Should Omnivores Review Veg Restaurants?
This past August Burlington got its only current 100% vegetarian restaurant—Revolution Kitchen. Most of what is on their menu can be made vegan, so Katie and I were very excited to try the food out. We brought my parents who, while not wholly vegetarian, have tried to eat less and less meat (at least that is what they tell me ;-)). All in all the experience was a wonderful one—I hope to have a review up after our next visit—but it was our conversation with Debra (one of the owners) that sparked the topic of post.
In the Seven Days review, Corin Hirsch asks: “Do vegetarians need to settle for less? Less technique, less finesse, less texture?” Surely the answer is no; But as we were talking to Debra I commented on the “eh” nature of the review, with Katie mentioning that perhaps Hirsch might have enjoyed the food more if she were not an omnivore. Debra’s response was to point out that the food should speak for itself. In other words, to paraphrase Dave Matthews: good food is good food and the rest can go to hell.
This got us thinking: should veg/vegan restaurants and recipes be reviewed by omnivores? Here is what I think:
- Debra made a good point. Food is made to be eaten, and veg/vegan food is not just for vegetarians and vegans. It should be for everyone. As such, chefs should make the food as good as possible. Don’t sacrifice “technique” “finesse” or “texture”—just make kick ass food!
- Reviewers are, presumably, reviewers because they have shown that they have a deft and discerning palate. They can pick out flavors and critique combinations of ingredients, again, presumably, better than most people can. This doesn’t imply extensive training or schooling, but it does imply a specific talent…and so a reviewer should be able to come to the food on its own terms.
- We don’t ask only Asians to review Asian food; or only Indians to review Indian food; or Italians, or Greeks, or Mexicans…why should we expect the same from vegetarians and vegans?
- There are certain ingredients and flavors that will be foreign to an omnivores’s tastebuds; so trying to give an objective, level review might not be possible. There will be no meat (veg); no butter, no eggs, no dairy (vegan)—so if the reviewer is used to having those ingredients underpinning his or her idea of, say, “pizza” there is a good chance that in tasting (especially) vegan food it will fall short of expectations.
- A vegetarian or vegan knows what these ingredients taste like. An omnivore trying cashew cream will come to it with a bias; he or she still eats food with dairy so trying to judge the taste of a recipe with cashew cream against one with dairy will inevitably lead to some conflict.
- It will be easy for an omnivore to skip right over an important part of a veg/vegan restaurant or recipe: the animal. Specifically, that lack of harm done to the animal. This was a point that Debra was very adamant about: Hirsch simply missed the point of what Revolution Kitchen is trying to do. Yes, their ingredients are local and organic; but more importantly, they offer “no slaughter” food. At Revolution Kitchen, No animals were killed to make the food they serve. (I will leave aside my own issue with “suffering” and how I believe dairy and eggs are tied closely with suffering, despite the fact that the animal is not being killed.) This is a point that an omnivore will simply gloss over; or, even given the benefit of the doubt, will not truly understand in the same way that a vegetarian or vegan will.
- Let me end by saying this: an omnivore reviewer would probably not point out the fact that just having an option is amazing. There are only a few places in Burlington that a vegan can eat, and almost none of those are nice sit-down restaurants.
So what is the answer? There is no answer. I think there are reasons for and against having omnivores review veg/vegan restaurants and recipes. In the end, any exposure for veg/vegan food is a good thing; any exposure for food that does not involve suffering is a good thing. These are all good things, and it is a good thing for veg/vegan food—food that is really really good—to be tried by people who don’t expect it.
Give veg/vegan food a try. You aren’t missing anything that you don’t need.