Article published in Vegetarian Living Magazine

VegLiv Spring 2018.jpg

A few evenings ago, I was in a lovely restaurant in Ponsonby, reading the menu and trying to decide between a selection of delicious-sounding vegetarian meal options, when I got to thinking; what did the vegetarian options look like in restaurants 75 years ago?

I’d already had to think about the first decision of the night - which restaurant to go to - since there were so many offering special vegetarian and vegan dishes.  I haven’t found a restaurant anywhere I’ve been in New Zealand in the past few years that doesn’t offer at least one vegetarian dish.  If they don’t have a special vegetarian offering, they’re always happy to take the meat out of a meal and replace it with something else.

Even in small-town New Zealand, in meat-centric areas there’s little surprise when customers ask for a vegetarian meal.  Multi-cultural Auckland has an overload of choice.  On just one street in Ponsonby I’d come across a burger place that does a selection of vegetarian burgers, an Italian restaurant – it’s never hard to find vegetarian food in an Italian restaurant – and a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant, which is the one I chose. 

I sat down, ordered a cocktail and looked over the menu, which included things like taro and tapioca fritters in peanut, cumin and ginger with spicy tamarind sauce.  Crispy rice flour crepes with fried tempeh, mushrooms and chilli jam.  For my main meal I chose a tofu, pumpkin and capsicum curry.

World cuisine has introduced universe of vegetarian meal options to New Zealand.  Thank goodness for immigration.

I wonder what vegetarians in New Zealand were eating back in 1943, when the New Zealand Vegetarian Society first started.  In a country stamping its mark on the world through meat production, with the meat-and-three-veg culture well entrenched by the British settlers, it must have been seen as quite unusual.  It would have been a challenge to create satisfying vegetarian meals with the available ingredients.

At least lentils were available, as attested to by the infamous, unconventional cookbook, “Healthful Cookery: For the Family," by Jenny Bartlett, published in Australia in 1938.  This book has some great-looking recipes for things like Protose Cutlets and Protose Steak.  Protose was a product made of gluten flour and nuts, another clever idea from Mr Kellogg of Kellogg’s Cornflakes.

The book also makes use of lentils and nuts to make burgers and loaves.  These are all delicious options, if somewhat time consuming to make.

How much easier it is now, in 2018, to be able to buy ready-made vegetarian and vegan products from the shelves of the supermarket and to have a great selection of ingredients from all over the world including pulses, grains and seeds.    

2018 is a good time to be vegetarian.  I wonder what the next 75 years is going to look like.