TW: References to Domestic Abuse
Veganism isn’t a big thing in Scotland. That’s what the restaurants and cafes want us to believe, because despite there being over 2,100 members of the Vegan Facebook group I’m a part of that caters mostly to just Edinburgh and Glasgow, there are only a handful of places that cater to the vegan customer specifically. Despite the fact that the Vegan Quarter at Leith Market is growing every month so fast, despite the fact there are huge queues at Sgaia and Nutcrafter and Missy’s Vegan Cupcakes every time I go, I can count the dedicated vegetarian and vegan foodie destinations in Edinburgh on one hand. So is it any surprise that , with the lack of choice that cities like London and Toronto have (and even Glasgow), a lot of places don’t seem to really care?
I grew up a foodie, both my parents love eating the best and when I was little (before food blogs and websites even existed) my dad would scour magazines and newspaper reviews for restaurants to take the family on holiday. Yes, restaurants. We once went on a Mediterranean and South of France foodie cruise when I was 8. My favourite memory? An incredible asparagus soup that was so perfect I’ve been chasing that dream ever since.
My parents loved taking me to new places and introducing me to exciting food; after we’d finished eating they would play a wee game with me where they asked me for my “review”. Whether it was a 5 course meal at a fancy restaurant in Paris or street food from one of the markets in Hong Kong, I had so much fun talking them through the good, bad and ugly of every meal. My dad was into ethical eating way before it became a buzzword. He knew which months were best for oysters, how to tell if chicken was “corn-fed”, and why it was important for some vegetables to be organic whilst for others it was less so. This is a man who wouldn’t touch a genetically modified strawberry with a ten foot pole.
Other families would go on tropical holidays to chill on the beach but my sun-shy parents would take us there for the fruit.
So maybe it’s no wonder I’m so critical when I feel like restaurants are just throwing in a token few vegan options to appease us.
I know they can do better.
I’ve been a vegetarian pretty much since high school, and vegan since last year. My mum has never been big on eating meat and at home we always ate our dinners the Chinese way – plenty of small dishes that everyone picked from rather than one big main meal. My dad would get his chicken or beef, and my mum and I ate tofu and vegetables. Everybody was happy, everybody was full.
When I first went away to uni many many moons ago, my mum told me I would have to learn to cook for myself. I was terrified. I’d watched my mum do it, and my uncles and aunts. I’d even helped. But I had never made a meal for myself completely unaided and I had a fear I would give myself food poisoning. I remember she tried to teach me how to prepare and cook chicken. My hand brushed against it and I just squeaked “NOPE!” and decided there was no way in hell I was going to touch it again. Ever.
A few years ago I was in an abusive and controlling relationship, which I wrote about here. One of the ways he tried to control me was by policing what I ate. He would order for both of us in restaurants and if I tried to voice an opinion, he would threaten to make a scene. I was so mortified I just kept quiet. On days when he was “being nice”, he would cook what his family considered to be “proper” food and if I didn’t want to eat it, he would literally throw it at me. I remember one night he’d made a pot of beef stew that was his gran’s recipe, and when I asked if we could have something without meat in it the next night he started screaming at me that I thought I was better than his family and dumped the whole pot of hot stew on my lap. I started eating whatever I was given and from that point on, he made a point of making sure I had to eat pork or beef or chicken, every night. He accused me of trying to control what he ate, of trying to make him into a vegan like his last girlfriend. I genuinely thought I was going crazy.
After we broke up I still ate meat, I cooked it for friends, and I was so good at it that it was almost like the compliments I got helped erase some of the negative associations I had with food. The weird thing was, I very rarely ate what I made. I have always hated the taste of pork, but I cooked it for other people. I’d spend hours preparing a dinner for everyone but I’d only eat the potatoes.
Last year I realised that I had been more or less vegetarian for awhile, though I’d never called myself one before. When I ate at home, it was always noodles and pasta with vegetables. When I went out for dinner with friends, I always went for the veggie option. I just thought I was an omnivore who didn’t eat much meat! Last summer my friend bet me I couldn’t go vegan for a week, and when I realised how much better I felt cutting dairy out of my diet I decided not to go back. I’ll admit that since then, I’ve slipped up a couple of times and eaten a bit of cheese, or a poached egg. Then I remember how much better I feel when I don’t.
It irritates the hell out of me that every day I hear of yet another place where the food is bland, or the vegan option is half-arsed in comparison to what our omni friends get to tuck into. Like we are an afterthought. Is it any wonder that I am annoyed when places get away with either terrible service or overcooked/undercooked food, because they know we have no choice?
Don’t get me wrong, there are veggie-friendly restaurants in Edinburgh I adore, that I go back to time and time again because they are solidly awesome. Hendersons for example has always had incredible food, from their salads to their delicious mains and their delicious cakes. If I have friends coming to visit, or I want to meet omni friends somewhere where they can’t fault the food (and won’t whinge about the lack of meat or cheese), it is my go-to choice. Moon and Hare is also one of my favourites. It’s my local, and I go there at least once a week for a matcha latte and something sweet. I’ve been to Kalpna a few times and I’ve loved it. Casa Angelina does the best vegan afternoon teas. Nova Pizza is another that I could eat at all the time, with a menu so extensive I struggle to choose sometimes.
For someone who isn’t necessarily a fan of burgers and hot dogs all the time, the choices are pretty limited for varied vegan options though. They’re boring. I want to see something beyond what I can make at home in under fifteen minutes if I venture out to eat, I’d love to see flavours and interesting combinations. I’d like to see someone do a freaking perfect vegan mac and cheese with a creamy, melty, gooey sauce that doesn’t make me miss dairy. Do you know how many vegan cheeses are out there, and how many melt just like the real thing? I do. I’ve tried dozens.
Both London and Toronto have a wealth of vegetarian and vegan restaurants with an incredible choice of delicious plant-based dishes, and even veggie-friendly omni restaurants where a mixed group can enjoy a meal without anyone missing out. They’re happy to veganise a vegetarian meal, or even take out the meat and replace it with something else. Something I can eat. It’s not difficult. Maybe it’s time Edinburgh did the same?
NOTE: I didn’t go into moral reasons for choosing veganism or vegetarianism as the post would have gotten too long. These were just my personal views on what I think the Edinburgh vegan foodie scene is missing. Some places in Edinburgh are awesome for vegan food, and some omni places are great at adapting their menu.
I love those places.