. re: im_nomad

                                                                            Now THERE'S a way to add roughage to your diet!

                                                                            Eat the menu!

                                                                    3. re: im_nomad

                                                                      When I was in hospital (in Canada) after the first 24hrs you got a menu card to fill out with options for the next day's meals depending on what your doctor had ordered (regular, low-fat, low-salt, liquids...). I wish I had taken a closer look to see what the vegetarian options were like; there may have been an entire vegetarian card for all I know, they seemed very accommodating to preferences.

                                                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                                                        It's not ideal and won't olve the core problem, but in an emergency, the Tasty Bite (or similar brands) shelf-stable Indian meals aren't half bad if you've got access to a heat source and a roll or piece of bread to serve as a starch with them. Just stay away from the tomato-paneer cheese one because it's like heart attack served over rice/flatbread.

                                                                      2. Attended a charity dinner last Saturday night, it wasn't expensive, but it was steak, potatoes and green beans. Both the potatoes and beans had meat in them. I hadn't eaten all day, but slapped my hunk of meat on my friend's plate. This was really disappointing and frustrating for me. I ate the potatoes and beans since I was starving. I had no other choice. There was no way I could graciously get other food since I was staying with friends.

                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                            I'm not a vegetarian, but I guess I'd appear as one to most people. I never think of MEAT as the center of my meal, and definitely not red meat. I'm a runner and I like to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. Today I had red snapper stuffed with lump crab, a basmati rice pilaf and veggies for lunch, and wasn't even hungry for dinner. Last night I made a really neat grilled eggplant salad with red bell pepper, grape tomatoes and goat cheese (and lots of other ingredients) and so I didn't eat any "meat" all day and didn't miss it. I'll go for days or even weeks without eating any chicken or fish and not really miss it.

                                                                            I just think that last Saturday night's dinner could have included a few more options. I just read the earlier post about Tasty Bite meals and I keep them in my office all the time. I should have taken some of them with me last weekend and I would have eaten them cold when I got back to the guest house I was staying in.

                                                                          2. re: Barbara76137

                                                                            When we are hosting a table at a charity event, an assistant gathers the desires/needs of our guests, and we provide that to the event staff. We then direct the servers, as to who gets what. Does not always work, as I think it should, but is an effort, that we feel worthwhile.

                                                                            In Phoenix, we can usually get close to what our guests want, but I can imagine some places in the US, where the selections might be limited.


                                                                          3. I wasn't sure whether to jump in on this thread, but here goes:

                                                                            1) Just arranged a holiday party for our company. A small gathering of 40 people, 2 of which I know are vegetarian. We chose an upscale Italian restaurant. Speaking to the owner about the menu I emphasized that we needed more than one vegetarian option since we cannot predict individual preferences. His response? "We've got eggplant parmesan and gamberi fra diavolo. That should work, right?" Me: "Um. Gamberi is shrimp, right, and vegetarians don't eat shrimp." Him: "Of course they do! It's VEGANS that won't eat fish." After a small debate he agreed to give us another truly veg option, but he thinks I'm wrong that vegetarians consider seafood "meat."

                                                                            2) Worked in restaurants for 12 years and have many friends currently in the biz. I know that many chefs still have no idea how to prepare tofu/seitan/etc. And many entrees, meat or not, are not at all "balanced" by nutritional standards.

                                                                            3) I bet you that even the meat-eaters at most week-long conferences and in most hospitals for any length of time will tell you that they feel gross from the meals. While they might get "protein" it is certainly not enjoyable and rarely satisfying. Most definitely not good for overall nutrition or long-term sustenance. Vegetarians are not unique in this.

                                                                            55 Replies
                                                                            1. re: mojoeater

                                                                              re: 2 .... those sound like cooks to me, not chefs.... but even that aside... I can understand meat-substitute stuff to a degree.... but are beans really all that foreign to chefs?

                                                                              I know I'm not unique, my OP on the hospital food makes it clear that I knew I was in for bland and understood the limitations of large scale cooking, and I am really, really not a picky person. But they sure had a weird understanding of the food guide. If I was allergic to potatoes and a meat-eater, I wouldn't expect them to substitute the missing potato with more meat, but instead with another carb. I have found in most situations that proteins are substituted with stuff like bread or potatoes, fillers, in other words. In my original conference scenario I mentioned above, on another occasion, they made some weird pizza turnover thing that was stuffed with rice... in what world does that exist?

                                                                              1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                In the world of hack cooks who think vegetarians are weird and unusual creatures, I guess. LOL!

                                                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                  I know what you're saying. I think to many people (cooks or not) they can only think to replace the meat with something "filling". My 80 year old dad has trouble dealing with the fact that we eat veggie almost every night (because my daughter is, and it's easier). The idea of a cold white bean salad or lentil side dish is just "weird".

                                                                                2. re: mojoeater

                                                                                  No all vegetarians/vegans really want the meat substitutes. I've had many vegetarian friends who really didn't care for the meat substitutes like tofu and preferred items like beans instead. It just seems weird to me that a chef wouldn't know how to work with those items since they are often in a variety of dishes.

                                                                                  1. re: queencru

                                                                                    I was responding to the OP: "you have to eat a lot of beans, eggs and cheese to get the daily requirement so easily gotten from eg. Tofu). I love chickpeas, but not for two meals a day, every day"

                                                                                    That made me believe the OP thinks any chef should know how to cook with tofu. And the fact is that many, many don't. It is simply not a common ingredient in most cuisines. It is also a somewhat incorrect statement, in that an egg has about 7 grams of protein and a 1/2 cup of tofu has about 9. Not that big a difference.

                                                                                    1. re: mojoeater

                                                                                      well I guess I should have more so stated soy products. Eg an Yves veggie burger (which are often on the small side), has 14 grams of protein. And i've seen references to their being 20 grams of protein in a 1/2 cup of tofu... so not sure where you're getting that reference.

                                                                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                        I looked at a bunch of tofu packaging. Protein ranged 4-9 grams per serving.

                                                                                    2. re: queencru

                                                                                      I'm not a vegetarian, but I guess since most people consider me one, I still don't want meat substitutes. I love tofu, but not because it is considered a meat substitute. I just enjoy a wide variety of foods and don't want to be bored with eating.

                                                                                      Face it, you need to eat a set amount of calories a day just to survive, so why not make those calories as interesting as possible!! I really enjoy food, that is why I'm on this board,. I enjoy tasting new foods. I recently tasted calf fries and although they aren't going to be a staple of my diet, they were quite tasty. Who all on this post knows what calf fries are? Just curious.

                                                                                      1. re: Barbara76137

                                                                                        I don't know what calf fries are.
                                                                                        Certainly, I think most people on this board probably want to eat a variety of interesting foods. But do I expect to get that at the hospital or at a (cheap, non-food oriented) charity dinner? No.
                                                                                        Im_nomad, your experience does sound nutritionally poor. But having been in Canadian hospital myself, even as a meat eater. the selection can seem odd, unbalanced and definitely carb-heavy.

                                                                                        1. re: Barbara76137

                                                                                          "Who all on this post knows what calf fries are?"

                                                                                          Same thing as prairie oysters, yes?

