If you order a vegan meal and it comes out with non-vegan food in it*, should you send it back or should you eat it? I see this question come up a lot on social media and it seems to have people pretty divided, so I just thought I’d formally write up my opinion. Hopefully it helps you decide what you would do if it happens to you.
In short, I would almost always** send the meal back. If I’m with non-vegans, it shows them I take this whole ethics thing seriously, and it makes a statement to restaurant. It might even stop it from happening to the next vegan. Some restaurants are pretty clueless. I once went to a place that served chicken stock in a little bowl as a side to an item listed as vegan on their menu. I asked if it was vegetable stock, and they said no, it was chicken. “Why, do you not eat chicken?”
“Well, I ordered the vegan option.” They seemed pretty confused about the whole thing, so hopefully making a point about it stops it from being served with chicken stock in the future.
Also, especially in a non-restaurant setting, if non-vegan friends or colleagues see you accepting animal products, they may be more likely to serve you them in the future.
I guess there is the counter-point of people seeing you as ‘not flexible’ which might make people see veganism more negatively, or might slightly nudge someone away from trying it. My intuition is that this effect would be small, but I’m happy for someone to try and change my mind. There is the issue of ‘wasting food’, but again, one meal would make pretty little difference to global food waste.
I’ve also had many vegan pizzas come with dairy cheese instead of no cheese or vegan cheese, which I send back. I used to work at a pizza restaurant, and I know first hand that food sent back as a mistake tends to get eaten by the staff. This definitely mitigates the food waste argument.
I have been told second hand about one individual who has risen fairly high in the US public servant sphere (I have been asked not to share their name – let’s call them Casey).
Casey wields a lot of influence, and their job affects the wellbeing of a lot of sentient beings both now and in the future. They often have meals with very important and powerful people. Casey is a vegan for ethical reasons, but they are not very public about it, and when it comes to eating with said important people, rumour has it that they have taken up eating meat again. This is my guesswork, but I’m assuming this is because Casey is worried about how they might be perceived after revealing that they are vegan, and that they believe their job is so important that the possibility of harming their effectiveness is too great to risk.
A couple of comments on this. I can’t share with you what Casey actually does for work, so you’ll have to take my word on this, but I really believe that their job is so important that this is a valid concern. What’s important to maximise is your impact on suffering and wellbeing, not ones’ personal purity (which should just be a tool for the former).
However, with the knowledge I have on the situation (granted, not as much as Casey has), I disagree with their (assumed) conclusion. I don’t know how much being publicly but quietly vegan would harm ones’ reputation and effectiveness in certain circles. I also think that there could be some benefit in being a super important person that also happens to be vegan.
Having said that, I am open to that being the best course of action. In extreme cases, I might even do the same, as hard as it would be to bring myself to do. However, I want to stress that I don’t think I’ve come across a situation yet in my life where I would have been better off pretending to not be vegan (and I’ve had dinner with the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company), and I don’t think that most people ever will.
One thing I haven’t discussed yet is that some vegans might just be totally disgusted by the prospect of eating animal products. This seems like a fairly valid reason to send the food back. Your personal wellbeing should be equally weighted with that of others. I personally enjoy the unami taste (meaty taste) of food, which is why I can eat realistic meat alternatives while some other vegans can’t. But I would still be disgusted by the knowledge that I am eating an actual animal or their excretion.
In short, I’d advocate for sending back the meal.
* For clarity, I’m talking about something like any of the following; your vegan pizza comes out with dairy cheese or meat on it, your veggie burger is actually a beef burger, your laksa has fish stock in it instead of vegetable stock, or your meal comes out with a non-vegan side.
** Just meaning that I would require extenuating circumstances to not send it back.