Today's text from my friend Wendy was about Shake Shack. Shake Shack lies! she says. The gourmet-burger chain's vegetarian burger isn't really vegetarian. Wendy sleuths out seemingly meat-free meals all over Orlando. She calls or visits to ask probing questions. Often, the answers lead her to denounce the restaurant as not serving proper vegetarian meals.
I balk, even cringe, when Wendy confronts staffers, but she has a point. At Shake Shack, for instance, she cites two crimes against her diet. First, Shake Shack grills its 'Shroom burger on the same grill as its beef versions. That means residue from the beef will probably make its way, albeit microscopically, into the mouths of those who choose the portobello-based sandwich. Second, the cheese filling is made with meunster and cheddar. At least one was curdled or thickened using rennet which, as it turns out, is a cheese-producing agent that begins with the stomach of a baby calf.
Until now, I've shrugged off Wendy's diligence as passion. None of my other vegetarian friends has ever mentioned either violation, so the issue has seemed insignificant. Most, though, are into the meat-free eating for health or weight reasons and they even eat a chicken stew or pastrami sandwich on rare occasions. Think: flexitarian. Wendy's reasoning is more about animal rights.
Suddenly I thought about kosher products. At many deli counters, signs say something along the lines of "Kosher meats when sliced become unkosher." In other words, take that nice Hebrew National salami and have a quarter-pound turned into nice slim pieces on the same machine that first produced a half-pound of similarly handled ham, or even Boar's Head salami, and the kosher version is tainted. Of course consumers should be warned! Kosher is kosher.
If kosher is kosher, vegetarian is vegetarian.
Wendy has a point.
So here are the questions: Is the vegetarian tainting different than the kosher tainting? Should chefs be careful to not choose cheeses made with rennet for dishes billed as vegetarian? (I am aware that most restaurateurs no nothing about rennet. Should vegetarian groups make an effort to educate them?) Is it OK or taboo to use the same grill for vegetarian and meat-type products? Is it OK, but only if a sign is posted that the vegetarian item will become nonvegetarian when cooked? What obligation does the chef have to make a vegetarian item truly, Wendy-worthy vegetarian? Most restaurants nowadays have a meat-free item, so there's no question about offering something that is loosely vegetarian.
Let's start a discussion about how far chefs should go.
Eat enthusiastically, with meat or without,