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Vegetarians of the World, Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose But Your GVP!

April 7th, 2010 · 41 Comments

Anyone who’s been a vegetarian for any length of time nodded along in recognition with Ezra Klein’s post about the dreaded Grilled Vegetable Platter, or GVP.  It’s usually encountered at big group events where one or two proper dishes have been assembled, with the GVP tacked on as an afterthought for the vegetarians, who (it’s presumed) will be satisfied with anything containing a vegetable, and really ought to be grateful that anyone bothered about them at all. Actually, the GVP isn’t the worst of it—one used to encounter the Steamed Vegetable Platter with equal frequency.  I mention it just because I’d really love to see kitchens that pull this lazy bullshit, especially at events that are supposed to be somewhat fancy—with a commensurate price tag for the hosts—openly humiliated for it often enough that a chef would sooner send out a dead rat as the entree than commit reputation seppuku by GVP.

Apropos of which, a little story from college. The NYU debate team had, as you might expect, quite a few vegetarians on it.  And as a result, something like a third of our table at the banquet for the national parilamentary debate championships one year ended up staring glumly at—surprise, surprise!—our old friend the GVP. And despite the combative reputation of debaters, when the head caterer (or whatever) at the venue came around to ask how everything was, most of us just tried to nod politely as we gnawed on our flavorless hunks of soggy broccoli.  Except Aaron.  She was already bustling off when he piped up—and I still remember this damn near verbatim:

Excuse me, wait a second. It’s actually not OK. This is not a meal; it’s totally unacceptable. Nobody put any thought or preparation into this at all, it’s just unseasoned vegetables. It’s embarrassing. Take this back and tell them to send out—whatever, some pasta, maybe something with a sauce or some actual flavors in it—but some kind of real meal.

The woman turned absolutely crimson and hustled off with the GVP, then returned about ten minutes later with a pretty damn delicious looking pasta dish.  The rest of us exchanged envious glances as we prodded our GVPs with our forks.

Was it a little rude? Maybe, but so is feeding people livestock slop.  And it probably only takes a few of us committing to be a little more demanding before they all realize it’s worth the scintilla of extra effort to make the default “vegetarian option” resemble real human food.

Tags: Sociology



41 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ben // Apr 7, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    With respect to luncheons and things, the meat selections at those are usually terrible too. Sometimes the cooks are skilled at making such food look like it tastes good, but it usually has been cooked in a manner so as to denude it of all flavor. With the GVP, however, appearance does not conflict with reality.

  • 2 sidereal // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:18 am

    I suspect you and Ezra aren’t going to engender much of an uprising, given that most normal humans rarely, if ever, eat at a place where the quality of the food isn’t one of the primary factors in the decision. Most people aren’t eating at conferences. If they don’t like the vegetarian options available, they go across the street to the Indian buffet.

  • 3 Julian Sanchez // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I realize we probably do a whole bunch more of these than normal people, but surely the experience of going to some kind of large-ish event at which dinner is served is not confined to beltway types.

  • 4 Ben // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:37 am

    Yeah, but any kind of conference/luncheon meal is going to suck, meat or no meat, until you get to a very expensive food preparer or a wedding.

  • 5 sidereal // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:51 am

    I was going to argue that your brain has been steeped too long in east coast elitist cocktails, but I’d forgotten about company holiday parties. Even hoi polloi have to deal with those. And airplanes, of course.

    You haven’t really experienced air travel until you’ve had a flight attendant confirm that you’re a Vegan (rhymes with Carl Sagan) so she can serve you an unseasoned mound of lentil.

  • 6 R.J. Lehmann // Apr 8, 2010 at 10:01 am

    I’d ditto the comments that conference food, wedding food, etc. is usually pretty dreadful for the meat eaters in attendence, as well. I think your expectations are a little higher than is warranted.

  • 7 Liz // Apr 8, 2010 at 11:28 am

    The grilled vegetable platter I had last time in Chicago had mashed potatoes, asparagus with cheese sauce, and polenta on it.

  • 8 Kat // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Hear hear! I was vegan for about 10 years and went omni in large part bc I missed eating in restaurants. Good for Aaron for inspiring resto-malnourished veggies everywhere!

  • 9 Glen // Apr 8, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Yes, that does sound like Aaron Stanley, doesn’t it?

  • 10 Freddie // Apr 8, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Not to be a jerk, but this anecdote seems best constructed to make your friend Aaron sound spoiled.