                                                                                          1. re: Barbara76137

                                                                                            Re: calf fries - reminds me of the joke about the cook who moved from France to the Old West and took a job at a saloon. The owner taught him how to prepare local specialties such as calf fries, lamb fries, hog fries, and even turkey fries. But when the menu called for French fries, the new cook up and left town.

                                                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                              Would that have been a great subject for an Edvard Munch painting! A castrated, cheese-eating surrender monkey!

                                                                                        2. re: mojoeater

                                                                                          Re: 1). The issue is further compounded by self-described vegetarians who eat seafood. Or don't eat fin fish but do eat shellfish.

                                                                                          I'm OK with anyone's food choices -- and no one wants or needs my permission anyway -- but the term "vegetarian" has gotten to the point where it has so many possible meanings for some, that it doesn't really mean anything at all.

                                                                                          Case in point: On another board, there's a hound looking for "veggie-friendly" fried clams. I get what he/she wants -- specifically, clams fried in something other than animal fat -- but I can't help but see the phrase a a contradiction in terms.

                                                                                          1. re: brandywiner

                                                                                            Take some comfort in the fact that just because a bunch of people misuse a word, that doesn't change it's actual meaning.

                                                                                            If you eat any creature that ever lived and breathed - or lets say respirated - you are not a vegetarian. It doesn't matter what people call themselves. Putting on a tutu and running around calling myself Anna Pavlova would not make me a ballerina. Well, and plus ignoring the whole looking-ridiculous thing. . .

                                                                                            Saying "I'm a vegetarian, pass the fish" is right up there in the same "ridiculous" category.

                                                                                            1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                              yeah drives us omnivores crazy. can you guys get together and come up with some rules, give eevryone a name and label.

                                                                                              BTW - if i place my tomato plant in a vacuum and it dies, it did not breathe the air (and exhale oxygen which is pretty important to all of us) and did not live?

                                                                                              1. re: jfood

                                                                                                cool, I'm sure someone can do that.. as soon as the omnivores also agree on a universally accepted menu. I've had a couple of omni's over at my house who refuse to eat anything resembling a vegetable. Personally, I think they're abusing the term "omnivore" when they obviously are not.

                                                                                                being a pain in the arse is not exclusive to vegetarians btw ;)

                                                                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                                                                  yeah, the problem is that some "vegetarians" eat fish (I even have a "vegan" niece who eats *some* fish and will eat cream-- go figure) and that taints every other vegetarian who actually doesn't eat "things with a face". Somehow PIA omnivores don't seem to taint the rest of omnivor-hood. I say this as the mother of a strict vegetarian who doesn't appreciate the whole "you don't eat fish?" thing.

                                                                                                  1. re: DGresh

                                                                                                    the other item in why omnivores do not get tainted is they do not need to tell the server "i am a vegan."

                                                                                                2. re: jfood

                                                                                                  Hey, at least I tried.

                                                                                                  The "things with a face" definition doesn't really work either - being as shellfish don't have faces.

                                                                                                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                    aren't lobsters and shrimp shellfish? when i cook lobster i first stare them down then plunge them into the water, they do have faces.

                                                                                                    and i think pansies have smiley faces. :-))

                                                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                                                      According to the FDA, shellfish are filter feeders like mussels, clams. That's how I've always used the term, but apparently I'm in the minority - apparently most people use the term "shellfish" to mean anything that comes out of the water without a spine. Even octopi. Which I don't quite see, but whatever.

                                                                                                      So I'll bow to the common usage and try to refine my definition yet again.

                                                                                                      "Things like clams and mussels don't have faces so the "things with faces" rule doesn't hold up"


                                                                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                        I think that your example is correct. Because of a bi-valve (two shells, as opposed to only one, like an abalone), wife has an issue and we usually define that, so that there is no confusion. Crustaceans do not bother her system, in any way, and neither do cephalopods.

                                                                                                        Go figure, and she grew up in New Orleans eating oysters in nearly everything - until about 30 years of age.


                                                                                                      2. re: jfood

                                                                                                        Crustaceans, like crabs. For shellfish, think scallops, oysters, mussels, clams, abalone, limpets, etc. Wife can do abalone and limpets (only one shell), but not the rest (bi-valves). Not sure what the heck the difference is to her system, and it was not always the case - but it is now, so we just communicate with the restaurant, before we arrive, and all has always been very cool.


                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                          I can really sympathize with your wife. I had no problem eating clams, mussels or oysters but then in my late 20's that changed. In my 30's I had to avoid them or else I'd be sick for days. I really still loved them but they DIDN'T love me.

                                                                                                          Then about five years ago I just couldn't resist. We got a gross (yes, 12 dozen) oysters from an oyster farm in Carlsbad, CA. Then bf made sure there were plenty of other foods for me, but I tried one oyster, and then another, and didn't have a problem any more. I now can enjoy oysters, clams and mussels again. Hopefully your wife will have the same experience.

                                                                                                          1. re: Barbara76137


                                                                                                            Sounds similar. Wife had zero issues for most of her life, then something changed. She quickly pinpointed the issue, and tested her theory on herself - bi-valves were the culprit.

                                                                                                            Now, she can nibble a scallop and not go into some seizure, but if she does a couple, she suffers for the next day. Same for oysters and for others. Nibble = OK, but much = problems.

                                                                                                            Around the same time, she developed a lactose intolerance too.

                                                                                                            Now, she did have two heavy bouts with GI issues, so I can easily see how things could possibly change in her alimentary canal. I also suppose that "age" could have a little to do with it, but please do not tell her, that I said that. In your case, that will obviously NOT be an issue.

                                                                                                            So far, we just tread very lightly (a taste of my scallop) on the issue, and do not push the envelope. We have never had any issue, and have always given the restaurants a H/U.

                                                                                                            With the case on anyone on some restricted diet, for whatever reason, notice should be sufficient - at least in my experiences.


                                                                                                    2. re: jfood

                                                                                                      There actually is a pretty well defined nomenclature. The problem is that very few people actually use it, or even know it exists really.

                                                                                                      For instance, there's an entirely separate term for someone who will eat fish but not other meat - and it ain't "vegetarian"

                                                                                                      1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                        Piscatarian? Or maybe just Fisheatarian?

                                                                                                          1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                            jgg & Z's

                                                                                                            Thanks for the input. If I read this correctly. I hate labels but I am trying to get my arms around definitions when people callthemselves something when i invite them for dinner without sounding like a complete numbskull.

                                                                                                            Start with Omnivore
                                                                                                            Eliminate meat you get non-meat eater
                                                                                                            Eliminate poultry you get pescatarian
                                                                                                            Eliminate fish you get vegetarian
                                                                                                            Eliminate milk / eggs / cheese, etc you get vegan

                                                                                                            Is that sorta correct?


                                                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                                                              And multiply those by religious dietary restrictions and food allergies and there's a whole lotta categories goin on!

                                                                                                              Me, I'm an ABEitarian - Anything But Eggplant! ;-)

                                                                                                              1. re: jfood

                                                                                                                I think that is accurate. I wish more "vegetarians" who aren't would follow it!

                                                                                                                1. re: DGresh

                                                                                                                  come on come on, most steak houses can't even get blue, rare, medium rare, medium well and well done correct!!

