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Sep 24, 2011 07:38 AM

Vegans and Vegetarians: How Would You Feel About This?

I had a discussion recently with a friend in the restaurant business. And the following scenario came up. Neither of us really know how Kosher this type of thing is with vegans and vegetarians. So I submit it to you, CH:

You go to eat at a small, unfussy restaurant/bar type thing. It's not a place that is specifically catering to vegans/vegetarians (as in all-vegan menu, etc). You see a vegan option for fried seitan bites, maybe in some kind of sauce or on a tortilla - whatever. You order it, eat it, delicious.

Would it bother you if the fried seitan bites were cooked in the same deep fryer - same oil - as chicken wings, or some other meat? Does that un-veganize the dish?

Would it make a difference if the dish was or was not specifically listed as 'vegan' or 'vegetarian' on the menu?

I ask because I'm curious. I won't put down anybody's opinion or beliefs. I just want to know if this is one of the accepted realities of vegan and vegetarian culture, or if people expect that when a dish is presented as vegan/veg that it is completely 100% untainted by meat or meat byproduct.

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  1. I think it's entirely up to you how far you take being vegan, vegetarian or kosher. I was brought up kosher and know plenty of Jews who go from one end of the scale to the other in terms of what is considered kosher to them. Some Jews will not even eat outside of their own or family's home, others will eat fish or vegetarian/dairy at any restaurant but still consider themselves kosher. Vegetarians that eat cheese but don't mind it made with rennet, others call themselves vegetarians but eat fish, others not.
    I did switch to vegetarian in my teens for 8 years, I was fussy about a spoon going into the gravy and then into the vegetables. I think unless you cook for yourself you cannot be sure what is tainted or not but it depends how difficult you want to make life or whether your beliefs/desires are worth going in the direction you want.
    I am neither kosher nor vegetarian now, but don't eat pork or shellfish and don't eat anything that's cooked in either so I wouldn't pick bacon out of a quiche or eat gumbo and not the shrimp. I guess I have leftover psychosis!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: smartie

      No, you just know what you like. Nothing more, and likely nothing less.

      I too am Jewish, but where I grew up, we barely had a Temple, and no Hebrew School. My family was very, very mixed, as as we lived in the Deep South, there was just no holding Kosher - no way.

      Still, my wife, a devout Catholic, cannot eat shell fish, but that is not due to any religious dietary doctrine, but just an allergy, that she developed later in life. We do watch out for that, and talk to the chefs, regarding her needs. I, on the other hand, can eat almost anything, though there ARE some things, that I choose to not eat, but only because I do not enjoy them.

      Now, we are both omnivores, and I border on being a carnivore. We do not get THAT hung up on foods, or their preps, beyond wife's allergies, or my preferences. We leave that to others.

      We host many, who have made dietary decisions in their lives, and try to accommodate them, as closely, as we can. That is their choice, and when our guests, we respect that, and work very hard to accommodate. Now, Level Five Veganism does pose a few extra problems, but still, we try.

      Relax, do not really think about the food that much, and most of all, enjoy!


    2. I definitely wouldn't designate it as vegan. I would just put it on the menu. There are those who realize they are possibly eating "tainted" food, and accept it due to convenience and practicality, there are others who will feel duped.

      1. I think Maxie has it right. It should be put it on the menu without that designation, and if someone *asks* if it is a vegetarian/vegan dish, it would be nice if the waitperson gave full disclosure about the oil. One of the local Chinese places changed their menu this year: their 'vegetarian' selection was replaced with a 'vegetable' selection, which then made me wonder if someone approached the restaurant over an issue similar to this. Personally, I wouldn't care terribly much if it was cooked in the same oil as meat, but there are plenty of vegans and vegetarians who very much do care.

        1 Reply
        1. re: onceadaylily

          Disclosure can be very important.

          With a bi-valve allergy in the family, we do that with many seafood dishes - we ask. Provided that the restaurant is up front and honest, it should be the same with vegan fare. They should just tell it, like it is. When we explain wife's problems, all have come forth, and explained about broths, etc., and we have ordered, based on that. Luckily, wife can to a tiny bit, going so far as to take a taste of one of my Seared Scallops, but cannot do much. Same for her lactose intolerance - a little, and all is OK, but give her a cream broth, then some bi-valves, and finally a cheesecake, and I have one sick puppy on my hands.

          Though I am anything BUT a vegan, I can understand, and can relate, based on wife's issues, though they are slightly different.

          I think that any considerate restaurant should be open, honest and caring, even if it means that the diner might need/require something else. After all, it should be about the diner's satisfaction.


        2. I am a seven-year "vegetarian" (no chicken, fish or "meat", but I do eat dairy products like eggs, cheese and yogurt) and shared oil doesn't bother me. Oddly, I don't care if my soup was prepared with chicken stock either (I eat soup out so rarely that the "issue" might only come up once or twice a year anyways). However, my vegetarianism is solely a matter of personal taste and has nothing to do with my ethics. I guess this means the shared oil might bother me if, for example, my food took on a "meaty" taste. I could see this happening with fish, maybe? I can speak only for myself though, every vegetarian is different.

          1. In terms of expectations, I would expect most vegetarians (and even more vegans) would consider that disqualifying from being labeled as vegetarian or vegan. And many might consider it sneaky or unethical if there's an ingredient list but that omits to clarify this; as they say in the securities business, it would be considered a material omission.

            To use a graphic illustration within the carnivorous side of things: imagine you are eating a dish and you are told that it was fried in animal fat, but failed to tell you the fat came from your recently deceased dog, Sparky.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Karl S

              How'd you know about Sparky? Man, that is some cold Titus Andronicus style s***.

              In my mind (as an admitted omnivore), there would seem to be one major distinction between your example and my scenario: how unexpected such a thing would be.

              I realize that many people don't have any intimate knowledge of professional kitchens. But to use an example I feel is more apt, I get the impression that if a vegetarian goes to a restaurant that doesn't largely cater to vegetarians and orders something grilled or cooked on the griddle, that they understand that food is likely cooked on the same surface where meat was recently cooked, and that said cooking surface wasn't scrubbed shiny in between. I could be wrong.

              I also suspect that a lot of vegetarians find that a little less troubling than their food being cooked in oil where meat was recently cooked. I'm not sure why or how to quantify the difference; it's just my sense. But is it that much more surprising? I would say it's certainly a heck of a lot less surprising than being served food tainted with the flesh of a beloved family pet, anyway. It would seem to me to be the type of thing that even a person who's not too familiar with professional kitchens could figure out on their own.

              I hesitate to even post this response - I'm trying not to steer this conversation, and I appreciate opposing opinions and retorts. Especially the 'gut reaction' type responses. No justification is necessary.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                Someone who is vegan as a lifestyle choice would not put themselves in that situation. Anyone who's vegetarian but doesn't probe too deeply into how the food is prepared is assuming the risk that there's a possibility of cross-contamination.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  I've been wondered about the griddle issue in small restaurants that serve both meat and vegetarian items. I'm not vegetarian, but I've seen busy small places with what appears to be only one cooking area on TV that say they have both vegetarian and meat items. Reading through the responses, it appears that it's at the diner's discretion how much of a difference that makes.