honest eaters
March 16, 2007 10:13 PM   Subscribe

Is there a polite way of telling people who only eat chicken and fish that they are not vegetarians? I'm at my wits end with this.

I help run a little italian restaurant. So, we put pork in everything. Facts are facts.

Of course i smile at people who say, "I don't eat meat. I'll have the chicken." Or far worse, "You must remove the heads from these shrimp. I am an animal rights activist and I cannot look at their eyes while I'm eating."

I kid you not. A direct quote. Erfh.

So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too.

I really do try not to judge, but I'd really like something like an elixir for my brain so I can be more understanding. And calm. Or some way to politely suggest that salmon is not a vegetable?

For the record, I am completely at ease with actual vegetarians. Just walk the walk. I'm fine with kosher. Do what you do, eh? We don't actually let vegans into our restaurant, so no worries there. They can live how they like. It makes no difference to me.

Any suggestions?

And, yes, I am surely stirring the pot. But some friends of mine and I have been discussing this often of late, and yer all so darn smarty...so let loose the dragon.
posted by metasav to Food & Drink (105 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
As a only-chicken-and-fish person, I find that saying "I'm vegetarian" makes a lot more sense and is a lot simpler than explaining that I don't eat red meat.
posted by k8t at 10:20 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I understand your frustration, but in the end it is something you have to deal with, especially if you are running a service industry. In the long run it doesn't matter much, you just mentally chalk them up as woolly thinkers, smile and get them what they need. So if they say I'm a vegetarian just ask for clarification, doesn't take long and is easier than running afoul of assumptions, it is one of those words that means different things to different people.
I too don't eat red meat, (for multiple overlapping reasons), and that is what I say if I need to say anything.
posted by edgeways at 10:28 PM on March 16, 2007

Customers who tell me that my place of work is 50 miles from the area of the city in which I live irk me (it's 10 miles. "I have to drive sooooo far!! etc."), but I don't say anything to them. I just roll my eyes behind their backs, and forget about it. Maybe share the story with my co-workers for a laugh. That's all you can really do. Telling them they're Not Real Vegetarians™ is just going to make them think "wow, this person is kind of a jerk," not "WOW, I'm educated now that this complete stranger has told me I'm not a REAL vegetarian!"

It's the same silliness when people argue that Person A is not a Real Fan™ of [insert fandom here] for some silly reason. What do you care what people say? And who is anyone to "police" the definition of what a "true" member of a group is? The real members of whatever sect a person claims to be a part of will know they're just posers, and as long as the real "followers" know it, there's no real necessity to point it out to the poser.

If it really bothers you that much, maybe you need to re-evaluate why.
posted by Verdandi at 10:30 PM on March 16, 2007

Invoke the Bill Farthinham Gin and Tonic rule.

Bill Farthinham was my first boss when I bartended. He taught me that whenever you have a customer that exhibits any kind of behavior that drives you nuts, just treat them with kindness and give them good service and think to yourself "For the rest of my life, everytime I'm out drinking gin and tonics with other service industry people, I will tell the story of what a douchebag you are". It's remarkably effective.
posted by vito90 at 10:37 PM on March 16, 2007 [19 favorites]

"So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too."

Another quick point - lots of people are vegetarians but aren't not eating meat for ethical reasons.

One big example would be people that don't eat pork for religious reasons. Another would be for health reasons.

Therefore, judging people for wearing leather shoes but not eating meat isn't exactly fair.
posted by k8t at 10:38 PM on March 16, 2007

"Meat," in many cultures and languages has the implication of being the flesh from animals which walk on four-legs, and guess what? Fish and birds do not walk on four legs.

To take it to a simpler beginning, here is the definition of "vegetarian" from dictionary.com:

"a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, fowl, or, in some cases, any food derived from animals, as eggs or cheese, but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc."

Notice how they differentiate meat from fish and fowl? This is because to many people (even in America) there *is* a difference between the flesh from (say) cows / pigs / goats and from fish and fowl.

It may not be strictly logical to call oneself a "vegetarian" if one eats fish and fowl, but - contrary to what it appears you would like to believe - there is a range of definitions of what it is to be a vegetarian. We do not have a really great word which makes this point more explicit - and language isn't strictly logical anyhow. In much of Europe, for instance, for a vegetarian to say "I do not eat meat at all" will often STILL see the vegetarian receiving a chicken or fish dish in place of the pork or beef one others receive. This is true in many places, even here. And in some languages, the word translated into English as "meat" would generally exclude (generally speaking) fish or poultry.

Interestingly, you take offense at "vegetarians who eat cheese" while you yourself uses the word "vegan." Do you not understand the distinction?

Idiot "animal rights activists" whose beliefs only extend as far as what their eyes behold aside, you're being very picky. A most common complaint against vegetarians is that they are so strict and unflexible about their beliefs. You give lie to this both in your providing evidence for a panoply of "vegetarian" beliefs and your own dogmatic assertions about proper language usage.

You're in a service business. Idiots abound. Just be happy some are willing to frequent your restaurant.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:41 PM on March 16, 2007 [7 favorites]

Since I can only assume that you are not a vegetarian, I can't help but to wonder what bugs you so much about these people. Is it that they're laying claim to a moral high ground that, in truth, they have no more right to claim than you?

If so, then maybe you're asking for permission to reconsider your own dietary choices despite your profession. In which case, by all means please do so.

What we eat, and what industries we support with our money, is a moral decision. So we give and take. One person makes up for having a car by being a vegan. Another person picks up KFC on the way to volunteering at a homeless shelter. It's complicated.

As for me, I'm enjoying some Carl's Jr. right now. But I also know that corporate ranching is a strain on the environment and, ultimately, on people. So I try to avoid meat most days. I do my best.

What I'm saying is this: maybe instead of thinking of them as hypocrites, you can think of them as people who are trying to do their best, giving a little here and taking there. It's not perfect, no, but they're trying. Maybe caring about the environment isn't an on-off switch, but more of a dimmer.

Now, as for the I am an animal rights activist and I cannot look at their eyes while I'm eating people, screw them. Say, as politely and straight-faced as you can. "I apologize for our menu. I'm sure you'll be more comfortable at another restaurant." Take their food back to the kitchen, along with their dates' food. Do not return to their table, until they leave. They won't complain to their friends about the restaurant, forcing themselves to explain their stupidity.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:42 PM on March 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

OC, you are my kind of sick bastard.

On topic, my wife has been a vegetarian for the better part of two decades, however she loves her cheese, milk and eggs. She is an ethical vegetarian (I think that's the correct term, she doesn't eat food that requires an animal to be killed).

But since a well treated cow and group of chickens will provide dairy and eggs, she is ok with eating them. (She was raised on a dairy farm, so her opinion my be unique-ish in this respect).

On hearing of my co-worker who was a PETA supporting 'vegetarian' who liked her chicken dinners, her exact words were "Well next time she gets on her high horse, just tell her that she isn't a fucking vegetarian. Birds are animals too."

But then, since you are in a service industry, specifically one that might cause you to lose business by being that brusque, it might be more political to just not say anything.

Or if it's killing you, try something like this:

them: what vegetarian options can I order from?
you: [describe salad]
them: No, I think I'll have the chicken.
you: I'm sorry, I thought you wanted something vegetarian. did I misunderstand your needs?

It's not much, but it might get them to think about what they just asked for.
posted by quin at 10:43 PM on March 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'll just echo the others that if you're on the service end of a restaurant, the best option would be to be pleasant. The service industry is supposed to be cheerful and pleasant, even when customers are being silly.

And speaking from my experience - yes, customers can be fantastically silly! But just grin and bear it, or keep a journal of these annoying experiences. These anecdotes of annoying customers later become hilarious ones.

At most, just stay within the boundaries of, "Ah - are you pesco/pollo vegetarians? How cute!" and then proceed to cater to this "vegetarianism" of theirs.
posted by Xere at 10:44 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

You could tell them that the vegetarian chicken and fish cost double the nonvegetarian fish and chicken. Bad idea, though. You could say, "Ah, you don't eat red meat. Got it." The important thing is they pay, right?
posted by Listener at 10:52 PM on March 16, 2007

This is a pet peeve of mine, and sometimes I'll be slightly snarky and say something along the lines of "Well, I haven't heard of the chicken tree before. Is that a recent discovery?"

Keep it light, but make them think. Ultimately, it's their choice how they eat, but the reason I have a problem with them co-opting the term vegetarian is it makes us things difficult for us real vegetarians. People often offer us fish and chicken and make us look difficult when we mention we don't eat them.

