In too deep

Whenever you eat vegan food in a non-vegan establishment, you really are at the mercy of the place. I recently found out that one of my favourite non-vegan vegan food suppliers was maybe not taking my food choices as seriously as I was.

Does this story have a happy ending? Read on…

The Gallery Cafe on Old Ford Road

The Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green has been a staple of the vegetarian eating scene for many years. It has long been a go-to place for inner city diners looking for a meal without meat. Everything is suitable for vegetarians and only two dishes contain dairy products: the halloumi wrap and pizza with animal-sourced cheese. Everything else is advertised as suitable for vegans.

But the story isn’t as simple as that.

I was contacted a few days ago by a concerned person who had seen me bragging on Facebook about the best vegan burger in the UK. Of course, this was in relation to my wondrous experience eating the vegan burger (their name, not mine) at The Gallery Cafe a few weeks ago.

My concerned informant told me that the burger patty I ate was fried in the same oil that is often used to fry halloumi cheese. I was a little skeptical owing to the number of hysterical stories about cross-contamination that we vegans hear, but my conversation buddy had an inside line. They work/have worked for the cafe very recently. (The person has asked me to protect their identity)

I of course went overboard with the questions. Was this a one off? Are they sure? How big is the fryer? Was the oil changed between vegan and non-vegan cooking?

My informant came back with the same answer every time. They were 100% confident vegan and non-vegan items were fried in the same oil. Not just once, but as an ongoing practice. Some of the vegan items fried from time to time in the same oil as the cheese included falafel, burgers, chips and sausages. Making them, from time to time, not vegan.

I’m all about hearing all sides of the story, so I waddled down to the Bethnal Green location as quickly as my chubby, queer frame would permit and asked to speak with the chef. The chef at first assured me they always separated the two sections of the fryer into vegan and non-vegan. I asked the chef if this was the case for all of the staff in the cafe. The chef repeated that they themselves always ensured to fry vegan items separately. I then asked wether I could take this to indicate that some staff members might not be so diligent. The chef said it was possible.

I then spotted the manager of the establishment and asked for a moment to discuss my concerns. The manager assured me all staff were under strict instructions to never fry vegan and non-vegan items in the same oil. My line of questioning was exhaustive and the conversation ended with the manager stating that if this had ever happened in the past, I could rest assured it would never happen in the future.

Before I even got home that evening, there was an email waiting for me from the manager stating the cafe had purchased a new fryer solely dedicated to the frying of halloumi. The original double fryer, I have been told, will be emptied and refilled. All staff have been instructed again to never confuse the two fryers.

So, in the past the cafe had a fryer with two sections. I believe it was their best intention to keep the two sections separate. However, my source informs me when the cafe was swamped with orders, the staff would use whichever side of the fryer was available. I have no reason other than to consider this as highly probable.

Now I am convinced (by the manager’s email & further staff feedback) that the cafe has a controlled and dedicated procedure for keeping the vegan food vegan. As of today!

Next time you are in, please thank them for taking this step to ensure your chips and burgers aren’t fried with cheese fat. I will leave it up to a healthier vegan than me to take on the challenge of why sausages and burgers are deep fried. I’m happy enough if they are vegan LOL.

Disclaimer: I am hosting the 2013 London Vegan Beer Fest on the grounds attached to The Gallery Cafe. These plans in no way affected my decision to question the cafe. My desire to eat vegan food and for vegan food to be truly vegan, inspired me to approach them.

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About fatgayvegan

Fat. Gay. Vegan. Vegan everything including events, beer, food, PR and travel.
This entry was posted in I'll pay you to cook for me, London can you wait?, Vegan and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to In too deep

  1. toxicvegan says:

    You’re like a vegan super hero. You need a cape 🙂

  2. Em says:

    Just found your blog and I’m really enjoying it. Well done on getting the cafe to change its methods.

  3. Metala says:

    I ate in the gallery cafe once, ordered a pizza which took an hour to come out and it was burnt! 😦

  4. veganbutnotamoron says:

    Oh man, you are such a douche bag. Vegan police like you are what give us a bad name.. I would be ore concerned by the fact that that cafe changes the oil/cleans the fryers like once a week (if that). Your “source” is also a bit obvious, he’s getting a bit big for his boots around this part of town.

