Yotam Ottolenghi and the Vegan Police

April 29, 2011

Worthwhile but depressing New York Times article about Yotam Ottolenghi, one of the top chefs in the UK, and the grief he takes from the vegetarian community.

The guy’s an omnivore but his recipes are overwhelmingly vegetarian and vegan. His vegetarian (not vegan) cookbook Plenty spent years near the top of Britain’s bestseller lists. And here’s how the Times describes the restaurant chain he co-founded:

At its core, Ottolenghi is a modern deli, with vegetables as the focus instead of meat.

The guy’s probably done more to move people away from meat eating than any number of prominent vegan advocates, yet it’s clear from the article that the vegetarian community constantly gives him shit.

Now, to be clear, some of that shit is probably deserved. The guy did say in an interview last month that you can be a vegetarian and still eat fish. But what’s missing here is some basic gratitude. Ottolenghi’s someone who is helping to steer an entire nation away from daily meat eating. Vegans owe him praise rather than scorn.

I think it’s useful to divide chefs and food writers into three camps. The first camp are the people who are part of the problem: Paula Deen, Anthony Bourdain, Rachel Ray. Each of these people is helping to maintain the status quo, and is an asset to factory farming.

The second camp are the people who are either vegan or within spitting distance of being vegan: Jonathan Safran Foer, Kathy Freston, Robin Robertson, and so forth.

But it’s the third camp—made up of omnivores who eat vegan much of the time—that is likely doing the most to inspire people to move away from diets based heavily on animal products. Here, you’ve got people like Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, Michael Pollan, Morgan Spurlock, and Yotam Ottolenghi.

Time and again, I get the sense that there’s a large element of the vegan community that views this third camp with disdain, and lacks appreciation for all that they’re accomplishing.

Factory farming is a massive and powerful force, and we need the pool of people opposing it to be as large and motivated as possible. People like Yotam Ottolenghi deserve support and encouragement, and the vegan police once again deserve to be ignored. Link.

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