I have almost never been introduced as a vegetarian to another person and not been asked if I eat fish.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:13 PM on March 16, 2007

Christ! Haven't any of you ever worked in a restaurant? What should she do? What do you as waitstaff always do when any restaurant patron annoys you for any reason? You mess with their food. Spit in it, put dirt, a booger or a ground-up bug in it, put it on the nasty kitchen floor and then back on the plate, etc. Duh.

Then smile, smile, smile. Genuinely.

Now that we've cleared that up, FWIW I'm with you. One thing all vegetarians know is that as soon as someone finds out you're a vegetarian, they start telling you what they eat, and why. I don't care what they eat but they still tell me, as if my eating choices were a judgement on theirs. Somehow there is a moral superiority associated with vegetarianism that everybody wants a piece of. (Not that there aren't some vegetarians actively working this.) I think that's what it has to be.

Because really:
"I'm a vegetarian." (three words, seven syllables)
"I don't eat red meat." (five words, five syllables)
How hard is that? It's got to be the glory.
posted by Methylviolet at 11:15 PM on March 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Is there a polite way of telling people who only eat chicken and fish that they are not vegetarians?
Not if you wish to keep them as customers. People who don't eat red meat (or don't eat any meat) do so for a variety of reasons. There is a very, very wide spectrum non-meat eating folks. Unless you interested in learning and having a conversation with each customer that makes such a request - and boy can take alot of time to figure out different food motivations - I would just forget about it and move on. Good luck.
posted by bigmusic at 11:15 PM on March 16, 2007

It may be your business what they eat, but their reasons are their own, and you'd be better off to let them explain them however they wish.

Maybe they don't even think of themselves as vegetarians but that's an easier way to make wait staff give them what they want than to explain their byzantine dietary restrictions (I don't eat x except y unless it's z).

Your job, when dealing with customers, is to suck it up and pretend like you want them to come back to your restaurant.
posted by aubilenon at 11:37 PM on March 16, 2007

I call myself a vegetarian. However, I'm a vegetarian because I don't like beef, pork, or chicken, nor will I eat much of anything that's fried (which means that fried seafood is out, which rules out almost anything available at any fast food joint). It has nothing to do with any ethical concerns; nonetheless, it's one word and it generally ends the discussion. If I see fish on the menu and it looks good, I'll order it. I have a set of food preferences that jibes largely with what vegetarians eat. Would you rather I explained myself? Bet not.

I don't see why this would bother you. There are zillions of possibilities other than people trying to get on a high horse. I mean, if patrons are asking for your vegetarian options, maybe it's because they've been to places that had yummy veg things not listed on the menu, and they want to make sure they're not missing out. I've been to restaurants like that. Maybe they've had to make these dietary changes for medical reasons and it really sucks for them, and they've figured out that at least it makes them feel a little better when they say they're doing it for animal rights. Or maybe they've noticed that this makes you nonverbally twitchy, and they're trying to get your goat. I sure would.

There are pretty much infinite permutations of what people will eat. I mean, I was brought up in a house with a dad who said he was a vegetarian but will eat both fish and sausage. He likes cured meats. He doesn't make a fuss (I've been with him at functions with only beef or chicken options; he eats the salad and rice and just says he's not hungry), but finds that when questioned, "vegetarian" is a label people understand. For some reason there is some kind of mental block where people can't deal with the idea that someone could just dislike beef. It has to be some kind of freaking religious thing, or it's just insane.

I've gotten this too...I mention not eating meat and people quickly jump to "Oh, ideals, great"...and then I tell them, no, chicken just grosses me out and their heads just explode with the dissonance of it all.

Also, finally, I have definitely been served chicken after asking for the non-meat option. This definition confusion happens on both sides of the food service relationship, bud, and I promise it sucks at least as much on my end.
posted by crinklebat at 11:46 PM on March 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

"aha! a two-leg-limit vegetarian!"
posted by polyglot at 11:48 PM on March 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I just realized I came off as somewhat more combative than intended. I guess it just annoys me that you think these people really aren't aware that some vegetarians also avoid chicken. They probably have been told that chickens do not, in fact, grow on trees. Nonetheless, they eat them, and they still manage to sleep at night calling themselves vegetarian. Live and let live.
posted by crinklebat at 11:52 PM on March 16, 2007

I am a bipedaterian.

I will eat boneless, skinless white meat chicken or turkey.

However, there is a difference between not eating red meat and the way I eat. If I left out the big obvious piece of chicken breast, my diet (when I'm not in a small Italian restaurant, apparently...) is completely vegetarian. That means no chicken by-products or broth or bouillon cubes or "natural flavouring" or lard or tallow, or gelatin, or rennet cheese, etcetera. I can cook food and feed it to hardcore vegetarians. My menus don't depend on animal protein to offer full nutrition. If I add chicken, it's a bonus item, not an entree.

I don't like the way animals are processed from farm to plate, and I don't like knowing that the innocuous can of chicken broth wasn't made by boiling a wholesome family leftover -- it's all the stuff too hard and pointy to fall through the mechanical meat separation screens. Yes, I know chickens and turkeys have a terrible time in the meat processing industry, so I try to purchase mine from free-range local producers when possible.

I'm not primarily vegetarian because I think piglets are cute, or because I have some moral imperative. The reason I don't eat pork is because multiparous animals have some revolting fleshly complications on occasion. I don't eat beef because I couldn't kill a cow, and it's got 200 pounds of guts in it if I did. I don't eat fish because I just plain hate it. Why don't I eat goat? Search the term "beard" on this page! Essentially, to me, animals are too gross to eat. However, a turkey is less gross than a Tofurky, which was like vegetarian haggis, if you ask me.

I'm not likely to sit down and say "I'm a vegetarian!" I'm also not going to get into my reasons at the dinner table. I'll just ask what's vegetarian on the menu. As bigmusic and aubilenon said, it's simply a lot easier.

As for the shrimp head customer, I'd have said, "Oh, madam, those aren't eyes. Although they demonstrate reflective superposition optics, really they're just a primitive compound photosensitive organ on a stalk. Enjoy your bottom-feeding sea bugs!"
posted by Sallyfur at 11:55 PM on March 16, 2007 [7 favorites]

I agree- It is not your job to call them on their bullshit.

Makes remember fondly a girlfriend I had who would only say "I don't eat meat." or "I don't eat chicken." or "I don't eat fish."I loved that.
posted by pointilist at 11:57 PM on March 16, 2007

People do all kinds of annoying crap.

Like this guy at my work - he puts a nervous little laugh at the end of every sentence. Seriously - one day, I kept track, and I think he only said, like, 5 sentences which didn't end in a little nervous laugh.

But you know what?

Fuck it. Life is too short. If someone's not doing something that hurts you directly, why do you care?
posted by Afroblanco at 12:00 AM on March 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

I think it's a pretty common thing not to eat red meat but maybe sometimes chicken or fish. The thing is there is just no special name for it. Also often when you say "I don't eat red meat" you get a slew of follow up questions.

Is it clear on your menu that there is pork in everything? Perhaps you should look at reviewing how much information your menu has so customers don't have to ask so many questions. I cook a lot of Italian food - and I don't add pork into anything - it wouldn't seem obvious to me that an Italian restaurant would.
posted by gomichild at 12:15 AM on March 17, 2007

Maybe you can get together with the restaurateurs who insist on serving my vegeterian fiancee "vegetarian" dishes with ham and bacon pieces in and sort something out.

Returning to your question, "is there a polite way?"

No. Directly contradicting people, as a general rule, is rude. And the politely oblique suggestions above are confusing enough they will either go "whoosh" over your patrons' heads, or lead to an unpleasant conversation.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:37 AM on March 17, 2007

So they're not vegetarians --- they're just picky eaters. But they call themselves vegetarians, is that it?

Maybe (to reiterate what everyone's been saying) they aren't trying to claim a moral high ground. Maybe they feel like labeling themselves as vegetarians is more likely to get them food that they will find tasty. Maybe they could tell you the list of things they do and don't eat, and a nice long story about why, but all they really want is some chicken.

I don't like most meat products, but I'm not a vegetarian. I wear leather; I eat chicken; I eat gelatin. But when I go into a restaurant or explain my eating habits to people I don't know very well, guess what I tell them? I'm not trying to claim the moral high ground; in fact, if any sort of ethical conversation comes up, I'll explain straightaway that I'm really just a picky eater. But when the subject comes up, my goal is generally not justifying myself: it's finding food. And if I tell people I'm a vegetarian, odds are much better I'll end up with a dish that is, to me, palatable.

