Is Acorn a Vegan Restaurant?
Anyone who knows me will be familiar with the phrase “it’s a bit more complicated than that” and I am truly sorry to all of you. Acorn serves vegan food and it doesn’t put milk in its coffee, so far so vegan. For some reason though I don’t think of it as “vegan”. Perhaps it’s because I was raised vegetarian, making food out of plants doesn’t really feel like a radical statement, it is simply just cooking. For a long time this was my go to answer, I’ve always cooked this way. The more I think about it though and delve deeper into the questions surrounding it, the more I realise, wait for it, it’s a bit more complicated than that. I want acorn to make good food, not vegan food. I am starting to use three filters to decide if something is good, culinarily speaking and this gives a very clear answer. I ask, is it:
Good for you
Good for others
Good for the planet
Is vegan food good for you? Well the answer here is, very rarely. Chips are vegan, as are crisps and diet coke. A lot of sweets are vegan and so is real chocolate. The modern vegan boom is sadly dominated by vegan ‘junk’ food and meat substitutes. Are these better for you than eating meat, probably, sometimes, maybe and often not. I certainly can’t say that a vegan cheese with an ingredients list that reads like the periodic table is good for you and the same goes for the majority of substitute and processed foods. Another annoying thing I say a lot is “super markets have had a vegan isle for years, it’s called the fruit and veg isle”. I know it’s really annoying, but it is also true. Eating vegan can be incredibly good for you, a diet built from fresh fruit and veg, whole grains, nut, seeds and legumes will leave you glowing and full of energy and vitality but simply being vegan isn’t good for you. I want acorn’s food to be built from fresh and whole foods, foods grown in great soil full of minerals and nutrients. Bits of it may be naughty, like sugar in the pudding but I’m not talking about a hair shirt revolution, you come to acorn to have a treat not be punished. Food that is good for you can be vegan but vegan is not necessarily good for you.
Is vegan food good for others? Well it’s certainly good for the animals, they love vegan food. However, chocolate grown in a plantation using horrendous chemicals and harvested by children is just as vegan as an organic fair trade chocolate. A criticism laid at the door of Acorn occasionally is that it’s too expensive. Sadly people seem to think that this is greed, and as I drive home in my 13 year old Honda I can think of lots of witty retorts. The reality is that people are asking the wrong question: the question shouldn’t be “why is food so expensive” but rather, “why is so much food so cheap?” If you are getting food cheaply then quite frankly someone else, somewhere else is paying for it. It might be the chefs working 16 hour days in furnace conditions for a lot less than minimum wage, it might be the farmers effectively giving their crops away in distorted commodity markets or it might be the children forced to give up their education to help on the farm in a far flung corner of the globe. Acorn is not perfect and the list of ingredients that need to be improved feels endless. Every time I find a better alternative I watch our already tight margins get slimmer and the bills get a little harder to meet. I’ll keep pushing though because it’s the right thing to do and in this case it is me paying to keep the food as cheap as it is. You can cook wonderful vegan food using local, fair trade, organic ingredients but you may need to sell a few internal organs to fund it. Or you can cook vegan using the cheapest ingredients you can find and let someone else pay for it – it’s fine you’ll probably never meet them.
Is vegan food good for the planet? The almost universal consensus here appears to be yes. Eating plants causes much less environmental impact than eating meat and dairy. But there is a caveat here. A lot of vegan food seems to rely on a lot of ingredients that come from all over the globe. Avocados, coconuts, dates and cashews are delicious and healthy, they are good for you and if fair trade and organic, good for others. But I’m not sure having to transport every single ingredient on your plate from the other side of the globe is a great idea. Instead of a mango, you could have an apple, instead of a cashew, a hazelnut. It sounds basic but I am passionate about finding a way to create a cuisine from the foods that grow around me and at most within the distance I could feasibly travel to by land and sea within a day or two. Is this an absolute answer, no of course not, environmental impact is much more complicated (there I go again ) than just food miles, but it is a good place to start. So yes vegan food is good for the planet but some vegan food is better than others.
All of this goes some way towards answering the question: Is acorn a vegan restaurant? It is certainly a restaurant vegans can eat at with ease and it does and will continue to serve vegan food, because it’s good. But I want it to be so much more than that, I want it to be a good restaurant and vegan is just a tiny part of a much bigger picture. As I may have said before “it’s a bit more complicated than that”.