Going through my drafts folder in my beginning of year blog clearout, I stumbled across an unpublished review of Ethos restaurant in London, or least what was ostensibly a review. What had started out as a review of a new vegetarian restaurant that opened last year became a tirade against the typical newspaper/magazine review of vegetarian and vegan restaurants after I found a review by a major magazine of Ethos (it seems to have been taken down now so I can’t link, but I think you’ll recognise the familiar review “format”).
It’s still just as valid today as a year ago and one thing is clear: we need more vegan restaurant reviewers!
The review of Ethos follows the time-honoured vegetarian restaurant review format of:
“I was forced by my evil editor to go review a vegetarian restaurant and I cried myself to sleep for days beforehand. Finally I gathered my strength (gained through the consumption of copious steaks and never, ever any vegetables) and set out, reminding myself I could treat myself to a McDonald’s burger afterwards*. As I ventured into this vegetarian establishment I was shocked to find it was not completely full of pale, thin, sickly-looking types, although there were a few _____ [insert insulting comment about subculture of choice here].
Somehow, they managed to feed me food – real, actual food! I always thought vegetarians subsisted on air, but they served me real food. And you know what? The food wasn’t bad. But on my way home I still stopped to dine on the most disgusting knock-off chicken meal at Kentucky Fried Crap, because although one paragraph before this I sung the praises of this vegetarian restaurant, I’m still not convinced one can actually go more than an hour without meat, and I’m going to close the article by telling you so.”
*Even though I call myself a food critic, I would rather face the banality of a meal at McDonald’s than the terror of a meat free dinner that might include – gasp! – an ingredient I’m not familiar with.
I’m sick of reading reviews like this written by critics who clearly hate vegetarian and vegan food, and food critics who decide (or are forced to) go vegan for a week or month and complain bitterly the whole time, like Jay Rayner in “My Vegan Hell“. Jay Rayner, in turn, wrote a condescending review of Saf, a vegan restaurant in London, which included inflammatory remarks such as “But hell, a little light slaughter does seem to make things taste better.”
Worse still, I came across “Our restaurant reviewer explains why he’s become a (part-time) vegetarian”, an article in the Independent by Amol Rajan, a food writer who’d decided to go vegetarian, but felt he had to eat meat once a week in order to continue reviewing restaurants for a major newspaper (to be fair, it sounds like there may have been a bit of gluttony coming into play in the decision). The article ends with the telling line “And whoever listened to a restaurant critic who didn’t eat meat?”
Seriously? Have we not reached a stage where we can have vegans reviewing vegan restaurants – or at least people who don’t hate vegans and vegan food? When I look up restaurants, I tend to read reviews on blogs, Happycow, Tripadvisor/Yelp/etc. I often read restaurant reviews in major magazines and newspapers as well but they are often absolutely useless to me – I don’t want to read a hate-filled diatribe about how much the food critic hates vegan food, or even a fear-filled section about how they’re scared of vegan food. I want to read a review of the restaurant from the perspective of someone who’s actually there to enjoy it (without preconceived notions and fear), damnit! And I’d love to see some major publications featuring vegans’ takes on non-vegetarian restaurants too, and what vegan options they find there.
The Oregonian have taken the forward-looking stance of having on staff food critic and vegan Grant Butler (who went vegan while writing for the paper), who adds a unique spin to the paper by reviewing restaurants (both veg and non-veg) from a vegan perspective.
This has got to be the way forward. As more and more people ditch meat and dairy, who will be the voice of food critics in the future? Since I went vegan in 2008, things have changed positively – and fast. People no longer sneer when I say I’m vegan (usually), waiters now normally know what I’m talking about when I request vegan food, and more and more restaurants are offering dedicated vegan options. But the food writing industry is lagging behind.
When will it catch up?