So, your patrons? They aren't stupid, necessarily (on the shrimp lady I reserve judgment.) They aren't dishonest. They just want something to eat.
posted by goingonit at 12:42 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too.

For the record, I am completely at ease with actual vegetarians. Just walk the walk. I'm fine with kosher.

Um, I don't eat red meat because I don't like it. It doesn't agree with me. I seem to have trouble digesting it. I'm sorry that that apparently offends you.

Seriously, there's nothing that you can say to people. You know the saying, "The customer is always right"? This is what it's referring to.

You need to keep in mind (and I'm trying to be helpful here, not patronising) why you're actually doing what you're doing. Are you trying to run a business where you have satisfied customers who will hopefully come back? Or do you just want to be right? Because you can't have both.

When I worked in hospitality, I used to let off a lot of steam after a shift by bitching about difficult customers to my co-workers. We all did it. I suggest you do the same - and make sure that the 'front of house' stuff is all about the customer. Never let them even guess that you have a personal opinion about their food choices or their ways of describing them.
posted by different at 12:49 AM on March 17, 2007

to metasav - i pretty much agree with you. people who call themselves "vegetarians" while eating chicken and fish are hypocrites.

as is apparent in this discussion, there is not a universal defintion of the word "vegetarian," unfortunately. but my common sense tells me that the word means "i do not eat any animals," hence the word VEGEtarian. when did chicken and fish become a vegetable? instead of calling themselves "vegetarians," why can't they just say, "i don't eat red meat"?

my understanding of vegans is that they do not use any animal-related products in their daily life. so, no cheese or anything dairy. your complaint of vegetarians eating cheese needs a bit of qualification... a vegetarian eating dairy products doesn't bother me.

now as for the big picture, letting these so-called vegetarians bother you... yeah, don't lose any sleep over it. :) there are a lot of ignorant, hypocritical people out there who are just trying to sound trendy. they're annoying but what can we do...
posted by fac21 at 2:39 AM on March 17, 2007

So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too.

This contravenes the Vegetarian Rules? Well, shit. I always thought that kind of thing was filed under vegan.

Here's your brain elixir. You are not the food police. It is not your job to uphold the One True Vegetarian Way. Deal with it. Personally I have no idea why people feel the need to discuss their dietary choices with you instead of, I don't know, looking at the fucking menu (perhaps you are not clear enough in specifying whether choices are vegetarian or not?) but hey, people are strange.

So I suggest:
a) mark your vegetarian options clearly, or state clearly that nothing is vegetarian
b) say nothing and smile at the people you consider idiots and be secure in your cosy feeling that you're better than they are
c) don't let the vegetarians in either.

I really do try not to judge

posted by corvine at 2:47 AM on March 17, 2007

now as for the big picture, letting these so-called vegetarians bother you... yeah, don't lose any sleep over it. :) there are a lot of ignorant, hypocritical people out there who are just trying to sound trendy. they're annoying but what can we do...

I'm definitely not a vegetarian, but for some reason, this statement has me frantically looking around for a "Digg comment down" icon to click on.
posted by melorama at 2:50 AM on March 17, 2007

to follow up on dee extrovert's post on the dictionary definition of a vegetarian -- this busts the so-called vegetarians who eat white meat right there.

if the dictionary defines a vegetarian as someone who does NOT eat chicken or fish, then these "vegetarians" are using the term incorrectly. i don't think we should just shrug it off and say "people have different definitons" of the term... if you eat chicken or fish, you cannot call yourself a vegetarian. you are not a vegetarian. you are someone who chooses to eat white meat, but not red meat. let's acknowledge and respect the difference.

i've heard a few people use the clever term "vegaquarian" in the past. it may not be perfect, but at least they're acknowledging the fact that they are not *true* vegetarians.
posted by fac21 at 2:53 AM on March 17, 2007

Coming from a long standing vegan, that worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years and also have a very small if non existent patience for comments like this...

You need to decide what is most important to you. If it is important that you clear up the misconceptions in someones vocabulary, most likely just landing you in a very combative argument with only more ignorance in the end, then by all means, it is your life and your consequences to live by.

But if you work in the industry because you are actually trying to make money and pay your bills you should just bite your tongue. I'm sure that you let TONS of annoying comments slide by you as it is, that have nothing to do with vegetarianism.
posted by trishthedish at 3:07 AM on March 17, 2007

Here in India, you aren't one of the few hundred million vegetarians, if you eat chicken. And I'm pretty sure fishes are verboten as well.
posted by Gyan at 3:07 AM on March 17, 2007

After 15 years as a vegetarian, I began eating fish roughly five years ago. I do not eat turkey or chicken. Once every 1-2 years I succumb to a bizarre craving for beef jerky. So am I now a one-time vegetarian who currently eats fish but will eat beef jerky on occasion? Do I really need to explain that? Would my server even care? I prefer restaurants that add a little vegetarian symbol next to all the vegetarian dishes on the menu. Then I can choose one of those dishes or a fish entree. No questions need to be asked. The server avoids being irked. A nice dinner is had by all. And I can remain a closet beef jerky eater.
posted by snez at 3:09 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

fac21, I have no idea what a vegaquarian diet would entail. Is it someone who eats fish? Isn't that a pescetarian?

I don't know how introducing this term could possibly do anything but muddle the situation. And in any case I still fail to see who it hurts when someone who prefers not to eat certain kinds of meat under certain circumstances claims vegetarianism. Is the idea that it "dilutes the definition" or something like that? I just don't understand why this is at all offensive.
posted by crinklebat at 3:11 AM on March 17, 2007

As someone who would prefer to eat vegetarian, I have to blame most restaurants for a lack of any of options even remotely approaching vegetarian. You provide something I'd prefer to eat and I'll not piss you off by saying I'm a vegetarian. Deal?
posted by Xurando at 3:20 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

That's the thing. I know people who don't eat beef because they see it as a commodity which comes from amazing wastefulness (in terms of water, land use, the amount of grain it takes to make a pound of beef, etc) in a way that a chicken or fish do not. So vegetarianism is simply the act of eating only food whose "harvest" creates less than a certain amount of damage to the planet. In their perception, at least.

People who connect "vegetarian" with eating vegetables, as some here have done, are drawing a too-strict connection with the shared root the two words share. Most of us eat lots of other things - minerals like salt, insect waste like honey, dairy products such as milk, cream, butter and cheese, fungus, food and drink derived from the interaction of bacteria, yeasts and molds and other materials, unfertilzed embryos and so on. People around the world eat insects, grubs, nests made from the spit of birds, lichen and even dirt. Thus claiming a vegetarian stature and still eating salmon does not imply (by farce or not) the belief that salmon is a "vegetable" any more than an egg or milk or honey or sea salt or wine is a "vegetable." I mean, seriously.

It seems as if the same people who have a problem with the varied diets of others are the ones who most become upset at their own inability to pin down some "exact" dictionary-type definition of terms like 'vegetarian.' I'd suggest this has as much to do with small-mindedness and a lack of imagination as much as anything. A better definition of for vegetarian might be "someone who avoids some or all common animal-derived foodstuffs, depending on personal preference, belief or upbringing." That's basically how people use it anyway.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:52 AM on March 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

Some people call "fake vegetarians" flexitarians, pesce/pollo vegetarians, semi-vegetarians , demi-vegitarians , faketerians etc.
posted by iviken at 4:00 AM on March 17, 2007

You're not a vegetarian, you're just fussy about what you eat. KThxBye
posted by handee at 4:07 AM on March 17, 2007

I was married for a while to a very picky eater, and I noticed that I consistently got worse food and worse service when we went to dinner together, than when I visited the same restaurants with others. Ordering at a new restaurant with her was always an ordeal, as she never was content with a menu choice, and could take 8 or 10 minutes of a server's time to discuss how food was sourced and stored, how she'd like it prepared, and give all kinds of special instructions, that wouldn't be observed, or would be done incorrectly. When we were first going together, she didn't do this much, but looking back on it later, she rarely ate much of what she was served either. The whole schtick really came to the fore some months after we were married, and continued thereafter steadily for years. By the time we were divorced, I don't think we'd been out together for a restaurant meal in a couple of years.

I relate this simply to say that in my experience, the OP's irritation is pretty common and widespread in the food service industry, and too often gets taken out on those of us who order off the menu 2 minutes after we're seated, and limit our kitchen instructions to "rare" or "medium rare," but happen to be in the company of those who for whatever reasons, don't. Please, for the sake of those of us accompanying such people, don't take the irritation they create out on us.
posted by paulsc at 5:19 AM on March 17, 2007

I help run a little italian restaurant. So, we put pork in everything.

