I walked out of a foodie gathering last evening with laughter ringing in my ears. Oh, I’m sure it was intended to be friendly laughter, but all the same, they were mocking me.
Vegetarians are not taken seriously in the food community. We are odd, delusional folks who fail to appreciate that meat is the centre of any classy meal. Well, I beg to disagree. Good vegetarian food is creative, flavourful and forward-thinking.
I was a terrible cook until I became a vegetarian. The traditional “meat and two vegetables” led to boring meals with no flavour. As a vegetarian, that standard scenario was turned on its head. Every meal was different – would it be a soup or a stew, savoury pancakes or spring rolls? Meal planning was suddenly way more fun.
Trips to the farmers’ market became an adventure. What could I make with fennel? Why not try arugula on my pizza?
Cookbooks were culinary travel adventures and my spice rack expanded to include flavours from around the world. There was Brazilian Black Bean Soup, Spicy Szechwan Vegetables and Tofu, Samosas, Mushroom Moussaka, Turkish-Style Stuffed Zucchini, and so much more!
There was nothing boring about my diet.
Good vegetarian food is flavourful and adventurous. Unfortunately, most vegetarian meals in restaurants are dull and uninspired. Restaurants have one vegetarian option that they serve year in and year out. It’s pasta or gnocchi or eggplant. It’s often bland. You can tell that the chefs aren’t interested.
The excuse they’ll offer – and yes, a top chef offered me this excuse just last night – is that folks in Saskatchewan like their meat and potatoes so that is the focus of restaurant menus.
Well, if that’s the case, why are there so many ethnic restaurants in every city across Saskatchewan and Canada? Locals love going out for Thai, Chinese, Mexican or Indian food. And all those cultures offer great, flavourful vegetarian options.
If chefs can’t make their vegetarian options just as exciting as their meat options, then they’re failing at their job. They’re using meat as a crutch rather than focusing on creating flavourful, inventive dishes of all shapes and sizes.
Times are changing, and people’s attitudes are changing. We’re travelling more and we want to try new dishes and unusual flavours. We’re more health conscious. Sure, we enjoy rich food, but we’re also looking to our chefs to give us tasty food that is also healthy. And many people care deeply about the health of our planet. Raising animals is resource-intensive, depleting and polluting our land and water.
It’s time for chefs to get on board with food that is creative, flavourful, forward-thinking – and possibly vegetarian. Don’t get stuck in a carnivorous rut – explore your options.