                                                                                                                2. re: jfood

                                                                                                                  more or less although i'd disagree with the notion that poultry is not meat, which is implied by the phrasing you used in points #2 and #3. That's the sort of thing that causes confusion.

                                                                                                                  there's also "ovo-lacto" which implies specifically that they'll eat cheese/milk/eggs. don't forget that true veganism goes beyond that and into the realm of avoiding animal products altogether (e.g. leather) and all byproducts (e.g. honey). Both ovo and lacto can be separate - someone can eat just eggs or milk and not the other.

                                                                                                                  There are fruitarians that only eat stuff that falls off the tree/plant.

                                                                                                                  I'm sure there's more, yeesh.

                                                                                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                                                                                    Errrr . . . I'm not sure?

                                                                                                                    Poultry and fish ARE meat. Snake meat is meat. Any crawling, flying, swimming, filter-feeding, or flapping critter is meat. I'd have to include bugs.

                                                                                                                    Pescatarian, as far as I know, means they will eat fish and shellfish, but not meat (which means poultry, pork, beef, anything from a mammal or a reptile)

                                                                                                                    Vegetarian means no meat from any living creature. No animals. No beef, poultry, pork, fish, reptile, shellfish - nothing that was alive and had to be killed for the meat. They will eat dairy and eggs as the animal didn't have to die to provide those food items.

                                                                                                                    Vegan means vegetarian, plus no dairy and no eggs.

                                                                                                                    As far as I'm concerned, there is no other nomenclature. There are just people who won't eat pork, or people who won't eat chicken, or people who won't eat whatever it is they won't eat.

                                                                                                                    Poultry is meat. Rattlesnake and other reptiles are meat. Pork is meat. Shellfish is meat. Fish are meat. Bugs (*SHUDDER*) are meat. If you eat any of those or any other kind of meat that I haven't mentioned, you're not a vegetarian. I do think there are sufficient numbers of people who are vegetarian PLUS fish that pescatarian as a term makes sense, at least in some regions of the world. Goa, in India, for example.

                                                                                                                    Many of these people (fish-eaters, no other meat) consider themselves vegetarian but they are not.

                                                                                                                    But for the rest, nope. I don't think more categories than omni/vegetarian/vegan are necessary in normal every day life. Anybody who runs around saying "I am a vegetarian, but I eat poultry" is NOT a vegetarian, or anything else. They may prefer vegetarian cuisine, but if you eat meat (including fish) then you are by definition NOT a vegetarian.

                                                                                                                    I myself prefer vegetarian foods but I will eat meat. I don't eat it often, but I eat it fairly regularly. Therefore I am NOT a vegetarian and would not describe myself as such. I'm a person who likes a lot of vegetarian cuisine and doesn't really like meat much. That's all. I'm an omnivore with strong preferences that lean toward vegetarian.

                                                                                                                    There's a difference between preferences and an adopted lifestyle encompassing eating habits based on religious or ethical beliefs.

                                                                                                                    Upshot being preferences don't need to be catered to (by caterers, LOL!) but actual religious or ethical considerations should. So nightmare scenarios of caterers having to provide a fish dish for a pescatarian and a veggie dish for a vegetarian and a vegan dish for a vegan and a poultry dish for a chicken-eatarian and a beef dish for a beef-eatarian etc etc etc just don't need to come to pass. Take care of halal, take care of kosher, take care of the REAL vegetarian/vegan (and you can combine the latter two at least some of the time) and leave the rest of us to manage.

                                                                                                                    Because the rest of us are omnivores, which means we can manage. That's what being an omnivore is all about.

                                                                                                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                      oy gavult! so many decisions. cheeseburger for lunch and fries, some rosemary chicken and roasted potatoes with pancetta for dinner then a slice of homemade apple pie.

                                                                                                                      That makes me a spoiled jfood.

                                                                                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                                                                                        Sounds like you're managing, LOL!

                                                                                                                      2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                        "I'd have to include bugs."

                                                                                                                        Now, I am not sure that I would, though I have seen some big, honking spiders, and one grasshopper, that I could have done a "smoked ham" from, but I am not sure that bugs = "meat." Still, I suppose that they could?

                                                                                                                        What about the larval state of some insects? Guess that those could be called "meat" too, but again, I am not sure.

                                                                                                                        Still, we try to NOT serve any insects, larval, or otherwise, so it seldom comes up.


                                                                                                                          1. re: MrsJTW

                                                                                                                            Yes thank you Zen. Too often the discussion gets off track based on those who call themselves something they aren't. That's a whole 'nother thing. A pescatarian can eat vegan. So can a vegetarian. So there's really no that much "catering" that needs to be considered.

                                                                                                                        1. re: jfood


                                                                                                                          Didn't you get the laminated card that we sent out with all the variations on it? [Actually, 25 cards on a ring.] Just get them to point to a line on that card. Ought to do the trick.



                                                                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt


                                                                                                                            i want the color coded rubber bracelets. each color represents a class of eater. then when the server makes a mistake you take it off and shoot it at him.

                                                                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                                                                              Hey! You might well be onto something there. In some circles, things have gone from sublime to ridiculous. There are now levels of veganism. Who knows if a person, who espouses the vegan lifestyle, is a level 1, or a level 9?

                                                                                                                              When we are all forced to have a UPC tattoo on the back of our necks, maybe they can just add our dietary choices. A restaurant will just scan the tattoo, and know what our restrictions are.

                                                                                                                              It's not too far fetched, in that my wife is in a dossier of many excellent restaurants around the globe, with her dietary restrictions. When we return, the reservationist will ask, "does your wife still have an aversion to bi-valves?" We have had some restaurants, that offer her a different amuse bouche., due to that issue. Nice touch, but a scan of that UPC tattoo, upon entering, would handle that.


                                                                                                                    2. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                      Is there like a glossary of official vegetarian terms somewhere?

                                                                                                                      Over my culinary life, I have heard the term applied to so broad a spectrum of food, that I stay confused.

                                                                                                                      When we have a "vegetarian" guest, I always ask for THEIR definition, and then usually ask a dozen questions, just to narrow things down to the baseline. I wish to accommodate each one, so I need the details, as they seem to differ from person to person.

                                                                                                                      Face, no face, shadow, no shadow, only leafy green vegetables? I never know, until I ask.


                                                                                                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                        What does someone actually eat if they refuse to eat anything that casts a shadow?

                                                                                                                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                          That's the joke. It comes from a Simpsons episode, where Lisa's crush was a "Level 5 Vegan. I don't eat anything that casts a shadow." :)

                                                                                                                          He also claimed to "pocket mulch".

                                                                                                                          1. re: brandywiner

                                                                                                                            Aaah. Not much of a Simpsons fan here.

                                                                                                                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                              Well, I cannot say that I have ever seen the series, though do know of it. I picked that up on another "vegan" thread, and it struck a chord.

                                                                                                                              Now you know, so my continuation of the concept above is moot. Dang you Brandywiner, dang you!!! [Grin]


                                                                                                                            2. re: brandywiner

                                                                                                                              You should have issued a "spoiler alert!!!!"

                                                                                                                              Caught me on that one.