Like gomichild, I wondered about that. Is this part of being "fine with kosher"? I see where "We don't actually let vegans into our restaurant, so no worries there." Do you let Jews in, or Muslims?

Or are those remarks intended as jokes?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:21 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too.

This contravenes the Vegetarian Rules? Well, shit. I always thought that kind of thing was filed under vegan.

A lot of non-vegan vegetarians are still careful about cheese as some kinds are still made with genuine rennet. And I've known vegetarians who care about leather but aren't full on vegans (they'll eat honey, drink milk, wear silk, etc). I think the key point is that in both cases slaughter is required to obtain the end product.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:47 AM on March 17, 2007

On the flip side...
I, myself don't eat red meat (I do not consider myself vegetarian in any way) I often get a pretty hostile reaction from others when they discover my preference.
It goes something like this...

Acquaintance invites me over for a cookout.
Person: "I'll throw some big t-bones on the grill...unless you're one of those only-eats-chicken people."
Me: Well, yes. I don't eat red meat. Chicken will be fine, thank you.
Friend: Okay. But I'm going to have a big thick steak, YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT, BUDDY!?

I think they expect me to show up with protest signs or something. I just don't like beef. Makes me ill. Ditch the attitude.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:52 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Get some leaflets on vegetarianism/veganism. Keep them under the counter until you have to serve a chicken-lovin' vegetarian. Then put them on the counter, casually, when they come to pay. If they are a concerned individual, they'll pick up a leaflet to read. Then they can learn about the horrors of factory farming, which affects poultry particularly badly.
posted by humblepigeon at 6:05 AM on March 17, 2007

why can't they just say, "i don't eat red meat"?

Because they don't know whether you consider pork to be red meat, and, as you said, lots of what you serve has bits of pork in it.

I think they are trying to save you time by saying "I'm a vegetarian" instead of "I eat chicken and other poultry, and also fish, but not pork or beef or lamb, oh, and also not veal because I'm not sure that when I said "beef" you understood that veal was implicitly included, too, and should I mention goat?"

If you truly find it hard to remain calm when a self-identified vegetarian orders fish, I recommend meditation.
posted by escabeche at 6:06 AM on March 17, 2007

As a vegetarian who eats no meat (read: beef, chicken, pork or fish) - you know, an actual vegetarian - I'd personally love it if you call them on it. I'm sick of being looked at like an idiot when I tell someone that something with meat in it (that they in many cases cooked especially for vegetarians) but no beef isn't vegetarian. "But....but..." they'll stammer, "I made it special, with no beef and only 2 chickens, farm raised tuna and salmon, and some lamb. No red meat has ever been within less than like 3 inches of this."

Here's a bit of a different take. Because of the dilution of the word, restaurants and, I'm sure, food producers will be allowed to put all sorts of meat and by-products in our food eventually. Like "organic," the end result of all this will be that a few years from now, someone will lobby congress to have a "vegetarian" label which only requires that the product contain no beef or beef by-products, and all of us who have spent years and years studiously avoiding all these products will have to work even harder. Alarmist? Perhaps. But I used to know when I bought "organic" food that it was raised by actual people on a farm somewhere in the vicinity with an eye towards improving the Earth and maybe making some people a little bit healthier. Now? Who knows? Big food lobbied so hard to have the definition include all sorts of caveats that we/they are forced to redefine a movement. Which benefits.....mostly corporate food producers.

Now, I'm not saying that it's necessarily bad, because there's less crap being dumped on food, all in all. But the net effect is that something with real meaning has been co-opted by financial interests. But the end result of this current "un-defining" of the word will be that people will eat MORE meat, but in "vegetarian" food.

I'm not a whiny or preachy vegetarian, I promise. This just pisses me off.
posted by nevercalm at 6:17 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, for chrissakes...

I help run a little italian restaurant. So, we put pork in everything.

Problem might be that the average vegetarian hears "Italian restaurant," and thinks "place at which I can eat." A weird Italian restaurant with "pork in everything" is just going to attract the weirdos, not the vegetarians.

I've never eaten meat -- or seafood, or poultry -- in my life, and would be politely out the door of your restaurant shortly after looking at the menu. Easy fix: offer a good vegetarian entrée -- yes, with cheese; vegetarian, not vegan -- and clearly mark it as such. Then you'll get to deal with the mainstream vegetarians who wouldn't dream of discussing their diet with a stranger unless it was genuinely necessary, and you'll frustrate the non-vegetarians with vegetarian pretensions. "We only have the one vegetarian option." Point to a vegetarian society's advice to the industry if need be.

So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too.

That makes as much sense as being irked by omnivores who eat cheese and wear leather. "Vegetarian" does not, in and of itself, need to involve any 'animal rights' hoo-hah.

A "vegetarian" diet normally includes egg and dairy. It has never included fish or chicken, though.

A "vegan" diet does not allow any of those things.

No vegetarian society I'm aware of defines those differently. For example. I encourage pissiness when it comes to hypocrites, but there's nothing hypocritical about vegetarians eating cheese and wearing leather.

Fish-are-not-veg printable cards and mini-posters for you...

And, as for the "it's more convenient for me to say I'm vegetarian, listen to what's offered, and then have the salmon" crowd -- you do realise it makes it less convenient for the actual vegetarians, right? Okay? Please stop doing that.

I'd really like something like an elixir for my brain so I can be more understanding...

Booze is the traditional elixir for all frustrated restaurant employees.
posted by kmennie at 6:25 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

This thread has a lot of comments, but I have a different take.

What about if you just list, explicitly, what's in each dish? If it's lasagna, say "contains dairy, pork, etc." Put vegetarian dishes in a separate section, or mark them with a little leaf. Same thing for shellfish, seafood, etc. Have, say, eggplant parm as well as chicken parm.

If you're explicit in your menu, I bet you'll weed out all except the semi-literate non-beef eating pesco-pollo-ovotarians. So then when you're at a bar, you have every right to make fun of them over G&Ts.
posted by landedjentry at 6:37 AM on March 17, 2007

The best way to reinforce the actual meaning of "vegetarian" is to clearly mark all vegetarian options. For maximum convenience, mark vegetarian sides and desserts as well as entrees to show that they are not made with meat juices or gelatine or whatever.
posted by teleskiving at 7:12 AM on March 17, 2007

Different nationalities differentiate between vegetarian and vegan differently than others.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:27 AM on March 17, 2007

Echoing the "it makes it so much more difficult for vegetarians" comments when people say they are vegetarian, but will eat chicken or fish.

I went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant with a large group of friends, several whom are vegetarian, myself included. The person organising the dinner informed the person taking the reservation that there would be many vegetarians, and supposedly a note was made to that effect regarding our party. When the salad course came around, I asked the waitress "Is this vegetarian? I know Caesar salad dressing often contains anchovie paste.". She replied that it is vegetarian. It was not. I am allergic to fish, I spent most of the dinner looking for benadryl, and hoping that I wouldn't swell up too much.

Her reason for saying it is vegetairan? Apparently, the one vegetarian she knew ate fish, so she figured all of us did. Stupid bint. So please, don't say you are a vegetarian when you really arent. I have had at least one bad night because of people doing it. And I am not counting the times a host considers a sauce dish vegetarian if they remove the sausage before serving it. That won't make my life pleasant, either. Yes, I very quickly realise that the food isn't what the person says it is after a bite, but it still isn't very good.

For the record, I don't wear leather, I don't drink beer or wine that has been fined with issinglass, I don't eat cheese that has rennet (that one is difficult), but I will eat eggs and milk -nothing died to make those. Crap, that's one hell of a rant before coffee...
posted by kellyblah at 7:31 AM on March 17, 2007

Nothing died to "make" eggs?
posted by wfc123 at 7:36 AM on March 17, 2007

I understand your annoyance, but I think you just need to let it go. Anything you do say would probably be interpreted as rude and may cause you to lose business.

However, if I ruled the universe, chicken and fish eaters would not be allowed to identify themselves as vegetarians, so real vegetarians would no longer get asked "but you eat chicken, right?"
posted by emd3737 at 7:49 AM on March 17, 2007

So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too.

You are confusing "vegetarian" with "vegan." Vegans don't use any animal products. Vegetarians don't eat animal flesh. You might say that vegan is a subset of vegetarian, but not the other way 'round. That's like getting upset at a tangerine for calling itself a citrus fruit because it's not a grapefruit.