    • fatgayvegan says:

      Thanks for the comment.

    • Beary says:

      Flippin eck mush, it does matter, it’s comments lie this that give Vegans a bad name. Always glad of a differing opinion, even if you’re wrong.

    • Femz says:

      I think you are probably the one who is the douche and doesn’t respect other people’s beliefs. I am a vegetarian and I always ensure my food is not contaminated! Same is applicable for veganism. It’s not taking it too far!! Surely a Vegan/Veggie cafe should recognise that above all!!

    • Jenny Marie says:

      Douche! Such an ineffective insult if meant seriously…… Too comedy. Well done Fat Gay Vegan, I would wear my ‘Vegan Police’ badge with pride if I were you 🙂

  5. Have you never eaten chips from the chippy…fried with the fish? It’s about the bigger picture rather than worrying about ‘contamination’. Veganism is ethical rather than religious. You’d expect better from a veggie cafe, but can’t see that it’s a big problem.

    Bez veganoo.net
    PS Having met you last weekend you didn’t seem like much of a douchebag

    • fatgayvegan says:

      Hi Bez…. thanks for the vote of non-douchery.

      I do not eat chips (or anything else) cooked in the same oil as animal products. If a vegetarian cafe sells me something as vegan, I expect and trust them to understand I don’t want it cooked with cheese.

      My choice as a vegan is to persuade food providers to make a clear distinction between vegan and non-vegan food. In my mind, when a burger or potato is cooked in the same oil as cheese it stops being vegan. I understand that isn’t everyone’s opinion. But this story is more for vegans who share my concerns. Trying to convince vegans to care about vegan food being fried with animal fats is a bigger battle than I’m prepared to wage at the moment.

      But as a vegan consumer and blogger, I can flex my feeble consumer muscle to ask food providers to serve me plant-based food that isn’t cooked with or in the same oil as animal fats. I don’t think I’m being a ‘difficult vegan’, just trying to get what is advertised, what I pay for and what I want.

  6. mush says:

    It really does matter on a personal level but in some cases (ie abroad) it is often the best you can do to get a meal of vegan ingredients without worrying about the fryers and such. However if a dish is advertised as ‘vegan’ then I expect it to be seperately prepared in the same way nobody advertises something as nut free unless they are sure of no cross contamination. Here’s the insult you asked for… you sir, are an overweight homosexual herbivore!!! TAKE THAT!

  7. racheyc says:

    Haha… I think that the name “Veganbutnotamoron” is actually an oxymoron..

  8. I definitely think it’s a personal thing as to whether or not the cross contamination thing bothers you. That said it is important to me that my chips don’t taste of fish and if the food providers are selling something as vegan then I expect them to fully respect what that means. I try not to be all bitchy to them and expect the same in return when discussing the matter. 🙂

  9. caroline says:

    of course it matters. I ask everywhere I go and if the chips are not cooked separately I will not order them. I think that they taste different but also meat turns my stomach and I don’t want my dinner cooked in beside a bit of dead animal.

  10. Kitty Heath says:

    Douchebag? Hilarious! How does questioning a cafe on it’s vegan options, which it turns out are not really, qualify you as a douchebag? Well done-hopefully they will now take it more seriously- as they should and that can only be a good thing-right? It is up to us as individuals to choose what we eat-not have something snuck in out of laziness. It’s disrespectful and sloppy. The sloppy bit bothers me even more-which is why I don’t bother eating out at all. I don’t like mystery items and surprises!

  11. Plumes says:

    I don’t think its being picky to expect something labelled as vegan to actually be vegan! If something labelled as vegetarian had been cooked in the same oil as meat it would no longer be considered vegetarian. Some fights are bigger than others but if you had a dairy allergy and your food was contaminated it could cause a big issue for you and the party at fault.

  12. Kat says:

    I didn’t eat chips on a recent trip to Belgium because it was impossible to find a place that had them without cross contamination. And Belgium is famous for chips!

    But yeah, the same oil should not be used for both vegan and non-vegan stuff. That’s gross. And not vegan.