                                                                                                                            3. re: invinotheresverde

                                                                                                                              I have not been allowed to hear, as I am not part of the "inner-circle." Guess that it's like the adage, "if you have to ask the price, you cannot afford this... " Maybe others can enlighten both of us, though they are probably sworn to secrecy. I highly doubt that I will ever know.

                                                                                                                              If the info is passed to you, be careful about sharing. Might be like the "curse of the mummy," or something. I'd guess that there is some sort of NDA involved, but do not know for sure - pure speculation.


                                                                                                                      2. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                        "Take some comfort in the fact that just because a bunch of people misuse a word, that doesn't change it's actual meaning."

                                                                                                                        But without an accepted, critical definition of a term, how can a host, a chef, or even a line cook possibly know exactly what will be required?

                                                                                                                        What about the Level 9 Vegans, who will not eat anything that casts a shadow? How do you accommodate for them, even if you have a week to prepare a menu?

                                                                                                                        Saying "I am a vegetarian" can be using a very broad and abstract brush to paint one's dietary requirements.

                                                                                                                        As it seems that too many people are "___arians" of some sort, without a cheatsheet, who can possibly know? How do you prepare? Gotta' be on a one-off basis, and some time might well be required. Along those lines, my wife has an issue with bi-valves. When dining out, we always notify the restaurant, especially if we are contemplating a "chef's tasting," or similar, just to give them a H/U. To date, each restaurant has accommodated her very well, and very graciously. Still, I would never think of walking in cold to a seafood restaurant, and demanding a cioppino, but without any bi-valves anywhere.


                                                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                          I've said it before and i'll say it again.. By your comments, one would assume that a chef or line cook would also never know what to cook for an omnivore. Or should I assume that all omnivores eat all the same meals and are not at all broad in their dietary requirements..... right.

                                                                                                                          Much in the same sense as any diet, there are at least common assumptions that any person with any culinary sense should be able to make if cooking large scale. Much in the same sense that it could be a "safe bet" to assume a meat eater might eat chicken, it is equally so to assume that a non meat eater just might eat beans. And any issues that people might have with beans, are common to all diets, not just non-meat eaters. You go to the lowest common denominator, and plan from there. Not exactly rocket science.

                                                                                                                          BTW, I didn't "walk in cold" into either of the situations I have described in this thread.

                                                                                                                    3. re: mojoeater

                                                                                                                      Re: #1
                                                                                                                      Many "vegetarians" eat seafood with no qualms. I can totally understand the chef's confusion.

                                                                                                                      Edit: I should've read that this was already mentioned. It's just a huge peeve of mine, as a real vegetarian.

                                                                                                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                                                                                                        You'd be surprised how many people think that seafood doesn't count as "meat", I see it all the time - both on TV and in person. Ridiculous.

                                                                                                                        1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                                          Heck, I've known people who don't think CHICKEN counts as meat.

                                                                                                                          They're silly, but they're convinced they're right too.

                                                                                                                          1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                            oh yeah, i've seen that crew before too. Pretty much the only time I'm ok with people being funky with the term "meat" is if they're referring to religious practices (e.g. catholicism's "no meat on fridays" allows for fish)

                                                                                                                      2. There's really not much incentive at a "food-included conference" to provide any kind of food, vegetarian or otherwise. Some of the worst meals of my life were at conferences where the food was included.

                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                        1. re: Indirect Heat

                                                                                                                          Oh how I agree with you. We have to attend dozens of events, usually in the Spring for various areas of the healthcare business. I refer to this as the "rubber-chicken" circuit. We have to attend, as my wife normally has to speak at each. We always book a restaurant, and excuse ourselves to dine elsewhere.

                                                                                                                          I cannot speak for any menu options at these events, as we never host a table, and, as mentioned, normally duck out, once the requisite job has been accomplished. Since we often have two, or three of these in a night, it's pretty common for us to have to leave for the next, so we are seldom missed. I can only assume that the organizing committees do take food preferences into account, but do not know for sure. Only thing that I do know is that I want a really good meal. That is why I normally get tapped as a "Food and Wine Committee" member in each of my charities - others want good meals too!


                                                                                                                        2. I'm going with a summary of the views here that resonate with me:

                                                                                                                          "Vegetarian" covers a lot of ground, much of it conflicting.

                                                                                                                          Institutional settings need to be sensitive to the desires of the vegetarian diners.

                                                                                                                          They cannot do so if the negotiation process does not include an accounting of how many vegetarians and of which level of restrictiveness will be dining. (9 no meats, 4 vegans, 3 who will eat fish, etc.)

                                                                                                                          It seems to me that being upset AFTER the event is like closing the barn door after the horse gets out.

                                                                                                                          Complain to the organizers, say, "I am here, and next time I expect my dietary preferences to be provided for."

                                                                                                                          1. I found myself chucking and nodding through much of this thread, as I have had similar experiences so often :)

                                                                                                                            The request "do you have anything for vegetarians" on an emergency stopover in Paris brought us a plate of shrimp pasta :) from the motel restaurant.

                                                                                                                            On a conference in Oslo ~ 10 yrs ago, the dinner guests were given reindeer steak + sides. I barely registered this, when the plate was whisked away and brought back a plate of rice + sides. No complaints - at least I had something to eat.

                                                                                                                            The Chinese restaurant where we got served the meat spring rolls (despite asking for veggie) and when we asked for exchange, they said "it's OK don't worry - it's not pork"

                                                                                                                            Being served "meatless" food at the boss's annual party, only to learn it had fish in it......

                                                                                                                            On a Lufthansa flight from South Asia to Europe, being offered a choice of pork or beef (OK, great customer demographic research there), despite my having tried to pre reserve a veggie meal. Luckily the person next to me exchanged my entree for his salad and bread roll, so again, starvation averted. Luckily the kids weren't with me.

                                                                                                                            But there are all the positive stories too when food profs "get it".

                                                                                                                            All the safari resorts in East Africa always have excellent vegetarian (usually Indian) food options because of the many Indian (mostly Gujarati Hindu/Jain) immigrants.

                                                                                                                            Our neighborhood in the US had a block party with the catering from one of the neighbors who runs a bbq restaurant. He prepared the most wonderful grilled tomato/asparagus/cheese thing, which was delicious and filling and had all the non veggies grumpy that they hadn't gotten any :)

                                                                                                                            I am sure there are more positive stories, can't recall them right now .....

                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: Rasam

                                                                                                                              "an emergency stopover in Paris brought us a plate of shrimp pasta :)"

                                                                                                                              Reminds me of the time, many years ago, when some vegetarian friends and I were invited to dinner at the home of a real old-school Black Forest cuckoo-clock maker in Bavaria. His sweet old white-haired wife had difficulty wrapping her head around the very concept of vegetarianism, and served a dish of scrambled eggs full of cut-up chunks of wurst. My polite veggie friends just ate around them.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Rasam

                                                                                                                                "On a Lufthansa flight from South Asia to Europe... " ah, airline food. Going back some years, my Catholic wife would always order the "Kosher" meal on one particular airline (I am the Jewish one in the family, but do not keep Kosher), because she liked the dishes much better than the other choices. At some point, things changed, and so did her meal choices.

