Catering for all tastes

Having a party? Entertaining at work?

Does vegetarian food even cross your mind?

It should do because nine times out of ten, the vegetarian food always seems to disappear the fastest.

I say this as someone who has gone to buffet tables only to be faced with piles of chicken nuggets, barbecued ribs, ham rolls, cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon – you get the idea – and ALL the vegetarian food has disappeared.

What is it with meat-eaters that they always go for the vegetarian food?

Just for the benefit of anyone who isn’t clear yet, vegetarian food does not include fish or chicken. It does include dairy products, and free-range eggs. Cheese must not be made with animal rennet but a vegetarian substitute should be used.

For anyone who doesn’t know much about rennet – here you go:

Production of natural calf rennet
Natural calf rennet is extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber (the abomasum) of slaughtered young, unweaned calves. These stomachs are a by-product of veal production. If rennet is extracted from older calves (grass-fed or grain-fed) the rennet contains less or no chymosin but a high level of pepsin and can only be used for special types of milk and cheeses. As each ruminant produces a special kind of rennet to digest the milk of its own species, there are milk-specific rennets available, such as kid goat rennet for goat’s milk and lamb rennet for sheep’s milk.

Traditional method
Dried and cleaned stomachs of young calves are sliced into small pieces and then put into saltwater or whey, together with some vinegar or wine to lower the pH of the solution. After some time (overnight or several days), the solution is filtered. The crude rennet that remains in the filtered solution can then be used to coagulate milk. About 1Β gram of this solution can normally coagulate 2 to 4 liters of milk.
This method is still used by some traditional cheese-makers, e.g. in Switzerland, Greece, France, Romania, Italy, Sweden, United Kingdom and Alp-Sennereien in Austria.

Modern method
Deep-frozen stomachs are milled and put into an enzyme-extracting solution. The crude rennet extract is then activated by adding acid; the enzymes in the stomach are produced in an inactive form and are activated by the stomach acid. The acid is then neutralized and the rennet extract is filtered in several stages and concentrated.

Alternative sources of rennet
Because of the limited availability of mammalian stomachs for rennet production, cheese makers have looked for other ways to coagulate the milk since at least Roman times. There are many sources of enzymes, ranging from plants, fungi, and microbial sources, that can substitute for animal rennet. Cheeses produced from any of these varieties of rennet are suitable for lacto-vegetarians to consume.

So there you have it. (ta wiki)

Back to catering. It would be even nicer to cater for vegans too, which is pretty simple, just miss out the dairy produce and eggs.

A long time ago we took a trip to Paris with BA. For some reason on a national and non-charter airline we couldn’t book vegetarian meals in advance. By the time the staff (can’t remember the current term for air hostesses/stewards/waiters etc) got to us, there were no veg breakfasts left. Really? The plane was so full of vegetarians? I think not. And basically they weren’t carrying enough veg meals. Everyone knows that the vegetarian option on flights is better than the ordinary stuff. The vegan ones are better still.

On the way back there was nothing vegetarian for anyone to snaffle before we did. Just nothing. After politely expressing our dissatisfaction they plied us with alcohol! Lots of it. We staggered off the plane having drunk all they could throw at us, and weighed down with tiny bottles of wine and spirits. Unbelievable. Food would have been preferable.

At one point in my heady career I used to order catering for a number of meetings. One of these was the prestigious monthly board meeting of directors.

My predecessor had arranged for a HUGE banquet to be served including half a dozen desserts, cakes, trifles, you name it, a load of cold meat, varying salads, and a load of other carnivorous goodies as well. This was for about eleven people. It was ridiculous and after every meeting, there was more than half the food left, so staff got to pick at it. But what a waste of public money. Oh, my predecessor had a catering qualification which may or may not have explained such largesse. She certainly didn’t have a financial qualification.

At one point the directors actually mentioned the food and agreed they would be quite happy with sandwiches. Well that saved me bringing in the axe on the banquet. So sandwiches they got. And a few other cold savouries, but at least it wasn’t the wedding feast of previous meetings. I changed suppliers, used a public sector catering firm, and always ensured there was something vegetarian.

I chaired a bi-monthly meeting at lunchtime for busy doctors. I did actually ask what people wanted to eat and they said they were perfectly happy with the selection I had chosen which was primarily vegetarian, although none of them were. Maybe it was a change for them? Regardless of that, if people are giving up their lunch hour for a meeting that helps me do my job, I want them to be happy with the food.

One medic did complain though. He wanted more meat. I ordered more meat for the next meeting and he didn’t turn up. The meat went untouched. I received a grovelling apology (he’d heard about the excess of meat on the clinical gossip network). I went back to the previous buffet menu and he never complained again.

