Down with the grilled vegetable plate!

Do not want.

By Ezra Klein

Let’s get something straight: A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat. It’s not someone who loves vegetables. Or dislikes composed meals. Or thinks food doesn’t benefit from seasoning, and saucing, and a variety of textures and grains and cooking methods.

I’m speaking, of course, about the dreaded “grilled vegetable plate.” I was at a popular D.C. restaurant today for a lunch panel and the room’s special menu didn’t include a vegetarian option. No problem, the hosts assured me they had other vegetarians and had cleared this with the restaurant beforehand. So when the waiter came around, I asked after the vegetarian meal. “Butternut squash risotto,” he said. Perfect.

Then he came back. Actually, the kitchen was doing a grilled vegetable plate. He hoped that was alright. It wasn’t. The grilled vegetable plate — or the GVP — is so lazy as to be legitimately offensive. That meal cost actual money. Was pasta really too difficult of a charge? A sandwich? Frittata? Stir fry? Gazpacho? Stew? Curries? Pizza? Salad? Bruschetta? Dumplings?

I can keep going. And this isn’t secret knowledge. There are a lot of books about cooking things without meat. And the menu at the restaurant in question actually includes items without meat. I would’ve been quite happy with the Porcini ravioli, for instance.

I ended up asking for pasta and being told that four other people had ordered the grilled vegetable plate. But after an uncomfortable exchange (where I might’ve called GVPs terrible, which I probably shouldn’t have done) I got some pasta anyway. So what’s the point of this post? Bad publicity, mainly. Vegetarians of the world need to stop accepting the GVP. It’s an insult, both from the kitchen to the diner, and from the kitchen to itself. It’s not that hard to cook without meat, and choosing to eat less meat shouldn’t result in a form of culinary punishment for diners. We can do better. Change is possible. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

17 responses to “Down with the grilled vegetable plate!

  1. AMEN! I would actually prefer to be told there are no vegetarian options as opposed to settling for the GVP. At least I could take my business elsewhere.

  2. Somewhere, Anthony Bourdain’s blood pressure just went up and he doesn’t really understand why.

  3. Most restaurants around here have very very vegetarian options. Sometimes it is only a “garden salad”: a bowl of iceberg lettuce with a cherry tomatoes and a slice of cucumber. A person can’t eat only that and expect to be satisfied! Why can’t they add a legume and/or a whole grain and make it a more complete meal? I’ve never seen a GVP at a restaurant but it is the same idea. There’s not a lot of substance to the meal. It also gets me that when they actually try to make a vegetarian meal, they often do it wrong. I went to a Mexican food place once and they had a vegetarian burrito on the menu (the only vegetarian dish available). It contained no traditional Mexican fare (hello? beans and rice). It was a wrap of soggy summer squash, cauliflower and carrot slices. Pretty yuck to me. I make a better burrito at home without much effort. People have no imagination! Vegetarianism is more than salad, steamed zucchini, and GVP! Now to get the chefs to realize it.

  4. I think the problem is that most vegetarians… older ones, who remember the “dark times” at any rate… have a thing about “not wanting to be a bother” when they dine in those settings. They remember when going out with a group meant their dinner might consist of a plate of onion rings or a garden salad, so that when you’re offered actual cooked vegetables it seems pretty reasonable. It seems to me to be changing pretty rapidly though… I’ve noticed two trendy restaurants near me who used to have pretty pathetic vegetarian choices update their menus to offer several good ones, including straight up vegan dishes. Keep the pressure on, I guess.

    In your particular case, however, it sounds like somebody simply screwed up.

  5. How is this bad publicity if you’re not even naming the restaurant?

  6. Down with the grilled vegetable sandwich (GVS) also!! Have had too many slimy tasteless GVSs in my day. Not to mention vegetable wraps, also gross if you ask me.

  7. Totally agree! How hard is it to read freaking Veganomicon?!

  8. … and this USED to be my summer cookout fall back.

  9. Ezra! Long time no see! Being a vegetable advocate…but also a cook…let me play devils advocate here.

    The issue here is this: for better or worse, we in the cooking biz use meat products to express our thoughts and skills and feelings about food.

    If someone tells us not to use them, you can understand how it rubs us the wrong way. Not that it’s any excuse to present something as terrible as you describe, but imagine this:

    Some skeevy TV guy saunters in to your washington post digs. They want to do a quick piece on government spending.

    “Hi Ezra, do you want to cut government spending?”
    “Well, let me show you this cool set of charts from John Sides I found”
    “No no no, we don’t want you to use that”
    “Use what?”
    “Charts…”
    “But i’m a wonky guy who loves charts”
    “Yeah, but we’re not using those charts on TV tonight”

    Now this shouldn’t excuse you from giving some good, sound knock-you out wonkery. But you’d probably be pissed at the TV crew.

  10. Scott, I feel like grilled veggies are totally acceptable at a backyard barbecue. It’s not like everybody else is getting homemade pappardelle with a wild boar ragu. I would far rather get grilled veggies at a cookout than an overcooked, dried-out veggie burger or hot dog.

  11. Preach it, Ezra! I love grilled veggies as much as the next red diaper doper baby, but a heap of ’em on a white plate does not make a meal.

    And to Josh in the comments: You sound like a lovely person, but I really don’t give a crap if you, as a cook, take offense at the fact that people make their own decisions about what they consume. If meat is so integral to your culinary identity that you find it offensive to be expected to prepare dishes without it, respectfully, you might just have control issues.

  12. @Corey: Do you disagree with my little vignette? I’m all for vegetarians…the past two exes were veggies so I’ve cooked veg at home for about 4 years now. Nor do I mind it in the kitchen: I worked at Vegetate for a few months before moving on to meatier pastures.

    All I’m saying is that I can understand where cooks come from. Indeed, it’s common among most people: they like do things the way they are used to and are often skeptical when told to do it some other way.

    My post was positive, not normative my friend.

  13. very informative post to read.

  14. I don’t mind some meat on occasion, but I dislike how common it is from chefs. Cooking meat so it tastes good is really easy; mixing spices and herbs actually requires a bit of skill.

  15. Pingback: The far reaching impact of the grilled vegetable plate « DC Striving

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  17. A-men!
    My vegetarian pet peeve remains the goat cheese salad. It’s as if it’s the only thing they learn in culinary school! As if there are No Vegetarian Cookbooks! As if Vegetarians Hate Food!

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