                                                                                                                                Now, there have been times, when she had to pull the food services people aside, when she'd host meetings during Lent (Catholic hospital), and there would be only beef, chicken, pork choices, with zero fish - on Friday! After a few meetings with her, they all "got it."


                                                                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                  I was told many, many years ago to request a Kosher airline meal because it would be better than anything else served. Whoever told me that was right.

                                                                                                                              2. In the UK they generally know that a veggie does not eat fish/chicken - my bugbear is the description of dishes as 'vegetable curry', or 'vegetable ristotto' etc. - as if all vegetables are created equal. I cannot eat mushrooms though I love them, and I hate root vegetables though I can eat them - and 'vegetable' does not give enough info.

                                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Peg

                                                                                                                                  Sounds like the perfect place for a full ingredients list, published with the menu.

                                                                                                                                  What does that leave, kale risotto?

                                                                                                                                  Just curious,


                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                    Maybe not a full ingredient list - not always - but what if there were lots of vegetable dishes fully described and a token meat option listed as 'roast meat' - it wouldn't be adequate for meat eaters, would it?
                                                                                                                                    (and kale risotto sounds good!)

                                                                                                                                2. I've been mulling over this thread. On the one hand, I'm sympathetic. I keep kosher but eat vegetarian and fish in non-kosher settings. Like any self-respecting chowhound, I'm not in the "eat to live" category. On the other hand, sometimes I realize that I'm going to be in for a period of eating to live, not living to eat. I've been at week-long meetings or seminars where the organizers asked us to specify if we were vegetarian, just so we could be served plates of boiled vegetables.

                                                                                                                                  Over the decades, I've seen things getting better. First of all, people actually ASK if you're a vegetarian. Not just on registration forms. I was at a breakfast reception in a hotel in Corpus Christi. The menu was lots of sausage rolls, bacon-and-egg concoctions, and other things I wasn't going to eat. A waiter noticed that I didn't have any food, sidled up to me, asked if I was a vegetarian, then slipped back into the kitchen to get me a vegetarian breakfast burrito. I'd have happily eaten one of those every morning for the week I was there, especially because of the kindness of the waitstaff.

                                                                                                                                  Being forced off of a high-protein vegetarian diet is no fun, but as you've seen, just having vegetarian offerings is tough enough. At some point, too many requirements becomes too difficult to accomodate. Imagine if someone needs a low-salt vegetarian diet, or a wheat-free kosher diet, or any other request where there are two or more restrictions. Some kitchens can make these kinds of accomodations if they've got advance notice, but I wouldn't expect them to offer variety as well.

                                                                                                                                  It's a process to educate the professionals. I give feedback. I tell the organizers what worked and what didn't. I thank the kitchen where appropriate. If I'm somewhere where I can go off to a local restaurant, I'll take advantage of the opportunity. If I have no other options, I manage. Years ago, I read about an orthodox jewish scientist who travelled the world, lugging suitcases filled with canned tuna and peanut butter--very much eat to live! Nowadays, I know that vegetarians and the strictly kosher can travel around China and eat decently, at least if they're with a like-minded tourgroup. Things get better.

                                                                                                                                  1. Sorry, but I don't think any mainstream restaurant owes anything to an occasional diner or 20, with "restrictions".

                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: RedTop

                                                                                                                                      This wasn't about a "mainstream" restaurant. It was about a week-long training seminar required by the OP's work where the catering staff were told to provide a certain number of vegetarian meals and then did not. A week is too long to expect people to make-do to the extent these people were, especially when the company is not providing any offsite option for ANY of the 3 daily meals

                                                                                                                                      1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                        And the issue was not resolved in any way in that time? Didn't ANYONE speak up? None of the attendees called back to their company with this complaint?

                                                                                                                                        1. re: RedTop

                                                                                                                                          Yes, as the OP we did. We were asked for feedback after the workshop, and this was included by myself and others. When I returned several months later, there wasn't much in the way of improvements, but at least there was some semblance of accommodation (see my post about the rice-stuffed calzones). btw, as I also mentioned throughout the thread, this is also a place where people go on training for not only one or two weeks, but several weeks / months at a time. I'll also add that this was not a hotel conference or that type of catering, but part of a National (and at times hosting International) centre in a multi-cultural country (Canada).

                                                                                                                                          My follow up post to the thread involved being in hospital.

                                                                                                                                          With all due respect RedTop..... maybe you should read the thread.

                                                                                                                                    2. I just got back from a 2-week organized trip to South Africa where this very thing occurred to me. The company organizing the trip asked for allergies/preferences, I responded "vegetarian (lacto-ovo)." In a group of 47 there were 5 vegetarians, several kosher, and one severe nut allergy (as in somewhere over Africa we were scrambling for an epi-pen, he ended up being fine). The airline offered kosher and vegetarian meals, we overheard them being given out to other passengers. None for the members of our group. This wasn't a huge deal on the way there, I packed fruit and sandwiches for myself, but I didn't have that luxury on the 19 hour trip home.

                                                                                                                                      And I won't even mention the fabulous group meals where nothing vegetarian was offered ... good thing I packed several boxes worth of Luna bars! And I stuffed myself on meals where we were allowed off on our own ... there is a lot of Indian and Malaysian influence in SA, so there were plenty of options. The organizers just didn't see fit to offer them to us.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: odkaty

                                                                                                                                        Good idea you packed those Luna bars! I have learned to always have something with me at all times just in case. I just attended a wedding two weeks ago where there were gluten-free guests. They got their meals, but I did not. I was handed a salad with bacon at first, then received another, but my entree was vegetarian, not vegan. Some woman said they could see what they could do, but I said it was fine. I really didn't want to be a fuss and didn't eat much anyway because it was oily and wouldn't settle in my stomach well as well as between cold and lukewarm. It was a nice event, but this place's waitstaff were terrible. Never received ONE water refill or offered coffee, etc. I worked in banquets and hotels for years and find this unacceptable for what my family members must have paid for the reception. I may drop them a line.

                                                                                                                                      2. Boy, it does seem that no one gets it! I was vegetarian for many years and have now been vegan for many years. Many people don't understand vegetarian, let alone vegan and say "Oh, you don't eat chicken?" or when I explain say, "Well, then WHAT do you eat?" I don't even personally KNOW any other vegans, but it seems many are quite militant and attack meat eaters, lecturing them. I will explain my stance when asked, but I don't bother people. It's funny to me that I often get attacked. "WHY do you care what I eat?" is my feeling. It just seems to make a lot of people angry because it's something they don't understand. But then, with food professionals, they don't understand either. I never make a fuss if I accidentally eat a minimal amount of dairy, that's just the chance you take when you eat out or at someone else's home, but finding bacon atop something is crazy. Or your veg plates that are usually just some watery, plain, bland veggies or plain pasta with those same veg on top. I really try to avoid telling anyone waiting on me that I am vegan. I just explain what I want. My husband is not vegetarian nor vegan, but doesn't especially care for cheese so he always specifically asks for no cheese on both our salads when we are out. If anything I would rather just say I am allergic to avoid it being on my plate. One big problem is assuming, for example, that the house salad won't come with bacon or cheddar on top. I have learned you always have to specify. I am sorry if I am getting off track a bit, but all of that irks me. I am vegan, but I am always willing to accommodate those who like meat when I am doing the cooking. Why isn't it the other way around?