  • 11 Julian Sanchez // Apr 8, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Then I hope there are more spoiled vegetarians out there.

  • 12 emily garin clayton // Apr 8, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    I think I had the same horrid vegetable platter at that nationals, not to mention about a bazillion times after. Storey’s convinced that the whole thing is a conspiracy by the Beef Council to convince non-vegetarians that GVP is all that vegetarians eat, effectively scaring them back to their steaks…

  • 13 Pat // Apr 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I used to daydream about running a vegetarian restaurant that served one unpleasant meat dish. I didn’t know how good I had it: Most places nowadays, you can’t even get a salad without meat in it!

    To be fair, though, many of my friends used to ask for the veggie meals on airplanes because they were the better choices. Back when there were meals on airplanes.

  • 14 Gidget // Apr 9, 2010 at 9:12 am

    I think this happens a lot because people (incl. some ‘chefs’) think that grilled vegetables is all vegetarians eat. I still get these strange looks and the quintessential question, “So, what do you eat? Grilled vegetables?”. Meanwhile, I’m a vegetarian that is still 20 pounds overweight! Nothing against grilled veggies mind you, but there is plenty more to be had if chefs would just bother to get creative.

  • 15 Mike // Apr 9, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I’m with Gidget here. I don’t know any vegetarians personally. If someone brought a vegetarian friend to one of my parties, they’d probably be stuck with some rolls and grilled veggies (because I made the veggies as a side, because they’re good as a side) while the rest of us had steak or barbecued brisket or something. If I knew they were coming ahead of time, I’d try to have something… but it’d take some research.

    I’ve pondered going vegetarian for a short time before, but all of the vegetarian meals I’ve seen on menus are either completely lame, as you say, or seem to be fake soy/mushroom imitations of real, tasty food. I guess I should go educate myself.

    Still, that doesn’t excuse proper, trained chefs from being as ignorant as I am as a local over-educated redneck. Especially if it’s at a dinner where you *should* be expecting a significant number of vegetarians.

    But all the same… conference food sucks. I don’t bitch to the waiter that he they turned my cheap too-thin steak into shoe leather, so you don’t get to bitch too much about your grill veggies.

  • 16 Mike // Apr 9, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Also, according to the best surveys I could find online, only about 2% of the country is vegetarian (when you also exclude poultry and fish, which most dinners have more options than just beef). That probably explains a fair amount of why you guys don’t get as much consideration. Although I would think that the concentration is a bit higher in DC.


  • 17 JasonL // Apr 9, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    So, a story from the other side. I had da 10-15 person gathering at my place for New Year’s Eve, and we decided to entertain. My friend’s new wife is vegetarian, and we were primarily working a leg o’ lamb angle. I was in a real panic. Vegetarian dishes always taste terrible to me. How do you do this? Isn’t pasta the lazy move? I googled, and googled, and googled until I found a vegetarian tagine thing I thought could work. The idea was you could do tagine with separate lamb or go vegetarian with just the couscous. Except, I thought it tasted bland. I seasoned plenty. Had some sweet in the form of parsnips and fruit. Herbs. Cardamom and the whole tagine spice thing. To me, it needed protein. I shrugged and served it. Didn’t go over well. Hours down the crapper to accommodate one vegetarian and I was 99% certain that had I done grilled veggies and olive oil, it would have worked much better. If you don’t cook vegetarian for a living, the whole process is so foreign as to not make any sense. Hence, grilled veggies.

  • 18 Northern Observer // Apr 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Vegetarian cooking must be learned; it is its own domain so to speak. My wife went vegi twice?! 20 years ago, why twice? The first time we simply took out the pork chop, chicken breast or steak and added a second green vegetable. That lasted a month before we gave up. The second time we read up, purchased some good vegi cookbooks, got to learn how to work with vegi protein (seitan, marinated tofu, soy imitation hamburger) and then the diet worked. In fact I used to joke with my work colleagues that I was eating better as a veg than I ever ate as a carnivore because my wife had to learn how to cook veg.
    So the long and short of it is that good veg cooking can be done but it takes learning and application.

  • 19 Karen // Apr 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I will give you a huge AMEN on this. Just because vegetarians might feel a little sympathy for farm animals doesn’t mean we want to graze like one. Another question…why do these plates always consist mostly of squash? Who likes plain squash?