I think it's dishonest to call oneself a vegetarian while eating chicken and fish, but many saying "I don't eat meat" is not the same thing as saying "I'm a vegetarian." Many people consider "meat" to refer specifically to mammal flesh.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:16 AM on March 17, 2007

So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too.

not all people who have a vegetarian-oriented diet are doing it for animal rights purposes. so there's no inherent inconsistency there unless that's their reason for their diet.
posted by ifjuly at 8:16 AM on March 17, 2007

@wfc123 -no, it's an ovulation byproduct, most of the eggs people eat are completely unfertilised. Unless you are talking about factory farming processes, which I guess I am lucky enough to avoid -not only do we have local farms in the area, but I also have a coworker with chickens.
posted by kellyblah at 8:18 AM on March 17, 2007

Best to keep your mouth shut on this one. Pissing off your customers isn't good business.

I don't eat meat, chicken or fish. When people ask me how long I've been a vegetarian, I say I'm not one of those. When they ask me what I am, I say "I don't eat meat."

When they ask me why, I tell them the truth. I was riding in my buddy's car in 1995 and looked out the window and suddenly thought "I should probably not eat meat."

Man, the meat eaters are never satisfied with that answer.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:18 AM on March 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

As a cheese eating vegetarian, I must note that I hate all of you.
posted by 31d1 at 8:23 AM on March 17, 2007

It might be a bit passive aggressive, but since you run the place you could change the menu to include a little icon next to the truely meatless options and label them "vegetarian". And it's useful, too. As someone who tries to not eat meat unless I know it's had a relatively humane life, I tend to not eat most meats in restaurants, it's nice to be able to glance at a menu and see what the real options are.
posted by Schismatic at 8:33 AM on March 17, 2007

Just to get back to the cheese derail ... one grocery store in my area (New Seasons in Portland) will include information on cheese packaging if it includes vegetarian rennet. A lot of small-batch cheese is vegetarian these days, but much isn't .... eating cheese with traditional, stomach-lining rennet is as non-vegetarian as eating Jello or Mentos.

I'm really getting into Cotswold cheese, which is vegetarian. Mmm.
posted by Sterling Hoyt at 8:49 AM on March 17, 2007

Put me in the boat with everyone saying to be polite & just determine what they wish to dine on that evening.

As for this:

them: what vegetarian options can I order from?
you: [describe salad]
them: No, I think I'll have the chicken.
you: I'm sorry, I thought you wanted something vegetarian. did I misunderstand your needs?


I'm not a vegetarian, but I have been known to patronize vegetarian restaurants on occasion or ask for a vegetarian dish at a restaurant because I don't feel like "meat" that day. Just because a customer asks for something doesn't mean they need to clarify their stance on it.
posted by Laura in Canada at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

I would go for showing what items are vegetarian on your menu. If none are, I would explain that somewhere near the top. From the above comments, I think it's clear there's a lot of disagreement and confusion about this issue. You may even want to have a subsection of your menu list the vegetarian dishes seperately.
posted by xammerboy at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2007

I help run a little italian restaurant. So, we put pork in everything.

Does that include the pasta primavera?

Nth-ing the comments above that -- since you help run the place -- you make your menu more explicit about which dishes contain what. I like the icons for "meatless," "low-fat," "heart-healthy," etc.
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:39 AM on March 17, 2007

to crinklebat - it's not so much as diluting the definition, as it is just just using the word "vegetarian" incorrectly. if we go by the dictionary definition of the word, it means someone who does not eat any type of meat whatsoever.

for someone to eat white meat and still call themselves a vegetarian is like someone telling me he or she is "sober," by only drinking beer, but not liquor.

as for the "vegequarian" thing, i've just known a few people throughout the years that have called themselves that because the only meat they eat is fish. it may not be a perfect term, but again, i at least appreciate someone who tries to differentiate themselves from a straight-up vegetarian.
posted by fac21 at 10:06 AM on March 17, 2007

I'm a vegan. I wear leather shoes because I feel it is wasteful to throw them out and buy new plastic ones. What irks me most is omnivores who try to put a hole in my reasoning. "So, do you know that routinely mice and other small animal are killed while harvesting vegetables? And you still eat tomatoes? You are a such a hypocrite! I am so much better than you. I eat three steaks a day and drive a SUV but at least I do not PRETEND to be good for the world and animals."

Everybody lays their boundaries somewhere. Why judge other people? Just look at yourself and see if you can live with your choices and assume other people will live with theirs.

And you know what? When I tell people or restaurants that I am vegan, I really am not secretely telling them that I feel better than them. I wish people would just take what I say at face value. When I say "can you make something without meat, eggs or dairy", I just mean "can you make something without meat, eggs or dairy". I do not mean to imply anything about YOU, I just say something about MY food preferences. I'm not taking a moral highground, I just wish people would not assume I am doing that every single time I tell them I am vegan.
posted by davar at 10:16 AM on March 17, 2007 [5 favorites]

I will eat eggs and milk -nothing died to make those.. You are aware of the chicks and calfs that die to make eggs and milk, right? There really are no eggs without killing male chicks (who have no value for the egg industry), and there is no milk if a cow does not give birth to a calf once a year.
posted by davar at 10:17 AM on March 17, 2007

Correcting other adults is never a polite thing to do unless you're genuinely trying to help someone. Which you're not. You just want to be right. You need to get over this because if you do say anything people will take it as condescension (which it is) and stop frequenting your restaurant.
posted by Jess the Mess at 10:32 AM on March 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

I agree that it is frustrating to hear people who eat chicken and fish call themselves vegetarian, because it's simply not true. And as a vegetarian, I believe it makes it harder for true vegetarians' needs to be met. So many -- so many -- restaurants think chicken broth, for example, is vegetarian and won't even mention it when asked. And the more flesh-eating people who present themselves as vegetarian and then proceed to let this kind of thing slide, the more incorrect the public perception of what being a vegetarian is about.

I agree that there's no way to tell them this from your position, though. If you listed the ingredients of a dish that included chicken, and the "vegetarians" ordered it, I would just make sure you state in no uncertain terms that it is not a vegetarian dish.
posted by loiseau at 10:39 AM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: Except for some isolated restaurant-related insertions, I've tried to avoid eating animals (marine or land) for 20 years. Except for the inevitable beetle carapaces and various arthropod parts so popular in food colourings. My personal definition of "animals" is functional/phylogenetic, based on their being eukaryotic heterotrophic opsikonths and specifically multicellular, which conveniently excludes most protists, yeasts, algae (seaweed), plants, and so on.

This is usually too difficult to explain to servers in restaurants, so I usually say "no flesh, no fish, no birds". I used to just say "no meat" until I realised that people have a hazy and culturally contingent definition of what "meat" means.

But the dilution of the word "vegetarian" has reached such a point where I usually don't say I am one, and have managed to more or less remember not to use that label to identify myself. It's sad when a word like vegetarian now requires so many adjectives and qualifiers to pin down its meaning. The utility of labelling and stereotypes is that they should be quick cognitive shortcuts that avoid having to engage much thought.

I've also been trapped at parties by born-again self-identified "vegetarians" or "ex-vegetarians" who sometimes take an inappropriate amount of time telling me why they eat or do not eat things. It often puzzles me why people are so intense on this subject, until I remember my Barthes.

I do fully support the right of all people, however, to eat what they want, up to and including bosintang and cat meat.

To impose your own dietary preferences on others is a slippery slope. Your begin with reasonableness, pass through invective, and end up with sacred/profane structures of taboo, hala, and kashrut. Similarly, bugging people you are serving about their choices is just rude.
posted by meehawl at 10:40 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

if you're going to get upset about this at all, i would make sure to distinguish between people saying something like "i'm a vegetarian" vs. "i would like a vegetarian meal" or "what do you have that's vegetarian?" i was a strict vegan for years so i know what that means and now i am less strict for a variety of reasons and i know that makes me not vegan (and i don't claim to be, though i often say i am mostly vegan) but often i will ask for a vegetarian or vegan meal because i want one (and, for the record, the reasons that i want one are basically the same reasons that i used to be strictly vegan, except that now i only do it most of the time instead of all the time). if i change my mind and decide on something else, or if you later walk by and see me trying someone else's meal, hopefully you will understand why.

