Is it just me, or are more and more places omitting details of meat in dishes included on their menus, like pork in the baked beans? Or octopus in the rice squares? These are just two examples I have dealt with in the past two weeks, and by no means are they alone. It’s bad enough that there are so many hidden animal products in our food. As much as I can, I try to avoid animal rennet (an extract from the stomachs of young animals such as cows and sheep) in cheese, beef tallow (fat used to coat or cook food in) in french fries and gelatine (a gelling agent made from the boiled bones, skins and tendons of animals), although I do not always ask the chef if every meal I consume contains them. In supermarkets things have to be so clearly labelled these days, why not at our restaurants? I am not asking for an ingredients list for each dish, but seriously, when the baked beans get to the table I do not expect to poke my fork into a piece of pig.
What about people with allergies? Surely when I ask about an item on the menu and am told it’s a fried rice square, and it comes complete with calamari and octopus on top, this could be dangerous? Especially when the inclusion is more subtle and harder to see. The most disturbing part is that most people don’t even know their food MIGHT contain these added ingredients, in the cases of the beef tallow and rennet, for instance. Walk into any pub bistro and order a bowl of chips, you will probably find that somewhere on the freezer bag it says “beef tallow” in the ingredients list. Kosher food, as another example, can never have meat and dairy touching, but in the case of many, many cheeses, they would fail to meet the standards, even though producers are not legally bound to state whether the rennet is animal based or vegetarian. In most cases, especially with supermarket cheeses today, you will find that they do state the origin, but walk into any cheese shop or deli and I’d be surprised if you found the shop assistant even knew what rennet was, let alone whether it was contained in their wares.
I am a fairly purist vegetarian. I do not remember the last time I knowingly ate any animal product. If I know it’s in there, I can no longer eat it, as has been the case with panna cotta, for example, which inevitably contains gelatine (I have tried to find a vegetarian recipe myself, and for all the effort it took, no regular chef in their right mind would bother). I am not asking for the chef to come to the table and proclaim with each order “WAIT! What you are about to eat may contain any number of dead livestock!”. I would like, though, the common courtesy of very obvious inclusions of simple things like pork hock, to be clearly stated on the menu so I can make my own choices when ordering. Surely it costs more to put it in there anyway?