  13. Good job, I always exhaust the staff everywhere I go with questions related their hygiene in the kitchen. Does it contain dairy products, what about this, do u make it with eggs, what about that. Haha. Yeah, its really important, then what wuld be the difference between me and a non-vegan?

  14. Drew says:

    Hey I’m glad that the cafe that describes themselves as ‘Vegan and vegetarian’ and which labels all sorts of its items as vegan is now really vegan. Good work! And if you’re a douche you’re my kind of douche. Umm that didn’t sound right…

  15. Paul says:

    would you expect a Jew to eat food cooked in pork fat? There’s no difference here.

  16. Clur says:

    I totally agree with FGV. I always check and would never eat them if cooked in the same fat as the idea is revolting to me.
    It’s frustrating because it rules out a lot of venues. I asked in one recently though and the chef was horrified at the idea, saying that they should never be cooked together just on the basis that different cooking temperatures are required

  17. Clare says:

    Of course it matters, mainly because it’s gross! I haven’t eaten animal products for over a decade, the thought that my food might be cooked with burgers or cheese etc. is disgusting to me – ethically and health-wise. If there is no claim that it is vegetarian or vegan, I suppose it’s not so much of an issue, but if they are saying it is vegan then it is definitely not OK. The restaurant may thank you in the long run anyway, because people choosing the vegan dish because of lactose allergies could have a serious reaction to something cooked with dairy and potentially sue the place. Many vegans without allergies become lactose intolerant pretty quickly too, so many people eating at places that are not careful in the kitchen will go home and find themselves with stomach ache.

  18. Ben says:

    I for one never concern myself with this. I’m a hard-liner in most respects but if tiny particles of meat or dairy are swimming around in oil I get my chips or whatever from, I really don’t care. At the end of the day, the particles are a tiny waste product that would never be intentionally consumed by anyone. I’m not denying others of waste particles, thus driving up the demand, so where is the harm? They’re created by the meaty orders, not mine. Where they go from there is random and inconsequential. I’d rather it didn’t happen but I wouldn’t lose sleep over it!

  19. Strikes me that everyone is a winner here:
    Fat Gay Vegan and the people who care about this issue because they can now dine there with a clear mind.
    The people who don’t care enough to make a point presumably would still prefer their food to be cooked in uncontaminated fat and now they know it is.
    People like me who had never heard of the Gallery Cafe until they read this post but will now definitely go and eat there.
    The cafe itself as they will gain additional business from additional customers, like me.
    The kitchen staff because it sounds as if they really needed an additional fryer and this was the motivation to go and get one.

    So, well done FGV, sparking an interesting date (Paul’s comment was my personal favourite) and doing something to improve everyone’s Vegan world.

    Take a Vegan Hero point!
    xxx

  20. Charlie says:

    I have some bit concerns about this post. FGV, this blog is awesome so hope you will take this in a helpful spirit.

    I love the gallery cafe – my favourite vegan place in London, it’s cheap and unpretentious and the food is great.

    But my issue with this post isn’t that FGV criticises my favourite vegan cafe, it’s that I make a big point to show non-vegans that being vegan is easy and that it doesn’t involve being picky or difficult. Any non-vegan reading this encounter or indeed overhearing it when it happened would get the opposite impression. So whilst FGV has the right to ask the cafe about frying methods for his own personal purposes and peace if mind, I think it’s a bad idea to publish a blog which could be used by non vegans as ammunition against us being obsessive and hard to please.

    Being vegan isn’t a religion to uphold the sacred practices of whilst in the company of fellow believers , it’s a personal choice to not inflict suffering on animals. How your food is fried doesn’t bother me as long as it didn’t involve meat, clearly FGV is more strict. That’s his choice, and it’s not douchey to ask about it. But I think it’s unnecessary and counter productive of the image of vegans to feel an obligation to shout this to the world.

    Especially when FGV normally makes it sound so fun and exciting to be vegan! That’s the kind of image we want to portray.