(for the record, i do agree that a vegetarian person or meal does not include fish, chicken, broth, gelatin, or ideally rennet, though lots of people genuinely seem to not know about these last ones. since vegetarian seems to describe a diet at least as often as a lifestyle, i would not include leather in the definition, even though the animal dies-- you're not eating it, anyway, and as many people have said, people are vegetarian for lots of different reasons.)
posted by lgyre at 10:51 AM on March 17, 2007

Nthing the suggestion to clarify on the menu what has meat in it, or what can be made meatless (if at all). You could even do what I've seen at some restaurants and have little icons next to each dish for "contains meat," "contains dairy," and so on. Or, just describe fully what's in your dishes, ex: "our pasta primavera comes in a rich sauce made with parmesan cheese and chicken stock, topped with fresh grilled vegetables."

People with dietary restrictions are used to reading menus carefully, and if you give them the information they'll use it. I agree with the other posters who pointed out that the inclusion of pork in everything on your menu might not be obvious; off the top of my head, I can't think of any Italian dishes my (Italian) grandmother makes that have pork in them. Given that, I think revamping your menu will save you a lot of headaches.

As an aside, (and as evidenced by many of the posts upthread) people have a whole host of reasons for eating or not eating the things they do, and whether someone does it out of a misguided sense of superiority or on a doctor's orders or because of religious restrictions or whatever, they're still your customers, right? Save your judgment for the break room and worry about running a good restaurant.
posted by AV at 11:13 AM on March 17, 2007

People definitely don't understand what "no red meat" means. I blame the pork industry for their "the other white meat" campaign, but I can't tell you how many times my no-red-meat-eating ex was offered dishes with pork, rabbit, lamb, and on one memorable occasion, guinea pig, in them after telling restaurant employees that he doesn't eat red meat. It just got easier after a while to say "we're both vegetarian" even though he actually did eat chicken and fish.

I sympathize with the argument that fish-eating "vegetarians" make life more difficult for non-fish-eating vegetarians, but unfortunately, we don't have universal, easily understood terms for all of the different types of dietary decisions people make. People are going to use the terms that they find are most likely to get them what they want, which in this case is information about the food they're attempting to order. Those of us who, in whatever way, for whatever reason, deviate from our societies' most common dietary preferences are going to have a hard time. That sucks. But that's life.

If you can successfully implement a worldwide system of uniform names for every set of dietary choices, I urge you to do so. If you don't have the magical ability to unilaterally impose a new set of terms that will be easily understood, the current system wherein people use the terms that get results is likely to continue.

Also, it seems that even in this thread, people are falling into the trap of questioning one another's dietary choices. Yes, animals die as a side effect of milk production. They also die as a side effect of grain production, home building, oil refining, and a million other activities that we as members of industrialized societies benefit from every day.

Criticizing others for their dietary/ethical/etc. choices or correcting their preferred language is not helpful, in any context. Just as we in polite society don't tell strangers over dinner that they're not members of the religion they identify with or members of the political group they've chosen, we also shouldn't tell them that they're not pious enough to claim the dietary title they prefer to use. Moreover, unless you're a judgmental jerk who gets off on feeling superior, doing so is unlikely to make you feel any better in the long term. Shut up, smile, and let people order what they want.
posted by decathecting at 11:21 AM on March 17, 2007

"Everyone is crazy." That's my elixir.
And I do mean everyone. Me, you, everyone.

By crazy I mean "self-deluding".

Example 1:
I personally might say: I really wish several children who'll die from diseases caused by unclean drinking water would be saved. If I said that, I would feel like I was telling the truth, yet it's a lie! In fact I care more about having this $5 here. Holds up a $5 note.

(I (or any of us) could donate an extra $5 to cause some people to have access to clean drinking water.)

Example 2:

Craziness is 100% normal. Your customers are just a bit unlucky that their craziness sticks out for all to see.
posted by hAndrew at 11:22 AM on March 17, 2007

Hey metasav, sorry about my jerky comment earlier. I went to bed last night thinking about how witty I was, but when I got up this morning I was glad to see it got deleted.

Anyway, here's a suggestion. Someone orders the fish because they're vegetarian. You say, "Oh, you mean you're a vegaquarian."
posted by hydrophonic at 11:26 AM on March 17, 2007

I'm a vegetarian, except I eat fish. If waiters want to know, I tell them I'm a vegetarian. If I see fish on the menu, I ask about it, or order it. If you, as a waiter, try any of the verbal antics described above, or are otherwise terribly frustrated if I need to explain this to you, I'll say something offensive and walk out of the restaurant.
posted by azazello at 11:34 AM on March 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Decathecting: If you can successfully implement a worldwide system of uniform names for every set of dietary choices, I urge you to do so.

Actually, "vegetarian," is a pretty handy way to say "I don't eat meat," unless people start using it for everything else. Once people start using one definition for something that is basically the complete opposite of what it means it begins to render that word useless.

...correcting their preferred language is not helpful, in any context.

Actually, correcting misused words is incredibly helpful to those of us who have been fighting for years to keep vegetarianism meaning what it means right now....not eating meat. You can quibble all you like, but it is what it says it is. People who co-opt the word are making it harder for the rest of us, plain and simple. You can get your dander up all you like, but it ain't gonna change a thing. I won't criticize you for eating meat or whatever your thing is, but I will criticize you for reducing the meaning of something that means a lot to me to, well, nothing. And you shouldn't be offended if people call you on it. Just like if I sit there at dinner and tell you that I am Jewish and Kosher but expound at length about my love for and worship of Jesus over a pork and bacon sandwich, you might question me (which would be your right).
posted by nevercalm at 11:43 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I often ask if a dish is vegan because that means I know I can eat it. I am not vegan, but it is a very useful shorthand that includes all the things I don't eat and am allergic to in one label. (I don't eat meat, I eat fish on special occasions, I don't eat dairy unless it's from a goat or sheep, I prefer not to eat eggs. So if a salad has ranch dressing, I might pick the fish instead.)

So try to distinguish between people who have said they are vegetarians from people who asked for a vegetarian option. (There are also plenty of people who think it's healthier to eat vegetarian some of the time -- once they find out you don't cater to that, they then pick another option.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2007

I'm a pescotarian who used to be vegetarian. When I was vegetarian, people would ask why I didn't eat chicken or fish, since "they aren't real meat." Now that I eat fish, people ask me why I do, don't I care about the fish too?

I say "vegetarian" sometimes because I forget to say "pescotarian", sometimes because people don't know what "pescotarian" means and that just adds confusion. People who aren't used to my recent change to fish tell others I'm vegetarian and then I have to explain.

I apologize for pissing you off. But sometimes saying "vegetarian" is just easier.
posted by Anonymous at 12:38 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: Meehawl, you rock. I would SO love to feed you an amazing vegetarian meal. Thanks to everyone else, as well. I knew the question was going to drive people nuts, but I'm very glad I asked, and really grateful you all responded.

For the record, and as stated in my question, I treat all of my customers with the utmost respect, even when they don't afford me the same courtesy. I love what I do, and some of my best customers are vegetarians. They call ahead, they let us know. We cook them wonderful food, we love clearing their empty plates.

but I will criticize you for reducing the meaning of something that means a lot to me to, well, nothing

Nevercalm, I'd cook you yummy vegetarian food, too. Thanks.
posted by metasav at 1:31 PM on March 17, 2007

Since you are running a restaurant, do what you can to help your guests eat according to their preferences.

What is so hard to understand about that? If you can master it, you will never have an empty seat.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:39 PM on March 17, 2007

You are aware of the chicks and calfs that die to make eggs and milk, right?
. . .
there is no milk if a cow does not give birth to a calf once a year.

And giving birth to calves is causing them to die? You're wrong about eggs, too, but not quite so obviously.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:39 PM on March 17, 2007

Actually metasav, I'd just prefer a huge bowl of only the heads of shrimp.

Great thread, and thanks for your stories (the "You must remove the heads from these shrimp. I am an animal rights activist and I cannot look at their eyes while I'm eating." has to be one of the funniest things I've read all week). I can't believe it didn't turn into a huge seething clusterfuck.
posted by nevercalm at 1:49 PM on March 17, 2007

Problem might be that the average vegetarian hears "Italian restaurant," and thinks "place at which I can eat."

Yes yes! It's a huge problem, when eating with a group, to find a place where everyone's various food eccentricities can be dealt with. Italian places are one of the first-line choices for vegetarians in a mixed group. If you don't have anything truly vegetarian (no animal flesh, at a minimum), consider adding something -- eg pasta with mixed cooked veggies. Easy to prepare, clear what's in it (ie no rennet discussion).

I'm with the others who say, label your menu clearly, and try to offer at least one veg dish.