                                                                                                                                        25 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: MrsJTW

                                                                                                                                          now hold on just a ding-dang second. why would you, a vegan, withhold that fact from someone who is waiting on you?!? if a customer tells a server s/he is vegan, the server will 1) be able to rec good menu options, adaptations of menu items, and off-menu options available, and 2) will pay attention to your order so that no cheese/honey/bacon hits your plate before it's served to you.

                                                                                                                                          if you go into a restaurant and are just making a lot of menu substitutions seemingly arbitrarily, and then are shocked that the person composing your plate puts the original, non-vegan garnish on the salad. . . well geez. *tell* folks waiting on you you are vegetarian, vegan, halal, nut/shellfish allergic, what have you. if you inform everyone of your dietary restrictions, you stand a far better chance of actually getting what you want. a side benefit to yourself and others is that the general awareness in your own community's food service professionals goes up, and the menu items available to you increases. the problem with any folks with dietary restrictions being silent, non-communicative, or passive/aggressive about their own needs, is that it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. nobody speaks up, so the restaurants, cafeterias, conference centers, caterers. . . all believe they have *no* customers with dietary restrictions. . . so why cater to folks who don't exist?

                                                                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                            I didn't make myself clear. I just meant that I do not use the word "vegan." I DO make it clear that I do not want dairy, etc. to the server. I prefer not to say "vegan" because that has made people angry for whatever reason in the past.

                                                                                                                                            Other than wanting to avoid getting spit in my food, I once received a dish that had meat purposely hidden inside of everything else and I found out when I bit into it. My friend that I was dining with even worked at this restaurant and we both made my diet very clear. The server and the manager were so rude and unapologetic that he actually went in the back and quit and neither of us ever returned. I have also had my car messed with for having a vegan sticker on it when I was younger... Let's just say I prefer not to advertise.

                                                                                                                                            There have been occasions where I didn't specify say with a side salad because I had been there before or the description in the menu sounded fine, but when it came out it had bacon and/or cheese on it.

                                                                                                                                            I see your point about if no one speaks up they think they have no customers with dietary restrictions. It has just been my experience that I get weird looks, mocked, retaliation, or people that just don't care. Not everyone is rude about it, but some really don't understand it and I don't always feel like explaining veganism from start to finish every time I am out. I prefer to cook myself and eat at home. I am used to not having any decent restaurant choices just about everywhere that I have lived. I enjoy going out once in awhile for the atmosphere. As long as my husband or whomever I am dining with has a good meal, I don't really care about mine that much.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: MrsJTW

                                                                                                                                              thanks for the response. i'm still not sure i get it, but maybe it's a regional thing. i don't think you have to worry about people spitting in your food, that doesn't really happen, or it's a really good reason to avoid chain restaurants entirely staffed by teenage "jackass" fans.

                                                                                                                                              in my experience, in an independent small restaurant, if there was a hypothetical situation where customer "bob" asked server "morris" for a menu substitution-- let's say the original dish was a pasta with shrimp that also incorporated prosciutto-- and bob asked for no shrimp, meat, dairy, sub the lobster stock-based cream sauce with the white wine sauce from another dish-- here's morris trying to note all the subs and omissions thru the abbreviations on the pos system, possibly forgetting something because he's in the middle of a busy service-- and it's easy for line cook "sheila" to lose the translation and go back to the elements of the original dish if morris doesn't specify every little thing-- no lobster stock, no butter, no cream, no shrimp, no pork. everything becomes easy and clear when morris can say the dreaded V word directly to sheila. many food pros *do* know the definition of vegan-- unlike the constant misuse of the word "vegetarian," to the point where it sometimes loses any semblance of meaning-- "vegan" is pretty straightforward and clear. the line cooks at your local bistro may not have the culinary chops to make you something delectable *and* vegan, but they should at least be able to get the vegan part of the equation down and serve you something edible that does not contain any animal products whatsoever-- even if it's just beans on toast.

                                                                                                                                              also in my experience, if the kitchen receives a tix printout w a bunch of arbitrary substitutions, the staff goes to special effort in an attempt to make the dish as ordered. . . and *then* the plate is returned and needs to be thrown in the garbage and remade "on the fly" because of the presence of one ingredient. . . everybody including the management and front-of-house staff is wondering where the communication broke down, and the expo is yelling at poor morris, saying: "if your customer bob wanted it vegan why the eff didn't he say so to you and you say it to us, instead of farting around saying no cream no shrimp bla bla bla." and *then* they are pissed, and *then* they are throwing food away, and it's costing the restaurant money, and everyone's shouting at each other and getting stressed out on a friday night rush, and the customer is just another vegetarian PITA who doesn't communicate, and then *that* preconception gets perpetuated. our hapless hypothetical server, morris, of course, is in the unhappy position of needing to go by the cues the customer gives him-- he can't be getting into people's business asking them whether they are vegetarian, whether seafood gives them the runs or not, or what religion, exactly, they are. my inclination would be to help morris out. use the V word so he's got something concrete to give the kitchen. it may seem awkward at first, but it probably will get a better result overall, over time. it's just something for everybody (not just you MrsJTW) to consider, about any special request related to dietary restrictions.

                                                                                                                                              i do want to thank you again for weighing in though, i maybe don't have a good handle on how many folks are out there who are vegetarian/vegan and don't necessarily come out and say so, and your post helped me do that. i do know a lady who (being in her 70's) is a pretty "non-stereotypical" vegan and does not necessarily embrace the word as part of her identity. when i prepare food for her, however, the v-word is uppermost in my mind at all times :)

                                                                                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                Soupkitten, as you suggested, I think this is a very regional issue -- in some places, being vegan is common enough that people will understand what you mean and it won't be a big deal, but in others even being a vegetarian gets you hostile looks and comments (and a bowl of gloppy pasta instead of whatever everyone else is getting, if not something that has meat in it anyway). Even on these boards, just saying the word "vegetarian" raises hackles! I can understand not wanting to go into a restaurant and say you're vegan and then have to explain exactly what it means and possibly have to justify yourself. If you live in an area where people are unfriendly to non-meat-eaters, which it sounds like MrsJTW does, it makes sense to me to just say, "I can't eat meat or dairy."

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Pia

                                                                                                                                                  The part of rural MO MrsJTW is living in would not be particularly knowledgable about or friendly towards vegan/vegetarian.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                    various parts of this country treat you "like the plague" if you eat such weird stuff like mushrooms or tofu but you don't eat beef or pork. I once had a secretary that said I had "weird" stuff in my refrigerator because I had a jar of capers!

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Barbara76137

                                                                                                                                                      LOL! Better not let her see what's in my cupboards . . .

                                                                                                                                              2. re: MrsJTW

                                                                                                                                                I completely agree with this. It really depends on the audience whether or not I announce I'm a vegetarian. And, honestly, given my experiences expressing "no meat in any form" to the wait staff is much more efficient than getting into what is (or isn't) vegetarian.

