Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ethics Question

My purpose in starting this blog a couple of years ago was simply to identify vegan options in local non-vegan restaurants. I've used the blog to discuss food policy issues from time to time, but mostly, it's still just a resource for vegans who want to know what they can eat when dining at a Sacramento restaurant.

Occasionally, however, questions come up about the ethics of patronizing restaurants that are vegan-friendly from a menu standpoint, but where the chef or owner is identified with behavior that's anathema to vegans.

Let me give you some examples:

• Lucca Restaurant & Bar offers a wonderful vegan menu, but the restaurant's owners also own the ranch where they get their beef. Does owning a ranch make Lucca less worthy to serve vegan customers than other restaurants that offer beef on their menus?

• Broderick Roadhouse has several creative vegan menu options, but they post disturbing (to vegans) pictures on social media of whole animals being roasted. Is that somehow worse than the pictures of steaks, bacon, or chicken that other restaurants post?

• The chef at Mother, a restaurant opening next week that offers no meat on its menu, doesn't want the restaurant to be thought of as "vegetarian" because he believes a stigma is attached to the word. He was also one of the chefs seeking to overturn California's ban on foie gras, and he threw a foie gras party at Pangaea, another local restaurant, just before the ban took effect. Should discomfort about the chef's culinary views cause vegans to forego what promises to be an exceptional dining experience?

Everyone needs to draw their own ethical line, of course. If something about a restaurant offends you, by all means add it to your personal "do not patronize" list and dine instead at an establishment that better reflects your values.

From my perspective, making more vegan options available in non-vegan restaurants can only be a good thing, regardless of the motives of the restaurant in offering them or the personal philosophy of the chef preparing them. The more that non-vegans are exposed to well-made, high-quality vegan cuisine, the more likely they'll be to realize they don't need meat or other animal products in order to enjoy a satisfying meal.

On the other hand, if people don't order vegan items in these restaurants, they may be dropped from the menu because of a perception that there's no market for them. By patronizing these and other restaurants offering imaginative plant-based menu options, vegans can make the point that we're here to stay and we expect something more interesting to eat when we dine out than a microwaved veggie burger or a lackluster house salad.

What are your thoughts? Under what circumstances, if any, would you refuse to patronize a restaurant even though it makes a point of providing vegan menu options?


lacey :) said...

I think...vegan is--and should always have been, and should be--the foundational, fundamental human diet. But we are overturning centuries of social constructs that have encouraged and conditioned humans to eat animal flesh. So, the more awareness; the better. The more options--and better yet, the greater percentage of plant-based meals offered and consumed, across the masses-- the better for all beings and the better for our environment and future of civilization. The more plant-based meals made available to be ordered/consumed the more meat/ animal centric meals are replaced and displaced.

Pam said...

I completely agree. Thanks for commenting, Lacey!

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. I choose to support restaurants that offer creative vegan options, even if they do other less than optimal things. I'm not perfect either, and arrogant Puritanism on any issue turns me off. let's lighten up already.

Pam said...

Good point. Changes in people's thinking don't happen overnight. It's a process and we don't all reach the same conclusions at the same time. I'm thrilled that so many non-vegan restaurants have made an effort to provide options for their vegan diners. I'd rather reward them for the positive things they're doing than punish them for the changes they haven't been willing to make yet.

Anonymous said...

if you order Vegan at a non-vegan restaurant you help to create a "demand" for these kind of offerings. It only helps the cause as it is a meat eating world that we are living in. More vegan choice on regular menus may have non-vegans ordering and liking and then considering that is something that they can live with and incorporate into their life...moving the world forward an inch at a time is still forward progress.

Pam said...

I agree! The more people order vegan meals, the more chefs may feel the need to add vegan options to their menus, which may appeal to non-vegans as well.

Linda Conrad said...

This is an interesting post and gives me a lot to think about. I would certainly be horrified to walk into a restaurant showing whole animals being roasted, but I also agree with the comments here. Education will take time and there are already a lot more options now. I am the only vegan (left) in my family, so I have to accept that we will be going out to restaurants with meat and vegan options. The foie gras supporter is disturbing, however. That is just cruel.

Pam said...

Yes, and new ethics dilemmas pop up all the time. I guess we just have to do the best we can and hope others follow our lead.