Jen Waters talks to two vegan restaurant customers who, due to human error, accidentally ended up eating meat
“I had asked a few times, and the waiter promised the dish was just rice and vegetables. Almost as soon as I took a bite, I realised there was chicken in it. It’s fair to say I was really tired which made me emotional, but I actually cried when I realised I was eating flesh. I has been vegan for a couple of months at that point, but the whole incident made me realise that I would never knowingly eat animals or their secretions ever again.”
Ely-based teacher Jo is not the only vegan to have been served non-vegan foods. In fact, a similar incident even made headlines in recent months, after a man ordered a takeaway and was sent beef ragu instead of lentil ragu. According to one paper: “James Smith, 28, had ordered gluten-free lentil ragu pasta meal for £8.95 from a new vegan menu at Zizzi using Deliveroo.
“He ate a couple of mouthfuls before he realised that something was wrong and he spotted the label said it contained pulled beef instead of Lentils.
He said the restaurant refunded him and his girlfriend £28.90 for their meal after the branch of Zizzi in Piccadilly Gardens told him they had given the wrong order to Deliveroo.”
He had been a vegan for five years – much longer than Jo’s two months. Despite the difference in time, unsurprisingly, the two were both very upset. According to James: “ I just took a mouthful or two. I could smell the beef and taste it. I have been vegan for five years, and my girlfriend as well for a few years. It upset us so much. We are quite chilled vegans. If it was egg you would ignore that, but with it being meat it is quite bad. If you can’t offer a vegan service, don’t do it. I am vegan primarily for animal rights, but also the health benefits as well. I have been vegetarian for years, it is the first time I have eaten meat since then because of this mistake.”
Jo adds: “There is something particularly upsetting about someone else making the decision for you. I completely understand human error – obviously no-one is perfect and anyone can make a mistake at any given time, but at least in my case, I checked so many times whether the food would be vegan, it was particularly upsetting that staff didn’t pay due care.
“I felt horribly guilty afterwards. I didn’t eat the rest of the meal, but it went straight in the bin – so an animal was killed anyway for it, and I felt like I had contributed to that death. I was with a large group of people, including some who I didn’t know very well. One said that it was probably worth just eating it anyway, as it had been served, and couldn’t I just ‘relax’ about veganism for a day. It made me think about how there is still a lot of confusion out there as to what veganism actually is.”
The restaurant (which Jo requested wasn’t named) apologised for the mix-up. Jo says: “They responded quite well. I wasn’t really expecting a big sorry, because people always seem quite scared to apologise because it means they accept they did something wrong in my experience. But first the waiter apologised, then the manager came over. They offered to make me something else for free, and also said our drinks could be on the house, but at this point I had pretty much lost my appetite, and to be honest, I just didn’t trust them anymore.”
In the case of James, Zizzi – from whom he had ordered the food – also responded to the incident. A spokesman for Zizzi said: “We have strict processes and procedures to try and ensure these incidences do not occur. Unfortunately on this occasion the issue occurred due to genuine human error in the kitchen. We take these breaches extremely seriously and I have personally followed up with the restaurant team and the operations director to reinforce the need for accurate checking of all dishes that have dietary and allergen implications before they reach customers. The customer was compensated on the evening for his meal and I have asked our customer service manager to contact the customer today to reiterate our apologies.”
But is an apology enough?
After all, by serving the wrong food, a restaurant is breaking the vegan diner’s own code of ethics, and creating a demand for meat just by serving the meal. How serious is this, and what action should a vegan take after this has happened?
Jo says: “After the initial upset, I tried to be philosophical – as far as possible. I decided it was wasted emotion to feel guilty (although I did still feel that twinge of guilt) and I decided the best thing to do was to try and move on.
“I think the reality is this: we are vegans living in a non-vegan world. Every day, we have to get up, and do our best to exploit and abuse animals as little as possible. If I were to go off grid, and live like a hermit, I’d have a much better chance to do this effectively, but even so, I would probably accidentally kill the odd bug by standing on it (as defensive omnivores like to say!)
“After voicing my concern to the waiter and speaking to the manager, I felt as though there was very little else I could actually do. It’s just a case of reaffirming all my vegan beliefs, and continuing to do my best every day to be a voice for animals.
“I see the world changing every day – all the time people are becoming more receptive to the vegan message out there. The movement is becoming stronger and more popular than ever, but these things take time, and the road is never smooth, so I look at this incident – and my accidental consumption of meat – as just another bump on the road of my vegan journey.”