No Really, Cheers

Thank you for having the idea of converting one of your high-profile branches to a vegetarian and vegan-only shop, and then extending its tenure for the rest of the summer.

Whilst on a purely selfish level it’s great to go in a lunchtime food spot and know I can have absolutely anything, that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the effect that opening a meat-free version of your ubiquitous restaurant will have on the hundreds of people who will pass through its doors each day.

The Backstory

When I became a vegetarian 15 years ago I was a staunch meat eater from the north of England who had gotten very ill in Thailand and stopped eating potentially unsafe meat for a ‘little while’. That short spell turned into the rest of my life. I became more and more aware of the ethical, environmental and personal health impact of meat once I viewed its consumption from a distance.


Veggies on the Rise… and Fall?

Back then in the early noughties lots of restaurants were improving their vegetarian offering, adding clearly marked ‘v’ symbols next to dishes on their menus. More vegetarian restaurants seemed to be opening, and Britain’s food scene appeared to naturally becoming greener. But somewhere in the mid-to-late noughties the trend for gourmet meat and fast food restaurants swiftly gathered momentum. Chains like Byron, MEATliquor and Nando’s grew rapidly. Independent meat restaurants and food trucks began to dominate our cities and all of a sudden it didn’t seem that cool to be veggie any more. A more ‘authentic’, pop-up, independent aesthetic pervaded and those helpful ‘v’ symbols started to disappear from even the large chain menus. Home cooking, barbecuing and smoking meat with beer cans up chicken’s rear ends and pigs on spits grow in occurrence. There are now clubs, festivals and a multitude of books devoted to meat.

So Meat Is Good…?

Somewhere the ethical dimension of that whole scene was omitted. Not hidden – Byron cheekily place plastic cows in the nooks and crannies of their restaurants, Gourmet Burger Kitchen joke about vegetarians in their marketing, American-style meat shacks proudly illuminate neon signs formed of pig silhouettes. Clearly then, no-one at these endpoints of the meat industry is bothered by the truth about how the meat arrived at their plates. Which is strange. As a nation of self-proclaimed ‘animal lovers’, the average Brit would wince at seeing any animal being mistreated. But the sheer ubiquity of these meat outlets creates an ‘everyone’s doing it’ socially-reinforced justification, perpetuating the moral gap between two inconsistent beliefs at odds with each other – ‘meat is good’ and ‘hurting animals is bad’. Meanwhile the alternative is increasingly drowned out.


Mac ‘n’ Cheese Always Wins

And so the voice of meat avoidance (or whatever the catch-all term for vegetarianism and veganism is) today is left to its more radical proponents – Morrissey, like the embarrassing un-PC uncle of veganism or PETA with its gruesome images and stories of animal abuse sure to turn eyes and minds away from the issue. I really don’t think they help the cause, but a sandwich shop full of tasty wraps, paninis, hot melts, mac ‘n’ cheese, cakes and treats all made without meat absolutely does. It is hard to imagine someone won’t leave your Broadwick Street branch this summer thinking that perhaps they could enjoy a life without meat.

Further reading: Pret’s blog on their findings after the first few weeks 🙂

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