                                                                                                                                                A very well educated fellow traveler from my above antidote didn't understand the difference between vegan and vegetarian.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: odkaty

                                                                                                                                                  really? so "in some parts of the country" it's considered fair play to just keep returning a plate of food, until the kitchen guesses what the issue is, or gets fed up? or the diner just sits picking at a side veg on the plate and ends up throwing the rest away? sounds unsatisfying for the diner, at best, and like a bunch of people just banging their heads against the wall for no reason at worst. how does this help the local "hostile" or "uninformed" attitude toward vegetarians/vegans? seems like it would make everything worse. maybe i do live in an area where it's no big deal to see perfectly acceptable vegan options at most restaruants. . . but speaking of unfair stereotypes-- the big tattooed bubba looking line cooks wearing the "praise the lard" t-shirts? guess what? they are often the best at putting together a great vegan meal, and will embrace it as a challenge. anybody who can actually cook well can cook vegetables, grains, beans, etc-- they can cook a good vegetarian or vegan meal. doesn't seem right to withhold sort of essential details "hey-- i'm vegan" to the person who will prepare your food. bear in mind that it's a communication chain, so it's important to get the main point on the table at the outset, so that hopefully every member of the team is on the same page and nobody's reaching for the anchovy dressing at the last second. why not seek out a restaurant that has staff competent enough to be able to make a decent vegetarian/vegan plate of food on request? the poster above might actually enjoy going out to eat for herself, and the *food*-- and not just so her companion can enjoy the food and ambiance. enjoying a nice meal in a restaurant--what a concept, right?

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                    "No meat in any form" is pretty durn clear. And it saves having to explain that vegetarian does NOT include chicken or fish or shellfish or what have you that isn't actually red meat.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                      "no meat in any form" is not the same thing as "vegan!" the lady's complaining about getting cheese on her salad. perhaps if she was clear about her dietary requirements using accepted terms, she wouldn't have so many problems, and the people trying to communicate with her wouldn't get so confused. that's my whole entire point.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                        Soupkitten, you replied to odkaty, who states: "It really depends on the audience whether or not I announce I'm a vegetarian."

                                                                                                                                                        Perhaps you meant to respond to a different post.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                          i thought we were *all* (in the subthread) responding to MrsJTV, who is vegan, not using the word vegan when explaining her dietary requirements to the folks serving/cooking for her, and is having problems with non-vegan elements still winding up on her plate. perhaps the problem is that folks believe they are being clear when they are not, yet they are shocked when they are misunderstood and don't get what they want.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                            If that was the post you intended to respond to (and there are actually at least 2 postings with her name on it) I guess you inadvertently replied to the wrong posting. Which is not really a big deal - I've done that more than once myself.

                                                                                                                                                            Regardless, I'm familiar with the area where MrsJTV is currently living, and she's right - trying to tell someone there that you're a vegan is like taking a loaded gun and pointing it at your own head. At the very least she'll get "oh what a weirdo" looks, ranging all the way up to some of the kinds of nasty little tricks she's had pulled on her, such as hiding meat in something. There is an attitude of contempt towards people who won't eat "normal" food. I can't say as I blame her for trying to avoid the use of the term "vegan". Most people in that area don't know what it is and if they do, they do. not. approve.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                                                                                              she's not talking to "someone" or "most people in that area." she's talking to food professionals, like in the title of the thread. someone who is trying to cater to her, and also presumably someone who knows the difference between salad and salchichon.

                                                                                                                                                              it's permissible to use bone-basic food terms when talking to someone who works in food. . . opens restaurants, reads industry material, has gone to culinary school, has worked in the industry for 5, 10, 20 years, has a family business, has gone to restaurants besides applebees and taco bell, routinely deals with the vast diversity of backgrounds, cultures and experiences that comprise the general public, has read more than one cookbook. . .

                                                                                                                                                              maybe people shouldn't use complicated medical terms like "migraine" or "diabetic" when talking to their medical providers. after all, they might not understand multi-syllable words from their own field. instead, let's make 'em guess what the problem is. now, does that make any sense?

                                                                                                                                                              folks are in the hospitality business. they cater to people's needs, and their whims, and even their tiniest comforts. there are **coffee** orders with upwards of twenty five syllables, and underpaid teenage barely literate baristas don't miss a beat in execution, and manage to deliver all that the customer rattled off to them in eight seconds, with a smile and a hot-cup sleeve. so how hard is it, really, to just ask for what you want? assuming there isn't a sign on the door reading "no vegetarians," your money is as good as the next fellows' at any restaurant. pipe up and order something 1) you can eat 2) you will enjoy. it's what restaurants are for-- to cater to your needs, to make you comfortable and feed you a good meal, so you enjoy yourself and come back again. vegetarians eat at steakhouses. folks with seafood allergies eat at seafood restaurants. special orders happen. eating out is not an insurmountable task, for anybody, anywhere in the country. no matter how much you want to disparage folks who live in certain regions, or folks who happen to have the job of feeding other people, the fact remains that people *do* find a way to go out and have a nice meal together, all the time, all over the place, with a variety of individual needs, wants and whims all getting satisfied-- just scan some of the thread titles right here. it's actually kind of beautiful to watch a room full of folks, coming from all over the place, and from all stages and walks of life, all fussy and cranky in their own self-centered little ways, all looking at the same menu but making their own choices, yet all somehow "getting it their way" and winding up happy and satisfied-- tempeh at table seven, head cheese at table twelve, but in a strange way everyone's eating together, like a messed up extended family. nice conversations happen. smiles. enjoyment. no guns, no violence, no hostility, no contempt. it is interesting to read about the "us vs. them" perspective you and other folks have to dining out, but i can't help but think that if more folks would try simple, straightforward communication, respect, and friendly cooperation-- in short, trying to work *with* those who serve you, rather than against them, everyone might well wind up with a different pov, and dining out would seem much more truly "hospitable"-- to everybody, regardless of dietary choices.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                I've lived there and she is correct.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                  I really appreciate everything you are saying. I wish all "food professionals" looked at it the same way you do. Believe me, things would be a lot easier for EVERYBODY. =) Even when I ate meat though, I knew of chefs/cooks that, for example, would get offended if someone asked for a steak above medium rare and would refuse to make it because they thought it would reflect badly on their cooking to serve something that, in their eyes was not good, even though the diner preferred it prepared that way. (I was introduced to medium rare when I ate meat and actually liked it that way. I grew up on well done...) But my point is, whether vegan or carnivore, some people, professionals if you will, just don't give a crap what you want. They think things should be a certain way and it bothers them when things stray from that. Which is a totally unprofessional attitude, but it happens a lot more than you would think.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: MrsJTW

                                                                                                                                                    If you make your dietary needs known, say at the time of the reservations, do you still encounter issues?

                                                                                                                                                    Though our case is not one of choice, but of allergies, we have never had so much as one issue, and I make mention of my wife's food allergy, when I reserve a table, especially if we are even thinking of doing something like the "chef's tasting menu." Each as been wonderfully accommodating, and often, when we return, they pull out her file and ask if all is correct. Nice touch in my book.

                                                                                                                                                    I would only hope that you would be offered the same level of service, and the same care with your dietary choices. If not, then it should reflect negatively on the restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                    Let 'em know, and early on, so that you can get the best that they have to offer, as you wish it to be.