  • 20 Patrick Thornton // Apr 9, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    It’s lazy and ignorant to assume that the only thing that vegetarians eat are vegetables. They eat anything that isn’t meat (or in the case of a vegan, animal derived). Pasta with sauce and veggies would be much better (how about a dish that mixes them all together, like many Asian recipes?). In fact, many meat dishes work just fine if you take out the meat.

    I’m not a vegetarian, but many days of the week I don’t eat meat. This isn’t rocket science. I think part of the problem is that the American diet is so meat centric (one cause of our lower life spans), that most non-vegetarians can’t fathom how to make a vegetarian meal.

    If you’re a meat eater like me who rarely eats more than 4 ounces of meat at one meal, than you know how to prepare meals that have a lot more than just meat. In many instances, just taking out the meat would make an acceptable dish. But for many Americans, a meal may consist of almost entirely meat with maybe some grilled veggies thrown in on the side.

    Anyway, this has turned rambling, but it is not difficult to make delicious food without meat.

  • 21 Julian Sanchez // Apr 9, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Yeah, my ire here is directed at professional caterers & kitchens, which are often charging a pretty penny for their services.

  • 22 Andy // Apr 10, 2010 at 12:28 am

    So your friend couldn’t ask nicely? If the lady went through the trouble of asking you if your meals were okay, I’m willing to bet she’d oblige. As it stands, you might have gotten two points across. The first:

    1) vegetarians are dicks

    The second:

    2) If you serve GVP, their dickliness might show.

  • 23 sientbeep // Apr 10, 2010 at 5:11 am

    This all just makes me very glad I live in metropolitan California. This pushy GVP stuff is not the usual out here – I have never heard of such a thing. You can go to any number of hamburger stands out in L.A. and find a pretty good veggie burger, let alone having to go to a restaurant and pay good money for a GVP (btw shout-out to Astro Burger on Melrose for their decent vegetarian menu). I seriously can’t imagine what that’s like to be in a restaurant and not have some decent vegetarian options. Sorry! It’s just baffling to me. What’s wrong with those chefs? wow

  • 24 Swimmy // Apr 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    At catered events like weddings, it is the grilled veggie platter. At many restaurants (especially bars), it is the garden burger. God forbid they add any kind of flavor to it–barbecue sauce, jalapen0s, anything. They usually won’t even grill it proper. You just get an unspiced, microwaved shit-patty between some bread with old lettuce. Yum yum.

  • 25 Parmenides // Apr 11, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    I work as a cook in a restaurant and I can tell you why vegetarians sometimes get shafted with the GVP. Lets say I’m cooking for an event and I need to order the right amount of stuff. I can only get particular types of things in large quantities. For example this winter I wanted to do acorn squash with a sweet raspberry breading. I could only get acorn squash in 50 pound increments. I like acorn squash but there is no way I had the space to store it or the ability to get it out the door fast enough.

    If a vegetarian comes through the door and wants something, or god forbid a vegan, I would have enormous trouble not because I don’t know how to cook vegetarian or vegan food but because many times I don’t have the ingredients. So in a fit of desperation spiced grilled vegetables with a tomato sauce is where I could probably go even though I wouldn’t be happy serving it.

  • 26 mofembot in france // Apr 12, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Thanks for linking to this. I went to a restaurant in Salt Lake in the Long Ago and got what was called their “Spring Vegetable Plate.” Out came something laden with potatoes, carrots… and nothing that I would have ever described as spring-like. I screwed up my courage and complained mightily to the point that I did not have to pay… but found the whole experience (of asserting myself to that degree) so upsetting that I had a stomachache for the rest of the day. Sigh.

  • 27 Michael B Sullivan // Apr 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    I don’t agree that Julian’s friend Aaron was rude. It’s not rude to tell people, with no obscenities or personal insults, that they aren’t doing their job. Sure, most of the time, most people are going to just shrug and avoid conflict when they’re served bad-tasting food at restaurants, and that’s fine. Conflicts can be exhausting. But it’s nobody’s obligation to grin and bear it when people who are being paid to serve them produce poor quality food.

    It’s not like he said “Your mother gives lousy head.” There’s nothing rude about being emphatic, in this circumstance.

  • 28 Julian Sanchez // Apr 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I didn’t really have restaurants in mind here. Some places are going to go veg-heavy, some aren’t, and if you don’t like what’s on the menu… well, go someplace else. But a catering company for an event where it’s wholly predictable that 10%+ of a captive audience is going to be vegetarian really ought to be expected to plan accordingly.

