Friday, 19 June 2015

Vegan options at summer hill hotel

Friday 19 June 2015 

I had a pretty funny experience at the Summer Hill Hotel last night, but it didn’t have anything to do with their ‘comedy’ trivia. My girlfriend and I went along with her brother and two of his colleagues, and finished up at a respectable third place. Afterward, when it had emptied out a bit, we got talking to one of the bar staff who was coming around to clean the tables. While he was hanging around, Tilly noticed a sign saying they do veggie burgers on Mondays, and asked him why only on Mondays. We’ve been to the pub a couple of times and they only have two vegetarian options, neither of which can be veganised, so the only vegan option is a bowl of chips (almost certainly fried in the same oil as the chicken schnitzel). Keep in mind that this is in Sydney’s inner west, possibly the most vegan-friendly place in Australia outside of Melbourne, where just down the road I could ask for no fish sauce or oyster sauce in my stirfry at the Thai place or no cheese on my pizza at the Italian and get the response, ‘Oh, you mean vegan?’ 

‘Good question,’ he answered. ‘I don’t know. I assume all the ingredients are there right now, but we only sell it on a Monday.’ 

There was a bit of a back and forth where he bitched about his evangelistic vegan ex-girlfriend and her hypocrisy in drinking non-vegan wine and wearing leather shoes, and then Til volunteered that I was vegan and he started interrogating me about wine and shoes and honey, absurdly insisting that bees have no use for it (!?!?). Then he said, ‘It’s funny, ’cause we actually got this loooong email a while back from some vegan who wanted more options on the menu. And for the first few paragraphs I was on board; I was like, yeah, mate, I agree, but then he got to the part where he started trying to preach and stuff and I was just like ‘Nup.’’ 

Then he talked a bit about how he ‘gets’ people who do it for the health reasons, and that he’d do it for the health reasons but he loves chicken, but he doesn’t get people who say it’s for ethical reasons. 

When he walked away, I turned to the rest of the group and said, ‘Yeah, so the guy who sent that email was me,’ and everybody lost their shit. No one could believe that had happened. I hadn’t said anything because I wanted to hear what he had to say honestly. It was like being able to eavesdrop but he was talking straight to my face – quite a rare opportunity, really. 

Not that it particularly helped. After the encounter I dug up the email and read it back to myself to try and see where he was coming from. Obviously his reaction is not the desired one for my cause. I know that people often respond negatively to any discussion of veganism, so that was nothing new, but in this case I thought I’d tried to be particularly non-threatening and polite because I was trying to effect a concrete change. But see for yourself! I’ll copy and paste the contents below, with a little commentary. 

Firstly, I guess the email was pretty long – four paragraphs in total, but I’m just a longwinded, thorough person and that probably won’t ever change. I didn’t want to just send a three-line email asking for vegan options, I wanted to make a case and give some suggestions, too. 

My first paragraph was basically just sucking up to them and setting up the situation: 

     To the management of the Summer Hill Hotel/AHL Group 

     My girlfriend and I have just moved into the area, and we'd heard great things about 
     your establishment, so we decided to try out the hotel for our first lunch after a big 
     morning moving in. We loved the atmosphere and service at the hotel, but were a bit 
     disappointed that there were no vegan meal options available at your bistro, and the 
     two vegetarian options were unable to be 'veganised' because they were pre-prepared 
     and contained fish sauce and dairy products respectively. 

Nothing to see here, right? Pretty tame? 

Next I got to the point of the email: 

     We're eager to make your establishment our new 'local' for drinks, trivia, and lunches
     and dinners with friends, but obviously we'll have a hard time if there's nothing we 
     can eat there! So I'm just emailing to ask if there's anything you can do to 
     accommodate vegans in your meal options – whether it's enabling one of the 
     vegetarian options to be altered for vegans, or even adding a new menu item. 

Again, pretty reasonable, I think. 