                                                                                                                                                    Good luck,


                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                      Yes, because my family requested a vegan meal for me months in advance for this wedding a couple of weeks ago and it was forgotten. I know they had a few people that needed gluten-free and they got their meals. The gluten-free issue at the wedding and the point that since your wife has an allergy you have no problems usually, both boost my point that I would rather be thought to have an allergy than say I am vegan. ; ) I think people take that more seriously. Once when I told someone that I can't eat dairy they said that I CAN, but that I choose not to. And yes, I choose not to, but it's not a fleeting thing. So I think many people feel the same way like oh well it's not that big of a deal.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: MrsJTW

                                                                                                                                                        as I said on another thread above, I agree that it is insulting to tell an ethical vegan/vegetarian that they "can" eat fish/meat/eggs whatever. I see no reason that your decision should engender less respect than a religious observance. So sometimes either a religious observer, or an ethical vegan, will have to go hungry. That's understood. But don't tell them "hey it's your choice".

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: DGresh

                                                                                                                                                          People also don't realize that you can get to the point where you can't just go back to eating specific types of animal protein without 'working up to it'. Husband gave up red meat in the late 90s after a really bad food poisoning event. I wasn't going to make two different dinners at home, and the whole point of going out for dinner for us at that time was the good seafood in the area.

                                                                                                                                                          So it had been a year and a half since I'd eaten beef, I was up visiting my parents and we went out to the blace with the best hamburgers in a five county region, and everything tasted most excellent. And then I woke up at 3:00am and everything was extremely unpleasant.... (Everyone had the same burgers from the same batch of ground beef, and my not normally eating beef self was the only one who had GI issues)

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: beachmouse

                                                                                                                                                            I'm not vegetarian but I don't eat much meat. I found when I was in college that if I did not go out of my way to make sure I had some red meat at least once every couple of months, I would start to lose the ability to digest it. I have since tried to make sure I have a burger or something every few weeks. Otherwise I start getting indigestion when I finally do get around to eating some again. The longer it's been since I last ate red meat, the worse the gastro-intestinal distress.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: MrsJTW

                                                                                                                                                  "I really try to avoid telling anyone waiting on me that I am vegan."

                                                                                                                                                  I am at a loss, as to why you would not specify your personal choices, regarding foods. With a food allergy in the family, we notify the restaurant at the time of the reservation. To date, none has hesitated, and our servers have even cautioned against a few dishes, as there were items, that might have been problematic.

                                                                                                                                                  Maybe one day, we will all have UPC tattoos on the back of our necks, and the servers can scan us, finding out allergies, preferences, etc.. Until then, I would definitely speak up. I have been amazed at the lengths, that some chefs have gone to, but would think that anyone, beyond a McDonalds, would want to satisfy you and your needs.

                                                                                                                                                  Though I am the consummate omnivore, I'd urge you to speak up. You might well be surprised.


                                                                                                                                                  PS - when hosting tables, or events, we always try to get the full menu that our guests can eat, and make all arrangements with the restaurant/caterer, well ahead of time. Other than a few pauses in the service, our guests have always gotten what they needed, or wanted. Matter of fact, some of it looked far better than the normal "event food," that the rest of us had to suffer through.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                                                                    I suppose my reply above will explain. I absolutely do not advocate upc codes on humans or microchips, for that matter. lol I get that you are saying that that way people can read my mind so to speak. I don't expect anyone to have to do that. I make myself clear, but prefer not to say "vegan." I would rather them assume I am lactose intolerant or something. It is just easier that way... And the times I have not been clear enough or something happened I chalk up to learning experiences on how to deal better in the future.

                                                                                                                                                    That's wonderful that you do that for events. I was just complaining about the venue we attended two weeks ago because I know the vegan meal was requested months before hand by my family. I have worked at a few hotels in banquets and saw the vegetarian options. I have even eaten them at work and when I have been to an event other places. Most of the time, in my experience, it has just been bland overcooked vegetables with plain pasta or maybe some mashed potatoes. The hotel where I worked the longest, it really wasn't the cooks' faults. It was what they are told to make. When the guys I knew were bored when we were working, they knew I was vegan and would have fun experimenting and making something just for me. I really appreciated it. It's just too bad that they weren't allowed to be that creative the rest of the time.

                                                                                                                                                    I did however attend a wedding in Houston last year. I can't remember who catered their reception, but that was the best meal I have ever had at an event. One of the most memorable meals I have ever had, period. It was just a lot a grilled vegetables, but it was a wide variety and spiced so well that it didn't taste like just veg plate. It had a lot of color, great presentation and was actually filling.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: MrsJTW

                                                                                                                                                      Now, you know that the UPC tattoo was a joke, right?

                                                                                                                                                      As for the events, there have been many, where I looked at a guest's vegetarian dinner, and at the "rubber chicken" in my plate, and wished that I had ordered vegetarian. Then, when they tell me how tasty their dishes are, and I have to stand up on the table, just to cut that chicken, I know that I messed up.

                                                                                                                                                      Alluding to the location, in which you reside. I can see where that might pose a bit of a problem, or at least some extra consideration. Still, it should be possible to convey what you really want. I have been surprised, and in some fairly sophisticated, metropolitan areas, and up-scale restaurants, when "my wife cannot eat bi-valves - scallops, mussels, clams or oysters," gets silence, then "oh, she cannot eat any seafood?" "No, just seafood that lives in two shells, like scallops, mussels, clams and oysters." More silence. "Oh, she can't eat fish, lobsters or shrimp?" Well, until these exchanges, I THOUGHT that I was in a sophisticated, metropolitan area, but then I am not so sure. However, with a bit of notice, and maybe some work on my part, we have never been refused. Once I finally breakthrough the communication vacuum, things have always been quite good.

                                                                                                                                                      I'd urge you to be specific. As mentioned up-thread, many throw around words, that have different meanings to many, and maybe even the one using them. Just explain what you want, and see how well they can satisfy you. I never leave it at "bi-valves," and always go into more detail, though it might take 3 - 4 exchanges to get it to sink in.

                                                                                                                                                      Good luck,


                                                                                                                                                      PS - I was in the upper Deep South, and asked for "real" mashed potatoes. The server replied, "in this town, no one knows what real mashed potatoes are. They are all from a box." Oh well, chalk that one up.

                                                                                                                                                      PPS - there was another reply up there, but CH seemed to loose it. Can't even recall what my response was, but this one ought to cover most points.

                                                                                                                                                3. I recently attended a conference in Toronto and was surprised and pleased to see one sensible vegetarian hot entree for both lunches. I agree it's rare to find a group catered lunch where you can get something tasty and vegetarian.

                                                                                                                                                  I recall one time I was at the launch of a community newspaper and some of use were vegetarian at the time. They gave everyone else some lovely hot entrees and passed us crudites (if you wanted to be nice about it). I complained, and they came back with a stir fry with the vegetables cooked. Not gourmet, but it was better than grazing through a plate of raw veggies.

                                                                                                                                                  1. Folks, as threads about this issue often do, this one has gotten flamey and unfriendly. We're going to lock it now.