These days, everyone seems to be becoming more plant-based.
Many of us have been so freaked out by Cowspiracy that even if we love chowing down on chops, we’re cutting down, having Meat-free Mondays, drinking nut milks.
This café will turn your dog into a latte
But increasing numbers of us are going the whole hog, either as vegetarians or vegans.
In fact, there are some 3,000,000 meat-free diners in the UK.
And yet we’re still treated like some kind of bizarre margin group by restaurants and food outlets – despite the growth in interest in plant-based and meat-free living.
There seems to be a new vegan junk food business or enterprise opening up every week in London and yet mainstream ventures are struggling to keep up.
‘My mum went into Cote Brasserie to ask if they had a vegan option for me before she books and they said “salad”,’ Erin, 26 tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It’s extremely sad. They also offered two sides – a side salad and a bowl of chips. Carluccio said they could do me pasta and tomato sauce.
‘If you were going to spend money on a nice meal out, would you really want pasta and tomato sauce?’
But it isn’t just vegans who suffer from dull non-meat alternatives. Vegetarians are increasingly being offered the same awful options as businesses seek to lumber us all in together.
Now, vegetarian food isn’t hard to get right. You can get away with a lot when you can cook with dairy – so taking that away without replacing it with a plant-based alternative isn’t really on.
I recently went to a swanky supper club where I was promised a spectacular feast from one of the country’s top chefs.
Oh, the excitement! Canapes! A three-course meal! I was going to live my best life.
After a vegetable soup starter, my main meal arrived: a plate of stewed beans and a deep-fried giant mushroom.
While the omnivores around me tucked into hunks of braised ox cheek, I pushed my beans around like it was the 1950s.
BEANS. FRIED MUSHROOM. WHAT?
Shortly after that, I was invited to a press dinner held on Tower Bridge.
There, the great and good of the lifestyle journalism world gathered to marvel at the terrifyingly see-through flooring and to be cooked for by some Masterchef winner.
You’d think it being an event for lifestyle writers – many of whom specialise in health, wellness, fitness, and food – you’d have some delicious plant-based options.
There was a spectacular looking starter of scallop pie that smelt divine. There were succulent slices of pork in some rich jus.
Then there were my three stalks of asparagus with some lemon sauce, and some pureed squash with roasted carrot and two artichokes.
I caught the eye of a fellow vegetarian writer opposite me who looked equally baffled.
Don’t get me wrong – it was delicious. But where was the rest of it? What else was there?
Was this it? While everyone else was tucking into a really rich, lavish meal, were we really going to have the kind of food my eight-month-old niece is beginning to eat?
But who knows, maybe things are looking up.
Veganuary and The Humane League have just launched a new project aimed at working with restaurants up and down the country to encourage them to up their vegan offerings.
They’re asking for food establishments to start offering at least two vegan options per course, or one option if the restaurant has a smaller menu – and that they have to be featured on the main menu, not a separate one.
‘Most high street chains and many independent restaurants now offer plant-based options, but there are others who could do the same with some minor adjustments to their menu,’ says Vicky Bond, The Humane League UK’s managing director.
‘It might be their vegetable tagine is already vegan, but they have never thought to let people know. It could be a simple matter of offering cheese as optional rather than adding it to the risotto.
‘Little things make a big difference, and Veganuary is proud to be working alongside The Humane League and Chef Day to encourage even better provision for vegans.’
And that’s huge.
But one can’t help wondering if that might encourage restaurants to continue offering either meat dishes or vegan ones – albeit more of them.
Vegetarians or plant-based eaters don’t necessarily want a dairy-free meal. Halloumi might be the only thing keeping them going in this cold world. Why should they have to go give it up?
Although it’s fair to say that if restaurants did offer more than one vegan option and put some imagination into what they were serving, it wouldn’t be so much a problem.
It’s really not hard to make dairy-free creamy sauces and cheesy offerings. Hell, I took my boyfriend (who’s favourite food is ribs) to Nama Foods the other week – a raw vegan restaurant – where he tried a platter of cashew cheese and said he’d gladly eat it again.
Give people better options and they might just take them. So many people eat meat but would be open to trying vegan and vegetarian food if it was listed alongside the other options and actually sounded like it might taste of something.
Stick a sticky BBQ jackfruit burger on your American menu, a deep-fried seitan dish next to your chicken skewers, a casheese and biscuits board in your puds section.
Vegans don’t want stewed beans when they go out for a nice meal and neither do vegetarians.
We don’t have to eat in mainstream restaurants anymore; there are so many cool new places popping up that you’d be hard pushed to make it round all the vegan-only eateries in London without having a coronary. And their food is so good that there’s not an issue about bringing our meat-eating mates with us.
But the point is that the mainstream should be looking at this growth and want to accommodate a group of consumers who are willing to spend for something delicious and ethical.
We all know how evangelical plant-based eaters can be – they’re better at online PR than any food communications company is.
Restaurants and food businesses need to do better because at the moment, no one’s getting anything but bad wind.