Partner went to a Christmas works do a few years ago. Would there be vegetarian food? Yes, they had checked that out for him. When it turned up, the meal was roast potatoes, chips, and boiled potatoes. And while he likes potatoes he was pretty racked off with that.

We went to an opening night of a bar here in Gib. Same question, same answer. There was lettuce garnish next to the dead animals and deep fried peppers stuffed with cheese. There may have been one other non-dead item. There was nothing vegan. There were a lot of chicken legs, spare ribs, fish things etc etc.

Some twenty years ago we went on a cross-country skiing holiday in France with the Ramblers Association. I mention the RA as it was a crap holiday so I wish to slag them off for it, especially as they never responded to my complaint. The vegetarian food was not good. It took until the end of the week before the chef had the slightest understanding of what we ate, and no, picking the ham out of the peas was not adequate.

These days I’m not sure we are any further on in terms of understanding.

It is very tedious being treated as a second class citizen. Or third class. Or actually, non-existant. If someone says they have a particular dietary need or choice then it shouldn’t be too difficult to cater for them, whether they have diabetes, gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance or follow dietary rules based on religion.

Put simply, vegan options – without gluten or nuts – suit just about everyone. So why don’t more caterers or food suppliers do that? It must be far easier than providing separate Kosher, Halal, diabetic, coelic, vegetarian, vegan, casein/lactose-free foods.

Easy and tasty food?

Olive pate
Roasted and marinated peppers
Vegetable salads
Stuffed vegetables
Potato salad
Pickled vegetables

These are all dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan and don’t offend religious rules. Sure, by all means add meat/chicken/fish to your entertaining, but do give a thought to those of us who really don’t want to eat non-vegetarian cheese and pineapple on a stick.

Post inspired by ‘No. I do NOT eat fish’ from More than Greens.

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Vegetarian Blogs.

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
This entry was posted in animal rights, food, vegan, vegetarian, work and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Catering for all tastes

  1. jules1310 says:

    Really good post, love your blog πŸ™‚


  2. EllaDee says:

    Great post, and once again many of the issues you raise come down to $$$$. Vegetable rennet is equally viable but I assume not as financially viable, or manufacturers/producers aren’t willing to change. I recently sent this link containing a reference to scotch thistle rennet – – to another blogger. I have to confess even though I’m not either, I often prefer and select vegetarian/vegan options – blame poor food handling & past bad experiences. Whoever is providing the food shoulders the onus – ask people, as does the firm I work for, what their food requirements are and cater accordingly, specifically. In these days of food allergies etc there’s no other viable option. That said, some of the vegetarian offerings elsewhere I have come across have been way under par. Sadly, for many of us, vegetarian and non, sometimes the only option is to not partake at all. I agree, it needs to change.


    • Thanks, not so much great, I was just going to reply to another blog and realised my thoughts were too long. Must link to that other blog now I remember.

      I think, like using leather for shoes, using stomachs/intestines is an economically viable way of using up all the dead bits of animals to maximise the profit. The last par quoted from wiki was interesting in that there is a shortage of dead animal stomachs. Which bears out my point about using it is a financial reason.

      Hey! I love that you have said you are one of those wicked people who take the veggie offerings! Which totally supports my point, there should be more of it (and better quality).

      I would be extremely picky if I was catering these days, it would all have signs on regarding gluten, lactose, nuts, and meat/fish/chicken. Hardly difficult.


  3. free penny press says:

    I don’t know how many times I have attended parties or work events and there is always a big slab of meat..I respect meat-eaters because who am I to judge what they ingest, but damn veggie is always healthier and yes, the first foods to vanish.. Any event I hold at my house, it’s meat-free.. I will confess to some shrimp though πŸ™‚


    • People make their choices as you say. I wish theirs was the same as mine because I think it would be better for everyone, but that isn’t life.

      The amount of work events where I have been reduced to eating lettuce and tomato is beyond a joke. I am not a rabbit and I would really like more respect.

      There is a huge psychological thing here about ‘needing’ to eat meat. Non meat food can be perfectly tasty – it’s a totally cultural view that thinks every meal should have meat on the table.

      We’ve fed non-veggies, and they had seconds. πŸ˜€ We didn’t fall out afterwards.


  4. bluonthemove says:

    I suspect the issue lies with caterers and catering schools. Most meat eaters also eat vegetables and will happily scoff a slice of veg quiche with their chicken leg. I believe a well thought out buffet for a group of people should be around 75% vegetarian. As someone who doesn’t eat raw vegetables, I’d hope some of them were cooked.

    As for airlines, I usually tried to eat before boarding, especially in the old days when I flew cattle class and marginally preferred sitting at the back with the smokers. They were generally a nicer bunch of fellow travellers and few people booked their kids into smoking, so noise levels were lower and you didn’t have to sit close to some snivelling/crying specimen. However, by the time the food arrived down the back of the plane, there was never a choice, but always plenty of alcohol!!


