The Dude and Severus Snape

When it comes to food that other people serve me, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I am as laid back as The Dude. On the other hand, when I get served food by professionals, I turn into Severus Snape. I’ve wondered why I react that way for awhile and here’s what I’ve pinpointed.

If someone invites me over to their home (or comes over to mine) and goes out of their way to make me a vegan meal, my appreciation for that trumps the quality or lack of quality of the food. The fact that someone cared enough to do that is enough for me. You could serve me a pot of badly spiced and oversalted beans, and I would still smile and say “thank you,” and mean it. That’s different if my vegan meal was just an afterthought and poorly considered if everyone else is getting a well-prepared non-vegan meal because that shows a bit of annoyance with me on the cook’s part, but as long as the meal is well-intentioned, I will always be profoundly thankful. Even in the face of bad, but well-intentioned food, The Dude abides. (and don’t get me wrong; if you serve me a great meal, I’ll appreciate it even more!)

As soon as someone offers their food in a business format, my attitude changes. In part, that’s because I expect good-quality food if I am paying someone to make it. I don’t expect the world, but I expect it to be a solid meal. Of course, if I’m paying $30 or even more for a plate, it better be phenomenal.

A huge part of it is professional pride. I take a large amount of pride in my work and too often, I see people coasting by on the fact that they are selling vegan food, writing vegan books, etc. I find it a particular problem when some of the celebrated vegan authors and chefs in our community do that, and there are too many of them that do (and thankfully quite a few that don’t!). Slapping the word vegan in front of what one does should never give anyone a free pass for serving substandard fare. Rather, it’s quite the opposite. When you serve vegan food or publish vegan food related work, you are representing to the world what it means to be vegan. There’s more at stake in using the V word than just the vendor’s pocketbook.

Take the time to make your food exceptional. Get away from using an outdated style of vegan cooking that was seen during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Don’t fake it. Don’t just throw “vegan” in front of a style of food like Mexican or Italian or Thai and then skate by on the goodwill of unsuspecting customers. Learn what those cuisines are really about. Don’t call a cheese a cheese if it’s nothing like it. Be awesome. Think like an award-winning chef, not a “well let’s just do something vegan and people will buy it” chef. We, as your fellow vegans, deserve more than that. The non-vegans who come to your establishments and read your books need more than that. The animals they save and people they will help by speaking well of vegan cuisine will appreciate it.

Fortunately, there is a group of us out there unwilling to compromise on the quality of our food simply because it’s vegan. There are chefs winning awards, pushing what can be done with food, authors like me doing research on true authentic cuisine and making it vegan, and presenting food in a way that stands up (and often exceeds) to what is being done by traditional (read: not vegan) award-winning chefs. As compassionate consumers, you deserve that level of food. When you demand it, you help improve the quality of vegan fare, and that can only have an even greater positive impact in the world.

And always remember, I’ll appreciate that pot of beans. The Chef abides.


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