Reimagining Menus

A friend of mine tells a story that happened to him a few years ago when he stopped at a diner in small-town Ontario and was shocked to find a veggie burger listed on the menu. He’s a vegan so naturally, he ordered it.  When the burger came to the table, it was clearly not a veggie burger but a ground meat patty with lettuce and tomato.  When he told the waitress this was a mistake, she informed him there was no mistake – that was what he’d ordered.  Questioning her further, she said:

“That’s the veggie burger – it’s our regular burger that comes with lettuce and tomato.”

Alrighty then.

Last fall, Julian, my mom and I went for breakfast at a restaurant in a city just outside Toronto. Like most restaurants today, the menu centered around meat and the vegetarian menu options were limited to waffles, pancakes and cheese omelettes and the vegan options were home fries, toast or a fruit bowl. Julian ordered the waffles with strawberries and a bowl of fruit.  He politely declined the choice of sausage, ham or bacon that came with the waffles.

When he’d placed his order, the server said to him:

“The waffles come with fruit,” referring to the strawberries. “Are you sure you want the fruit bowl ’cause that’s a lot of fruit.”

I nearly spewed my coffee and instinctively rolled my eyes (these impulses are built-in to my DNA as an asshole and cannot be stopped).  This is the world we’re living in, where we’re concerned about someone ordering too much FRUIT.  Had Julian accepted the sausages that came with the waffles and also ordered a side of ham, I doubt the server would have batted an eye.  ‘Cause you can’t possibly have too much meat, right?  I mean, just look around the restaurant and count the number of asses spilling out over the chairs – clearly this is an excellent and healthy choice that is not shortening our collective life spans in the least.

I’m surprised how many restaurants still have so few vegetarian options, forget vegan. Especially in big cities like Toronto.  Julian and I stopped at a Kelsey’s in Toronto recently after a long road trip. We figured they’d at least have a veggie burger we could scarf down.  They did but you had to ask for it specially – it wasn’t a stand-alone menu item which is ridiculous for a huge franchise like Kelsey’s. Their salads were the biggest surprise though – every single one of their entrée salads came with meat and cheese.  Every single one.  Thanks, Kelsey’s!  Now go fuck yourself.

The assumption that everyone eats meat is still very prevalent and sometimes I think I’m trapped in a time zone that keeps moving backwards. Veganism is just in the beginning stages of entering public awareness but vegetarianism has been in the public consciousness for decades and there’s no excuse for sit-down restaurants not having more options.  Are the menu options better than they were 30 years ago?  Sure.  But good grief, could we please come up with something other than the veggie burger and salads that are slathered in greasy meat and cheese?


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