    • fatgayvegan says:

      I ask about non-vegan food being cooked with vegan food because I don’t want to eat food that has been cooked that way. I post stories such as this because I want other people who feel the same way I do to know they can ask for change and transparency. Anyone who takes this blog post as a representation of how all vegans feel/act/think must be slightly naive, small-minded or ill-informed. I have never and would never want to speak for all vegans. Everything I do in relation to this blog is a form of activism inspired by my own feelings, even the fun stuff. Parties are a good way to support vegans and exposé style stories are a good way to make requests of food suppliers. And the bottom line governing all of this is that I don’t think people should exploit animals for food, clothing or entertainment. I think in the face of the immense suffering going on in the world, my request of the cafe and a follow up blog post is more than justified and appropriate.

      And Charlie, if I found out a cafe was serving vegetarian food cooked with meat fats would you want me to tell you? Or is that taking the fun out of veganism? Everyone has their own line. Yours is meat. Mine is any animal-derived product.

      And to address a lot of the criticism I have received over this post, I must say I find it mind-boggling to think a polite conversation I had with a cafe that turned into a polite blog post could be seen as hostile, policing or giving vegans a bad name. This is the calmest and most accessible form of activism I can imagine and I believe my approachable nature and down to Earth attitude gives vegans a good name. I didn’t throw a brick through their window. I asked polite questions and reported their words!

      Complacency forces a lot of people not to speak up for what they believe in. As does the fear of being seen a trouble maker or agitator. To those sentiments, I say too bad. I am happy to be seen a trouble maker by a few if it means I can help many more access a reason to eat vegan more often.

      • Lucy says:

        This is something I always worry about when eating out and it’s good to know exactly which restaurants take it seriously. So, thank you. This is a blog – it is meant to be as entertaining as it is informative. If that pisses people off, I suggest they take a look at what it is in their own lives that is steering them away from a place of peace and towards outward shows of aggression.

      • missalej says:

        Very well said! Amen to that 🙂

  21. Hey FGV – I love your cause. However you should accept that almost all chefs: a) despise vegetarians, and b) really, really despise vegans. Having worked as a student back in my youthful days I saw the head chef of a major Dunblane hotel dip his manhood into a chilled fruit juice of an elderly lady who found the juice too chilled to drink. Last January my partner and I ate out in the Hollybank Restaurant, Stirling – and having phoned ahead to request a vegan meal, were given some pasta dish that reeked of meat, Presumably the limit of the chef’s cunning was to chuck meat stock into the pansy vegan dish to impress the kitchen porter. I just mean that al the reassurance and promises in the world sadly won’t compensate for the less worldly attitudes of certain (most) kitchen staff.

  22. caroline says:

    Well said. I find it difficult to believe that some of the criticism on here is by fellow vegans. It is so difficult to politely question the person cooking for you ,whether it be a cafe, or in someones home but surely we should have that right . If we have taken the big step ( only in terms of it being a more challenging way to live, not because it isn’t right)of giving up all animal products and we are so careful in our clothing and food shopping, why should we be scared to complain about things not being right for us ?, It is hard to find somewhere to eat out (luckily I have a great cook for a partner) but i will not shut up just not to annoy people. I want to relax and enjoy my meal knowing that the person cooking it understands what a vegan dish is, you would expect this to be the case in a veggie cafe! so please keep on doing what you are doing – I am heartened to know there are like minded people out there!x

  23. saira grice says:

    I totally agree with VMAFO – to acronymize her?- on this.
    In no way would this put me off eating at the Gallery Cafe; the fact of their honest and proactive response to your investigation shows that they do not have a cynical attitude to their vegan clientele and demonstrates a commitment to keeping it ‘kosher’. You served to pull them up on having falling into sloppy practice- and thank you for taking the time to do so- and so now EVERYONE- vegan purists, vegan pragmatists, vegetarians of all persuasions, herbivore-curious, can all enjoy eating there, “all are safely gathered in”.
    I look forward to the next heated debate!

  24. heatlhy vegan says:

    My concern is more about the amount of deep frying going on, neither of these items needs to be cooked in a deep fat fryer and would probably taste better if they weren’t. So often vegan and vegetarian food forgets cooking technique and quality of ingredients. If ‘vegans’ are getting a bad name there is always the name ‘plant based’ to switch to for a new start.

  25. Vicky says:

    As someone who eats vegan food due to a dairy allergy, mix ups like this are really important! Thank you for flagging it, and for encouraging these changes 🙂

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