    • You’re right of course. Meat eaters will add some veggie tasties to their meat dishes without even thinking about it. And 75% sounds pretty sensible, given the way the meat stays and the veg goes. Needs to be sensible though. And easy to eat, rice salad is good but messy, for example. I usually blanche my raw veg, apart from grated carrot, turnip (ie white) and beetroot. Just because the dog likes raw peas and beans doesn’t mean the rest of need to eat that way although there is an argument for it through raw foods. Spinach is uncooked too. But is that salad or veg?

      Haha! The old days of flying when there was plenty of space and loads of booze. Back then I wasn’t even veg. Sounds a bit like sitting at the back of the school bus with all the reprobates.


      • Oh and the catering schools too. I’ve had a couple of friends in catering. Different diets doesn’t even come into it 😦 And yet because I used a left-wing council catering firm – they had plenty of veg options. Catering schools are partly to blame but human intransigence moreso.


        • bluonthemove says:

          My brother organised events for Clwyd then Flintshire. He could have written your post with respect to the buffets. Nutritional differences are however the main reason I’ve not seen him in over 10 years. Catering schools still seem to me to see vegetarianism as an unimportant minority.


          • Just lol!!I didn’t have religious diets to cater for at the time, or intolerance ones, but the vegan one fits most, which is why I suggested it. I think your brother and I should eat together πŸ˜€ Food choices does bring its barriers, re some posts I’ve written about my parents. I don’t know enough about catering schools these days but there is some seriously clever veg cookery out there. I follow a fair amount of vegan blogs and they are amazing. Not that I am going to go there, tonight will be salad out of a bag, and home made (vegan) pizza. I really loathe cheese on pizza.


      • bluonthemove says:

        I’m talking salad and veg. I don’t eat lettuce, haven’t done in over 30 years, so the only salads I’ll eat are potato, pasta etc. which have been cooked and haven’t had raw bits added. I missed it when they banned smoking on flights, not because I smoked, but because they started distributing the brats right across the whole cabin area. Yes, in many ways smokers are like the reprobates at the back of the bus.


        • Not lettuce? not mizuna? not rocket? Love them all. But I do a lot of cooked veg too – beans, peas, artichokes, courgettes etc etc.

          When I flew international – there were no brats!!


  5. Good post and excellent advice. I got caught out this week when I failed to check in advance and a weekend guest announced that she was vegetarian! OMG! Luckily we were able to go through the bottom drawers of the fridge and respond in time with something acceptable – a combo of stuffed peppers and mushrooms.. I put the steak in the freezer and will have that later this week!


    • Thanks A. It’s not even advice. It’s just how to cater for everyone at a minimum and then add the extras, rather than doing it in reverse. The current position is – provide lots of dead animals, a bit of cheese, some egg things and a feeble salad. Oh, maybe a few dips from the supermarket laden with a load of crap 😦 But with no thought about other people’s lives, beliefs, wishes.

      Given the above comments from other people, concentrate on some decent veg stuff, and then add a bit of meat, whatever you choose, I mean who really likes chicken nuggets? If you are going to eat meat, go for jamon serrano or smoked salmon or something that at least tastes decent.


  6. More Than Greens says:

    So happy to have inspired your post! =)

    I agree with everything you wrote. Work function planners, party hosts, restaurants have all told me, “yes, there’ll be plenty of vegetarian food” and it turns out to be some lettuce leaves and potatoes. Maybe bread if I’m lucky. Sigh.

    At a work do recently, food was supplied by some of the staff and they assured me there would be vegetarian food. It was nothing fancy – sandwiches and stuffed potato skins. The potato skins ALL had ham in them (seriously, would it have been hard to have a mix?) and there was one small plate of vegetarian sandwiches filled with lettuce and hummus. Although there was a vast array of non-veg sandwiches available, everyone went for the veggie ones first (go figure) and not wanting to snatch the plate away and hide in a corner, me and another vegetarian girl at work had the equivalent of less than one lettuce sandwich each…Not the best stomach lining for a night filled with free booze!

    Never had a problem actually getting vegetarian food on an aeroplane, though the quality has varied wildly. I think you may have inspired me to write a post about it soon…


    • Thanks to you, you can see why it would have been a bit long for a reply!

      Laughing though I shouldn’t, but is such a typical experience. Very little veg food and IT ALL GOES FIRST!! Oops shouted there.

      ‘Plane food is indeed another topic. If there is a choice, mine is always vegan. I’m vegan by choice and vegetarian by lapse.


  7. Pingback: Why You Should Care About Rennet When Buying Cheese « Littlest Martha

  8. Pingback: Just a quickie | Clouds moving in

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