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Opinion

Eating out at non-vegan restaurants

Quite recently I wrote a review for VC on Glasgow burger restaurant Steak Cattle & Roll’s vegan menu. While it’s true, I’ll jump at any opportunity to go out for a meal, I had some conflicting feelings about my visit. When telling people where I was going for my dinner that evening, the name Steak Cattle & Roll raised a few eyebrows, and rightly so. It couldn’t be more apparent that this was an establishment that advocated and celebrated meat consumption. As a vegan, should I be going out my way to support a business that does this? While it’s important to set the precedent by supporting vegan establishments, should I feel guilty about visiting ones that aren’t? Might it also be worth getting involved with those like Steak Cattle & Roll who have made steps to include our community?

In the media at large, there are plenty of commentators who will say that veganism is a fad, and that this is explanation enough for the increase in vegan options in big name restaurants and beyond. Fad or not though, money talks, and as such there are few better ways to show big business what you want than putting your money behind it. In my experience, vegans are a loyal bunch – due to fact that it’s still a relatively grassroots community, if we find somewhere we really like, we’re going to make sure everyone knows about it. Taking Glasgow pizza joint Paesano as an example of this, I would often visit with my non-vegan friends, and I’d always order a cheeseless version with portobello mushrooms and garlic. Not on the menu as official option, but absolutely delicious. It must have been more than just me doing this, because within the last couple of weeks, Paesano have started advertising the exact same topping configuration as one of their ‘Vegan Specials’. While technically it’s always been available, the folks at Paesano have cottoned on to its popularity, and judging by the well-received Facebook post drawing attention to the new specials, not only will more vegans be turned onto Paesano (good for the business), but curious non-vegans diners will be able to test these new waters in familiar surroundings (good for the vegan community). Everyone wins.

On an even larger scale, Pret A Manger’s new vegetarian-only branches are a very clear-cut example of this demand change in action. It should go without saying that support for vegan outlets should supersede such establishments in certain instances – if I’m eating out with a party of vegans or if I’m with close friends/family who aren’t then I’ll always push to go one of Glasgow’s many fantastic vegan eateries, but should I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings with limited options, or if I’m with a less familiar group of people who aren’t so warm to the idea, then why not relish the opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the cause?

In terms of converting others, there’s a couple of different ways of looking at it. Whenever discussing veganism with people flirting with the idea of transitioning, I fully believe the best way to change someone’s mind is to make them feel like they’re missing out on something fun while presenting a positive case for the change, as opposed to going for the jugular with dramatic statistics. The same attitude should apply in a dining scenario – particularly when it’s a group outing where you might be the only vegan and people will no doubt ask you about the food you’re eating. Enthusiasm is infectious, so why not be positive? If you can convince them to give it a go, even better. Without retreading too much of my review, one thing that separated Steak Cattle & Roll’s menu was that the vegan options fitted the restaurant’s American diner vibe, and wasn’t just the first “vegan burger” google search result. This made me personally feel a little more at ease for the sole reason that it felt like my lifestyle choice had been validated, even if it was only in a small way. More effort had been made to make vegan diners feel included, and this familiarity might also encourage non-vegans to join in too.

As much as veganism is on the up in a huge way, it can’t be ignored that it’s still a relatively small movement, and for that reason, sometimes compromises need to be made. Co-existing with people who don’t share your views will be extremely common, but why should that be a bad thing as opposed to a great opportunity?