Belfast Telegraph

As the 'cauliflower steak' debacle showed, vegetarians find it pretty hard to stomach being fobbed off with the same old grub

Little choice: vegetarian options in restaurants can be rather limited
Little choice: vegetarian options in restaurants can be rather limited

By Lindy McDowell

As we draw to the end of Veganuary - the now annual drive to persuade the nation that vegan is the way to go - the one big vegetable-related story that sticks in my mind from a month of commercial attempts to cash in on the campaign is the sad saga of the cauliflower "steak".

Before you ask, this was a cross-cut slice from a cauliflower. Retailing in M&S for a mere £2.50.

This dubious "steak" inevitably provoked much online ridicule and mirth with just about everyone pointing out that if you bought a whole cauliflower (for around a quid) and sliced it yourself you could get several such "steaks".

After the backlash, Marksies sheepishly (if that's not an insensitive word in the circumstances) discontinued the line.

I can see why so many people saw the cauliflower steak as a laughably overpriced nonsense.

But it didn't surprise me one bit. When you're a vegetarian, paying through the nose is not a new thing.

Especially here in Northern Ireland.

The Veganuary initiative is well-intentioned. The website lists, for example, lots of great vegan restaurants nationwide for those who want to go totally green.

I assume vegans who eschew all animal products would not countenance eating in a place where meat is cooked.

But I live in the real world.

I want to eat out with friends who generally want to eat out in places where the steaks are not slivers of cruciferous vegetables.

Which entails therefore, a meaty menu for them. And "the vegetarian option" for me.

And if you want to know what food rip-off really is, believe me, you have no further to look than "the vegetarian option".

As the name implies generally this is a single "option". And very often you can guess what the option is going to be even before you look at it.

That's because there's almost a consensus among restaurants as to what the currently fashionable option will be.

Once it was endless vegetable stir fry. Then vegetable lasagne took over. After that we had our fill of pasta in tomato sauce.

Right now? If I never see another butternut squash risotto in my lifetime I will be happy. Is there an EU glut of butternut squash fuelling this latest option?

I hate flipping butternut squash.

Not all restaurants are equal, of course. Some do make a great effort to provide a bit of choice for the veggie diner. Indian and Chinese are especially good.

But elsewhere very, very often you'll find that the veggie starter option is, say, a goat's cheese tart. And the veggie main course option will then be pasta.

With goat's cheese.

How much goat's cheese does Chef think we can stomach? Do these people never try their own menus?

And then we come to the value-for-money bit. Quite often for a dish of say, pasta and veg in tomato sauce (ingredients, not expensive) the price tag is much the same as for my fellow diners' beef steak or a piece of prime fish, which will have cost the restaurant a whole lot more.

How can they justify this? Something like risotto takes a bit of work, I accept that.

But pasta in tomato sauce? No.

Some local restaurants do, as I say, make an effort. A couple I frequent even have vegetarian menus. The first time I was handed one of these I couldn't cope. I'm totally unused to choice when eating out.

Generally I think, it would be great to see a bit more awareness locally of the veggie diner.

A bit more variety and, above all, prices that are not "cauliflower steak" inflated.

Just because we vegetarians have gone green...

Doesn't mean we actually are green.

Ronaldo’s on the ball after facial injury

Poor old Ronaldo has been pilloried for borrowing his team doc’s mobile mid-match to check out how he was looking after an on-pitch clash.

The Real Madrid star has a bit of a reputation for, shall we say, preening. But in this case, who could blame him? The blood was pouring out of him. In the same circumstances who wouldn’t want to assess the scale of the damage?

Fortunately his face was okay. And even if he’s being mocked, with those pictures now going viral, surely that’s yet another win. Yet another mobile phone sponsorship deal in the bag for the boy.

There’s no order to my little bird’s pecking

As I’m writing this, my kitchen window is currently under direct bombardment.

From a wee bird. A chaffinch (I think). It keeps flying at the window and pecking it fiercely. What is that about? Does it want to get into the warmth? I’ve tried to take a photograph but it seems to be a bit publicity shy.

Every time I get close, it takes off. Then, five minutes later it’s back knocking on the glass. I’m going to have to take up guard duty to try and shoo it away, otherwise it’s going to do serious damage to its beak. Or my window. And I don’t think either is covered in the house insurance.

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