My third paragraph was about establishing common ground in case they were thinking ‘Jesus, no meat, dairy or eggs – what the hell does he want, then?’ (a common reaction). I explained what veganism actually is, which, in retrospect could’ve sounded a bit patronising, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t actually know, so I had to explain it to be sure. Here I also gave some suggestions for actual meals, because it’s generally good practice not to just point out a problem, but  also to arrive with a solution, and I think a lot of classically trained chefs and cooks have just never contemplated cooking something without meat, dairy or eggs, so I wanted to show that there were viable options:

     I come from a family of chefs, so I know veganism can sound prohibitively 
     restrictive at first. We essentially don't eat (or use) any products that involve 
     harming animals, so no meat, dairy, eggs, honey, etc. But there are actually so many 
     inclusive, delicious vegan meals that anyone can enjoy, even staunch meat 
     enthusiasts (if they give it a try)! At other pubs in the past I've had wonderful veggie 
     burgers; simple mushroom, tomato and herb pastas; open pies of roast veggies in 
     (dairy/egg-free) filo or shortcrust pastry; falafel and hummus pitas with salad; nachos 
     with beans; and vegan pizzas. Often other pubs go to the extra length of making their 
     vegan meal gluten-free as well, so they always have at least one option that anyone 
     can enjoy, whether they're vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, lactose-intolerant, 
     gluten-free or whatever else! 

'Anyway, I was just reading your final edit, and um, there seems to be an inordinate number of exclamation points ... 'It was a damp and chilly afternoon, so I decided to put on my sweatshirt!' ... 'I pulled the lever on the machine but the Clark Bar didn't come out!''

But still, maybe just annoyingly nice, right? Not exactly raging preachy vegan yet? 

But these were all still the paragraphs that he’d been ‘on board’ with. It was the last one he said he had an issue with. And I can definitely see why. The last paragraph was where I raised the issue of ethics. It wasn’t in my original draft of the email, but then I found this pamphlet on their website that was basically fifteen pages of them bragging in poorly written copy about their commitment to ethical food sourcing and sustainable environmental practices and I thought, ‘Well, then I’ll bring up how maybe offering a SINGLE vegan option on your menu might fit in with your dedicated passion for ethical food and environmental sustainability’: 

     I was interested to read the ALH 'Our Sustainable Kitchen' brochure available on 
     your website and glad that all your meat seems to be procured as ethically as 

Okay, not really, but a bit of flattery couldn’t hurt … 

     As a company 'committed to ethical food sourcing and supporting environmental 
     resource management now and in the future', I hope you guys will look into 
     accommodating what I and many other people are increasingly finding to be the 
     most healthful, ethical and environmentally sustainable lifestyle choice available. As 
     you may know, growing crops to feed livestock around the world is the biggest cause 
     of habitat loss and deforestation, and raising animals for consumption contributes 
     more to greenhouse gas emissions than all our transport needs combined. 

     Thanks for your time and hope to hear back from you soon. 


     Mr L Phillip Lucas, BA, BCA 
     Freelance writer and editor 

So, what? Is it that ONE sentence he took issue with, then? Merely making a claim about habitat loss, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions? Claims the UN itself has validated by urging the world to move towards a vegan diet? To me it seems that people are just so sensitive on this subject that you literally can't say anything without being written off as ramming your ideology down people's throats. I think this ties back to a realisation I had the other day that I posted on my L Phillip Lucas Facebook page

     Shouldn't the real indicator of self-righteousness be the belief that all of our actions 
     are beyond reproach, that no one has the right to criticise our behaviour? As a 
     society, our fixation on 'judgement' is reaching phobic levels. In a world where most 
     of us never really think critically about our lives, it becomes easier to dismiss any 
     form of criticism as rude, judgemental, self-righteous, sanctimonious, holier-than
     -thou or preachy than to make sure our ideas and actions can stand up to criticism. 

They never did write back to my email. Apparently they just passed it around to all the staff, had a laugh at my expense, and now they bitch about it (to other vegan patrons???). I'm not really sure what I should've done differently, except not mention the ethical side of things. Obviously, in a way, I did get ‘preachy’ at the end there, but only to hold them to their own professed commitments. I wouldn’t have brought it up if they hadn’t done so first, bragging about their obviously bullshit passion for sustainability. 

Maybe you can write a more successful one than me. If you’d like to send them an email asking about adding a vegan option to the menu, that’d be amazing. If they hear it from enough different people, they might actually consider it. Their email is: 

Thanks for reading 


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