Q: When is a burger not a burger? A: When it’s a mushroom. Any veggie will know I’m referring to that classic, and all too ubiquitous, example of a poor veggie restaurant offering. So why can’t our options be better?
Yes, calling a portobello mushroom head in a bun a ‘burger’ and charging the same for it as an iron-rich, protein-packed beef burger is something I’ve come across a lot as a vegetarian.
Today is World Vegetarian Day and October is World Vegetarian Month. There are over three million veggies in the UK alone and, especially in these health and budget-conscious times, many non-veggies want to up their weekly number of meat-free meals. So why are vegetarian options still so poor in many eateries and supermarkets?
Shoddy supermarket options
It’s really easy to make tasty, super-nutritious, cheap veggie meals when cooking at home -so there’s no excuse for public places not to offer better choices. But it’s not just shoddy restaurant options that are a problem – supermarket veggie ready meals too often fall into two dismal camps:
1. Side dishes. For example, recently I’ve seen ‘potato wedges with mushrooms’ and ‘mash on veg’ marketed as ‘meals for vegetarians’ – yet they’re nowhere near nutritionally complete meals.
Imagine if all your meals consisted of just vegetables and carbs. Occasionally it’s ok but you’d look at your plate and feel something was missing. It’s no different for vegetarians.
2. Refined carb and saturated fat-fests. If you do find a meal with protein to keep you going, you’re likely to have to throw the recommended daily allowance of fat out of the window. Typical offerings include: macaroni and cheese, four cheese ravioli, or quattro formaggi pizza.
Even pre-packed veggie sushi usually forgets the obvious Japanese-inspired options of tofu, natto (fermented soy bean) and tamago-yaki (a type of omelette). Instead it resorts to – you guessed it – cream cheese. Why?
Chefs and shops should be inspiring us
It’s true; vegetarian food does take a bit of imagination and a touch of nutritional know-how. You can’t base it on a hunk of animal and build a meal up around that. So I appreciate that it’s hard for non-veggie people to cater for the vegetarians in their lives.
My friends tell me they draw a blank when trying to think of meals without meat. This is hardly their fault when the professionals aren’t even up to the job… there’s little out there to inspire and educate.
Come on professional chefs of the land: rise to the challenge. Put your skills to a true test and create nutritionally-complete, satisfying veggie meals of note. If you’re stuck, may I suggest looking to the cuisine of most Asian countries as your food muse?
Over on our review site, Which? Local, the highest praise you could give a veggie restaurant goes something like this: ‘Even meat-eaters don’t miss meat in the meals at this place’. It’s true: there’s a world of veggie delight out there to discover that would satisfy most people.
I’m by no means on a crusade to turn everyone veggie. I respect others’ choices to eat meat as I’d hope they respect mine not to. But in these tight-budget times, even non-veggies might be tempted to save some cash by upping their weekly number of meat-free meals. So a greater awareness of decent veggie meal ideas would be health, and wallet, friendly for us all.