Correcting your customers' choice of words is not a good idea, even though it would be a better world if everyone used "vegetarian" to mean the same thing. Do you correct your customers' grammar? No - because even if you're right, it's not the time and place for that. Your role as server/restauranteur is to set customers at ease, to put them in a good frame of mind to enjoy your great food and their friends' company -- not to be sure they're deploying concepts correctly. You'll just tick people off.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:00 PM on March 17, 2007

Response by poster: oh, the public says the darndest things, nevercalm. Maybe someday I'll write a book.
posted by metasav at 2:02 PM on March 17, 2007

Wow, I should really have previewed - nice response, metasav.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:03 PM on March 17, 2007

And for clarity: I think we should definitely call our friends on things like this. But it's hard to imagine a how restaurant server could correct a patron on this in a way that didn't just leave the patron thinking "wow, what a jerk".
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:07 PM on March 17, 2007

Since you are running a restaurant, do what you can to help your guests eat according to their preferences.

What is so hard to understand about that?

I understand his complaint - what is hard about it is doing what he can to help his guests eat according to their preferences when they insist on communicating inaccurately/misleadingly.

Unfortunately there's little you can do. Direct confrontation is going to yield one of two results: Possibility one, they will be upset/offended, never a good result in the service business. Possibility two (possibly on top of p1) you will end up in an extended dialog with the kind of person who says "I'm a vegetarian, do you have any chicken?" You'd be better off talking physics with people who believe the government is suppressing a magic gas pill.

Personally when I am confronted with discordant thinking my standard fallback technique is to say some variation on "I don't understand" so that they have to clarify their moronic position. Sometimes this leads to that that unpleasant extended conversation but it can be worth it once in a while. In your case I'd say something on the order of "oh, I'm sorry - I was trying to think of a no-meat option for you - I must have misunderstood."
posted by phearlez at 2:24 PM on March 17, 2007

"people who only eat chicken and fish" are people who need a much more varied diet. Can you be a vegetarian if you don't eat veggies?

All kidding aside, correcting them isn't going to make you feel better in any way, and will likely cause the loss of customers. If you really don't want people to say that stuff, then put a big sign out front : "If you eat anything that had eyes, you're not a vegetarian". Then let us know how business goes. :-P

I for one, do not eat any meat but chicken and occasionally eat ground beef, simply because I don't LIKE anything else. Fish and pork are gross to me. People always assume I'm a vegetarian despite eating chicken, because most people think fish and birds aren't meat. Why they think that, I have no idea, but you're not going to change their minds.

"So-called vegetarians who eat cheese and wear leather irk me, too."
See, because so many people use vegetarian to mean so many things, you yourself used it to describe someone who you think shouldn't eat cheese. Cheese is a by-product of the animal, not the animal itself, and most vegetarians I know do eat cheese and eggs. Some other people think vegetarian means only land-animals.
posted by jesirose at 2:30 PM on March 17, 2007

PS: I always thought Pork was "white" meat because they call it that...so toss me in the boat with people who think it's not red meat. I've never seen it uncooked, probably because I don't eat it. It always looked white/pink to me, just like chicken.

PPS: Italian restaurant = Pork in everything? Wtf. My whole family is italian and rarely uses pork. Italian to me means PASTA not PORK. I'd expect to be able to get plain pasta & cheese dishes, as well as beef, chicken and possibly pork.
posted by jesirose at 2:39 PM on March 17, 2007

vegetarian does not equal vegan.


ask my vegan-married-to-a-vegetarian couple friends.
posted by santojulieta at 3:36 PM on March 17, 2007

It seems to me that people are interested in calling themselves vegetarian as if to reinforce some kind of conviction or identity, where often one doesn't exist. The word seems to have lost a good deal of meaning as a result. Why people get so tribal over what is only a personal dietary choice is a total mystery.
posted by welephant at 4:16 PM on March 17, 2007

Best answer: Problem might be that the average vegetarian hears "Italian restaurant," and thinks "place at which I can eat." A weird Italian restaurant with "pork in everything" is just going to attract the weirdos, not the vegetarians.

Italian food relies heavily upon meat to flavor dishes. Those who are selective about the ingredients of their food need to be more informed about cuisine. I would never suggest that a vegetarian go to an Italian place.
posted by desuetude at 5:02 PM on March 17, 2007

er, itals for the first paragraph above
posted by desuetude at 5:27 PM on March 17, 2007

Why people get so tribal over what is only a personal dietary choice is a total mystery.

Take for granted that it would be rude for the original poster to out and say "No, you are WRONG," to the patrons.

How do you think the vegetarians feel on the other side of that?

My mother nearly went dinnerless in lieu of 'making a fuss' when her "vegetarian" dinner showed up with shrimp in it at a restaurant last week. My brother-in-law ended up making the fuss for her. We are both tired of decades of explaining why fish =! vegetarian. And it's hard to find a polite way to explain why the person before you said "I'm a vegetarian, so I'll just have the shrimp."
posted by kmennie at 5:38 PM on March 17, 2007

Kirth Gerson:And giving birth to calves is causing them to die? You're wrong about eggs, too, but not quite so obviously.

I took davar to mean that keeping cows pregnant (necessary to produce dairy) results in calves, and while female calves grow up to become dairy cows, male calves are slaughtered (or become veal, which many people would argue is less humane than immediate slaughter). As for the eggs, i thought davar meant that "it is not possible to produce laying hens without also producing male chickens, and since these male chicks have no commercial value, they are invariably killed as soon as they have been sexed." (Quote from Peter Singer, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Great book for anyone who wants to be honest and thoughtful about their eating, whether omnivore, vegan or whathaveyou. He's taking a lot of flak from vegans lately, actually.)

On topic: Along with adding a vegetarian icon next to the vegetarian dish(es) listed in the menu, you might include a line somewhere that says "We understand 'vegetarian' to mean no red meat, white meat, seafood, or anything else customarily eviscerated before human consumption." (No, I don't really mean that I think a crack about "evisceration" would go over well with patrons, and it wouldn't work for clams etc, anyway. But you could draw your line in the sand with some such mildly-worded definition printed in the menu, without coming off like a jerk.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:28 PM on March 17, 2007

You know what, as a strict vegetarian, drives me nuts? Lazy restaurant employees who, when I politely ask them if what I am interested in on the menu contains any animal products, is seasoned with any meat or animal broth, is cooked in the same container as an animal product, or contains gelatin, and they tell me "No," only for me to find out later that they did not know what they were talking about, but could have found out by walking 50 feet to the kitchen and asking.

I would eat in your restaurant again and again because you care enough to know what you are talking about, but not so you could give me semantics lessons.

Just today, I was in an office supply store, where a customer was loudly proclaiming that "Compaq computers have something in their mainframe that makes them quit working after 18 months. I KNOW this is true."

My point is that customers are often doofuses. It is our job.
posted by 4ster at 7:06 PM on March 17, 2007

(and one of my relatives does exactly what you are describing, and it drives me nuts, too)
posted by 4ster at 8:14 PM on March 17, 2007

I'm not saying that it wouldn't be much better for vegetarians and everyone else if everyone understood the word vegetarian to mean "doesn't eat any kind of animal flesh." I'm saying that, in reality, many people in the world don't understand it to mean that, and no amount of whining or complaining or correcting from those of us who do understand the actual meaning of the word is going to fix that.

Given that that's the case, many people who are not actually vegetarian are going to use the word in order to get what they want from restaurant waitstaff and others of whom they ask questions about food. And given that they're going to do that, those of us who are actually vegetarians in the classic sense of the word are better off learning to chill out a little and let others act in ways we think are silly instead of making ourselves crazy over word usage issues that we're never going to be able to solve to our satisfaction.
posted by decathecting at 9:56 PM on March 17, 2007

I took davar to mean that keeping cows pregnant (necessary to produce dairy) results in calves, and while female calves grow up to become dairy cows, male calves are slaughtered.
Thanks ci, that's exactly what I meant (and about eggs/male chicks too). The meat and dairy industry are intertwingled.
By the way: I think the male calves and chicks are actually better off. The reason I am a vegan, not a vegetarian, is because I think dying is not the worst thing that can happen. I'd much rather die than suffer in a factory farm. I just pointed it out because the argument that no animals die for our milk is wrong. I always wonder why some vegetarians go out of there way to find a cheese without animal rennet, even though there is only a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of cow stomach in cheese, but refuse to feel responsible for the calves that die as a direct result of the milk production.
posted by davar at 5:10 AM on March 18, 2007

Response by poster: PPS: Italian restaurant = Pork in everything? Wtf. My whole family is italian and rarely uses pork. Italian to me means PASTA not PORK. I'd expect to be able to get plain pasta & cheese dishes, as well as beef, chicken and possibly pork.