  • 29 Drew // Apr 13, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I blame single portion-mindness for this as well: the tendency to make a single item (usually a meat item) and just make it huge, without having any substantial accompaniment dishes (or sides that are basically reduced to garnish).

    There are tons of great and satisfying veggie “sides” that even a chef that specializes in meat dishes should know how to make. (I was recently treated to homemade spaetzel by Josh Barro, and fell instantly in love with it). Being capable of offering a real veggie option is as much about chefs putting together real _meals_, instead of just making a single dish per customer, as it is about anything else. But then, maybe it’s customers that demand their super-sized hunk of salmon, without anything else to get in the way.

  • 30 Andy // Apr 15, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Michael –

    I agree that people are not obliged to put up with lousy food. But that’s not my point. My point is that saying “Nobody put any thought or preparation into this at all, it’s just unseasoned vegetables” when someone is clearly cares enough to follow up on the meal is really rude and not consistent.

  • 31 Andy // Apr 15, 2010 at 12:43 am

    One more note: I think if one is going to try to improve the quality of served vegetarian meals, focusing on the quality of interactions with the server is at least as useful as trying to negotiate with the chef in-absentia. Vegetarians are still in the minority, and, unfortunately, still have a lot of educating to do. Servers are going to be the primary audience.

  • 32 Michael B Sullivan // Apr 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Very late in this comment, but:

    “Nobody put any thought or preparation into this at all, it’s just unseasoned vegetables,” is presuming that Julian’s report of events is accurate, a blunt statement of truth. I reject the idea that it’s rude. I think it’s ridiculous to say that a server asking how your meal was somehow puts lie to “Nobody put any thought into this.”

    As to the argument over whether it would be strategically wiser to be more pleasant with the server: meh. I don’t know. I doubt it makes any big difference one way or the other. But I wasn’t trying to address whether or not Aaron was choosing the best of all possible paths for the strategic best interests of vegetarian-kind. I just assert that he was not being rude.

  • 33 sneezy // Apr 25, 2010 at 8:58 am

    “most normal humans rarely, if ever, eat at a place where the quality of the food isn’t one of the primary factors in the decision”

    Yikes! I think you have a pretty idiosyncratic idea of what constitutes “normal humans.” How many of the 6 billion people on the planet or 300 million people in the country qualify as “normal”?

  • 34 sneezy // Apr 25, 2010 at 9:08 am

    “I don’t agree that Julian’s friend Aaron was rude.”

    I do.

    “It’s not rude to tell people, with no obscenities or personal insults, that they aren’t doing their job. Sure, most of the time, most people are going to just shrug and avoid conflict when they’re served bad-tasting food at restaurants, and that’s fine.”

    Well, there’s a false dichotomy you could drive a truck through. Also note that the incident in question didn’t happen at a restaurant.

  • 35 Tom G. Palmer // Apr 28, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I’m rather new to this (although I’ve “avoided” meat and “reduced” meat consumption for years), but I am beginning to understand the travails of VEGetarianism. I think one problem is the name, which people assume you must want a plate of VEGetables. Maybe just “meatless” would work better, as people might then think of pastas with sauces, lasagnas, casseroles, and other things that actually may have flavor in them. (I am in Kyrgyzstan right now, where meat-free food is not so easy to find. Not impossible, but harder than in New York, as people with nomadic pasts tend to be pretty meat-oriented in their cuisine. I’ve warned my colleague Jude Blanchette, who is coming for a visit from Beijing, to stock up on tasty stuff and bring it.)

    I’m learning to ask for something that’s meat-free and interesting, rather than “vegetables.”

  • 36 Tom G. Palmer // Apr 28, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Sorry for the garbled grammar above!

  • 37 プロペシア通販 // Sep 24, 2011 at 12:34 am

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  • 38 カークランド効果 // Nov 12, 2011 at 3:47 am


  • 39 エドハーディー // Jan 20, 2012 at 3:34 am

    now, where meat-free food is not so easy to find. Not impossible, but harder than in New York, as people with nomadic pasts tend to be pretty meat-oriented in their cuisine. I’ve warned my colleague Jude Blanchette, who is coming for a visit fro

  • 40 今日の一歩 // Jan 27, 2013 at 9:13 pm


  • 41 星が見える日 // Feb 4, 2013 at 10:41 pm