Whilst this blog is a positive take on being plant based, there are times when eating out as a vegan goes catastrophically tits up and naive, sweet vegans are victims to the dark humour of the neanderthal meat eater who thinks he’s ever so funny.
Recently I returned from a family holiday in Italy and I knew it would be difficult to find vegan food, especially in the more traditional trattorias. But I maintained an open mind and since our first stop was the local supermarket to stock up the fridge in our villa, I suddenly felt very optimistic. There were several types of vegan cheese, vegan yogurts and milks, vegan versions of ‘cold meats’ like salami and prosciutto and to the delight of everyone, the most realistic and moreish hod dog wieners that turned out to be perfect for breakfast or on the BBQ.
After dropping off our shopping and completely wizened from having been travelling since 8am, we perused the menu at a trendy local pizzeria called Leo’s that sells pizza by the metre, served on big, elevated planks. We were excited to find a pizza on the menu called La Vegana (the vegan), topped with sausage, pepperoni and salami. Great, I thought – even the restaurants are getting on board with the meat alternatives! I’d had a vegan ‘meat feast’ pizza recently at Oscar and Rosie’s in Nottingham and it was amazing, so I was keen to try another.
We explained to the waiter that we don’t eat meat, ordered a metre of said ‘Vegana’ pizza (shared between 5, the rest ordered pasta) and when it came I was more than sceptical about its claims to be meatless, let alone vegan. As everyone else dug in and revelled in the realistic and tasty ‘fake meat’, I nibbled around the edge and wondered how they’d found a vegan mozzarella that was so stringy.
I begrudgingly tried a small piece of the ‘sausage’ and to be honest, it could have been fake – processed meats, due to their minced up nature, are the easiest things to fake. But it was just too greasy. Fake meat is never greasy. Needing re-assurance, I called over the restaurant owner who had served us.
I gestured towards the toppings on the pizza – “Is that meat?” I asked, “Real meat?”
“Yes…” He answered like it was the stupidest question anyone had ever asked.
At which point my Dad having eaten three slices, nearly threw up and my 11 year old niece who loves animals and has never eaten meat in her life, burst into tears. Everyone’s stomachs turned, my Mum went bat shit and I sat there for a minute, bemused.
“But it’s called ‘La Vegana’, that means ‘The Vegan’ in English, why would you put real meat on it?!”
“Is a joke!” he said, in broken English, still looking at me with an expression that suggested I was a prize moron. Thankful I had only eaten a tiny morsel of meat but sorry for everyone else who had gorged on it, I asked him why he thought that was funny.
He said something about us not understanding the menu due to being English. I explained that ‘La Vegana’ was pretty clear in its meaning, in both Italian and English. He then argued that there was no green V to represent it being meat-free. I counter argued that nothing on the menu had a green V next to it, even the salad.
The argument went on for some time, largely fuelled by my Mother who complains at the slightest thing in a restaurant, so this was practically a life and death scenario! The waiter even involved a random Italian customer with perfect English at one point, to come and interpret. It was like a scene from The Godfather.
Basically, we’d been the naive butt of a meat-eater’s joke. To call a meat loaded pizza ‘The Vegan’ was a sarcastic jibe and we had been to stupid to spot it. Although to be fair, no amount of skill in Italian linguistics would have made it any clearer to me. If the same thing had happened with a menu in England, I’d have trusted it!
After thinking about it for a while, I realised that veganism and vegan offerings have grown so exponentially, we’ve gotten comfortable, possibly unduly so. We see the word ‘vegan’ on the menu and we think we’ve been catered for. Why wouldn’t we?
Just be warned that choosing to eat vegan to many, is not a respected lifestyle choice for the sake of preventing animal suffering. It’s something hippies do to poke fun at. So unless it’s painfully obvious that your avoidance of meat is going to be catered for respectfully, then check. And then double check.
And then check again.