Um...I desperately want to derail here. Wtf, right back at 'choo.

I'd also like to say THANK YOU to all the vegan/vegetarian responders above being so informative and helpful. I was really hoping that the dairy industry would be brought up.

And, Davar, "intertwingled" is officially my new favorite word.
posted by metasav at 8:48 AM on March 18, 2007

Wow. A lot of responses. I find that this kind of subject usually does get a lot of attention.

Well, I am a vegetarian. Or I guess I should say I'm an ovolactovegetarian. I do continue to consume dairy and eggs. There is a difference between vegetarian and vegan. And not everyone who follows this lifestyle is in it for the ethical/moral/animal rights reasons. Oh and yes, I still retain the two or three leather belts I bought before converting. However, I refuse to buy any leather products in the future. I do not eat meat because I do not want animals to suffer. So I'm not necessarily happy or proud to continue consuming dairy and eggs, but I believe it is possible to obtain these products without cruelty. Possible, but it's not likely the ones I'm consuming are done that way. But then.. there's a point where things become too idealistic and impossible. Really.

That being said, I understand your annoyance. Vegans/(true) vegetarians understand that probably more than you do. We have to put up with rude omnivores who get offended/defensive for no reason whatsoever. We encounter misinformed people all the time. However, I have decided to go the path of not being a "MEAT IS MURDER" out loud person. If it comes up, I'll just say "I don't consume flesh of any kind." Simple. Flesh is flesh. Otherwise, I let people think what they want. To me, it really doesn't matter what they do. They can continue to eat meat all they want. I believe in the freedom to do so. And if some people choose to make ignorant statements, so be it. There is no way to "educate" them. They'll continue to believe what they want. I've worked in an Italian restaurant before too. Granted, I was only a bus girl really. But in that line of work, you have to expect silly people. I say silly instead of stupid. And you don't need to bitch and complain. It's your job. Yeah, it gets highly irritating. Put up with it or find a different line of work. In the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make? Really?

I hope you don't interpret nastiness or hostility in my words. There isn't any. Just.. take a deep breath, have a laugh and let their words go.
posted by VegaValmont at 1:31 PM on March 18, 2007

Small note that I'm sure has been pointed out already:

"...so-called vegetarians who eat cheese..."

I know personally some vegetarians who are such because they don't like the idea of eating fried animal flesh. ...which cheese is not.
posted by Zephyrial at 7:31 PM on March 18, 2007

Response by poster: I know personally some vegetarians who are such because they don't like the idea of eating fried animal flesh. ...which cheese is not.

really, let's not derail in this direction. We were all having so much fun! Um...

someone help me retain my server ...uh...ness. or something. THIS is what i am talking about , i mean, is zephyrial JOKING???

I sit, hoping. I hope. I hope. You jest, eh?


Welcome to my question. Can you please stop hating me for asking it? This is the public. This is the worst part of my job.

Anyone wanna try to be friendly to that point? How do you make THAT guy feel loved, taken care of, special.

Really, i'm not waiting on any of you, and my job is to smile at this guy (sorry for assuming that he must be a guy, men)so I may as well ask: WTF is he/she talking about? This was such a lively conversation. We've got rennet haters, pork haters, animal lovers, crustacean advocates, porkophiles, people who think I am racist, or at least anti-religion for asking my question in the language i did. OOH! And best of all, people with real ideologies that stack up. Hmm. Imagine that. THANK YOU. All fair, and interesting in the course of a very interesting debate. For me, at least.

So, then...What the h*L does one do with this? I mean, seriously. ... really, I have this kind of combative insanity that i deal with daily. ...exactly how does one deal with the disturbed...who don't know yet that um...they are?

heck, maybe that was my real question. I guess I blew it.

I'll ask a better question in two weeks....

PS: Vegavalmont, I am listening to you. And your sanity. And I thank you for your commitment to your lifestyle, and your capacity to explain it. Is my frustration becoming more clear as comments emerge, or am I just a jerk?

Seriously. No, really. I SO MUCH love what i do, I get a bit of a high hearing from veggies that say they had the best "restaurant" meal they have ever had.

I LOVE that. I love feeding people. I just .....ooof. Is it weird, in the biz, that we calll ya'll "veggies?"

We promise not to eat you.
posted by metasav at 1:01 AM on March 19, 2007

I think you got most of an answer, which is....you probably shouldn't smack them around verbally (as much as I would love for you to do so) unless you're David Spade and you work at a restaurant on a sitcom. If you want to know how to deal with the public, well....

I was a short order cook for maybe 5 years, as a younger man. My philosophy was "the customer is always right, unless he's not." If you have management who can back you up, perfect. If you don't, I guess you just have to learn to suck it up and smile. I did have management who backed me up, and even had managers who would drag me into a cooler for a quick beer and a co-worker who pulled a knife on someone after he threatened me because I wouldn't scramble eggs for him after we had stopped serving breakfast for the day. The public, in a word, SUCKS. I love cooking and feeding people as well, but the fact that I would have to deal with the public is exactly what keeps me doing what I do now.

And no, it's not weird to be called "veggies." I'm sure all the vegetarian/vegans in this thread have been called much worse (I know I have), and been in worse situations.

Quick story....I drove across country maybe 14 years ago, about a year after I stopped eating meat. So I slept in a rest stop (no money), woke up around 7 o'clock and decided to drive a bit before I pulled off for some breakfast. I crossed the border into Nebraska and took the first exit with a "food" sign, and wound up at a great little diner/gas station thing, with a huge half-round counter and a waitress who both took my order and served me with a cigarette tipped with 1.5 inches of ash curling off the tip. She finally made her way around to me, asked what I wanted. I forget what I ordered now, some sorta omelet, toast, whatever. She said "What do you want on the side?" I said "That's it. Just the omelet and toast." "No meat?" "No, I don't eat meat." Her eyes briefly widened, then narrowed. She smirked at me, turned around and yelled to the cook, who was at the exact opposite side of the diner, "Hey! Joe! This guy says he don't eat no meat!"

You could've heard a pin drop. Every eye in the place was on me. And I never heard it but I swear that the jukebox scratched off at that very moment as well. With a nervous gulp, I realized where I was....the heartland. Where all that meat came from. What were they thinking? "No meat? Wait a minute......a. Vegetarian. Here. Right. In. Front. Of. Me." Their worst enemy! Then there was the matter of the great army surplus jacket I had on, that I had just purchased, with a chuckle, because it said "LA COUNTY JAIL" on the back shoulder.

I stuck around to eat, and I swear on everything that matters to me that no one left that diner until I had eaten, paid my bill, gotten some gas and went on my merry, knee-shaking way.

You know what tho? Best toast I ever had.
posted by nevercalm at 7:58 AM on March 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

A vegan ex-girlfriend and I would (somewhat derisively) call these sorts "chickofisho vegetarians" (riffing off of ovolacto, of course).

But if your job is to serve, then it isn't to editorialize. Or even educate, unless perhaps you're at a restaurant that is explicitly completely vegetarian.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:37 AM on March 19, 2007

My mother nearly went dinnerless in lieu of 'making a fuss' when her "vegetarian" dinner showed up with shrimp in it at a restaurant last week. My brother-in-law ended up making the fuss for her. We are both tired of decades of explaining why fish =! vegetarian.

As long as we're emphasizing the correct use of words in this thread, shrimp != fish.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2007

metasav, you are NOT a jerk. I can see why your frustrated. I don't know what else to offer in the way of advice, but I hope you figure out a way to keep your sanity or ease your frustration. Oh and calling us "veggies" is fine. At least in my opinion. Not weird at all. It's a quick way to convey an idea really. Something tells me it's probably pretty commonplace in the restaurant industry. I'm glad that you dig what you do. Really. And you know.. when I go to a restaurant, I don't make a big fuss. I just order what I want and specify "no chicken" or what have you. I mean really.. do people need to go into details of why they're doing so? Unless they're deathly allergic to something.. and then yeah, they might want to pipe up.

When I worked at a restaurant.. as the time passed, I was more and more glad to be just the bus girl. I know I couldn't be a server. So I have a lot of respect for the servers.
posted by VegaValmont at 6:25 PM on March 19, 2007

I only eat meat when I know the person who killed the animal- I only eat "wild" meat (for ethical/environmental reasons). Calling myself a vegetarian is just shorthand for me. It's much easier than explaining my whole philosophy. If you want that, shoot me an e-mail.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:54 PM on March 19, 2007

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