Tue | Jul 14, 2020

A vegan plate at the table please!

Published:Thursday | September 5, 2019 | 12:00 AM

What a time to be alive! We celebrate diversity so we have options galore as more suppliers cater to the needs of consumers. With increased popularity of health and environmental consciousness, food is one of the most impacted industries. More people are incorporating plant-based dishes into their diet for ethical persuasions, while others are simply curious and want to try something new. Why then is it that many eateries and events fail to consider plant-based dishes when curating their menu?


As it stands, chicken and fish are generally staples; diversifying would see the addition of a beef or pork meal. The chances of egg or dairy being included in any one of these dishes is highly likely. So, if a vegan is a guest, they will miss out on the culinary experience and will have to resort to eating just fries, festival or bammy. Not to mention getting banished to social exile as being the ‘weird one’ at the table and the butt of almost every food joke.


I have a plant-based diet so I experience this regularly. Without fail someone will say to me, “Likkle piece ah meat nah kill yuh,” or “Hush, we nuh have no food for you.” Every time I hear those remarks, I restrain myself from lashing back. As a communications executive, I often host and attend various events. However, I have to plan ahead by packing a lunch kit with my meal or eat before attending. If I do not do this, then I run the risk of going hungry during that period. My vegan friend, Rannicka King, goes through the same thing.


She said, “I can never guarantee that there will be food for me at a lot of events. Most menu items will have meat or animal products, so I don’t eat them. And if there is a vegan or vegetarian option, it is likely to be a salad that has only lettuce, tomato and cucumber which is far from a hearty meal,” she expressed. “Whenever I go out with friends to a restaurant, I’ll do a quick search before to see if there is a vegan option. If there isn’t, I’ll just order drinks because I do not want to cause an inconvenience by switching to another restaurant.”


In my circle of friends, there are two vegans, one pescatarian, a flexitarian and a meat-eater. Also, many of my colleagues have incorporated more plant-based foods into their diets. Although this is a small sample size based on observation, it is indicative of a growing and significant guest population wanting to have more plant-based meals. Vegans and vegetarians are no longer outliers.




Providing plant-based dishes and protein alternatives


Creating a plant-based meal is not difficult; all it takes is imagination and ingenuity. Use our traditional ackee and callaloo (without the saltfish – they taste just as delicious) and turn them into fresh salads, delectable quiches and even fun pizzas. Transform meat-based dishes like shepherd’s pie or a classic burger into vegan friendly options using chickpeas, black beans, lentils or mushrooms. The opportunities are limitless!


If you are hosting an event and have any doubts about what the most ideal plant-based meal should be, do not hesitate to find out from the planner or guests. One chef who practices this regularly is Karl Hart, executive chef of the highly celebrated and award-winning company, The Pantry Caterers.


He said, “Whenever I am catering for any event, I like to find out if anyone has any special dietary needs. Dining is an intimate and communal experience that everyone should participate in, so I ensure there is a meal for everyone at the table. Nobody should be left out.”


That is the approach that makes guests feel special. That is the attitude that encourages inclusivity of everyone at the table. A diner who chooses to eat plant-based should not have to settle for a meal they dislike or compromise their eating habits because a meal was not provided for them. Especially not during a time with growing eco-friendly movements that encourages diners to include alternative protein sources in their diet.


With more diverse diners, it is important that restaurateurs, caterers and event planners explore the various diets that now exist so they better can cater to various palettes. Learn the eating habits of a pescatarian, the types of vegetarians as well as popular vegan dishes. There is an abundance of recipes and access to ingredients. Get creative! And no, including a basic salad does not count; we want to dine at a table, not graze in the pasture.