As the days count down and 2011 draws to a close I have some unfinished business to attend to, an outstanding resolution yet to be instood. I speak, of course, of Operation Parmesan, the unprecedented assault on the world of cuisine that will make the Hiroshima bombing look like an inappropriate historical event to make reference to.
As established vegetarians will know, the world of fine dining is fraught with danger, uncertainty and untold risk. People throw ham into lentil soup, fish stock into veggie risotto, whey powder into anything they fancy. Cheese presents a particular danger, so much of it vegetarian, so much of it not, and its identical appearance giving no clues as to which is which. It’s like those 17 episodes of Star Trek with two identical Kirks where you’re unsure which to shoot because they’re both telling you the other one’s the shape shifting bad guy. Parmesan is the king of this stuff, baiting the vegetarian like no other cheese dares.
Parmesan with a big P and a Sunday name of Parmigiano Reggiano is one of those EU protected origin foods that keeps Jeremy Clarkson awake at night. It’s always put together in the same way. It always uses rennet ripped from the stomach of an unsuspecting cow to separate its curds from its whey, making it about as vegetarian as foie gras on a bed of Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall. And still restaurants, cafes, bistros, catering vans and miscellaneous eateries continue to offer so-called vegetarian dishes covered with the beefy cheese stuff. This is the kind of shit up with which we will not put.
Operation Parmesan will select key targets in the battle to return rennet to cows’ stomachs and make eating veggie food slightly less inconvenient. It will pinpoint key sites in the struggle for more accurate menu descriptions, dropping bombs of truth on the Dresdens of eateries. It will, basically, send letters to restaurants telling them to knock it off. You’re free to join in through the use of the copy and paste function of your personal computer:
Dear Madam/Sir [note the feminist leanings of my gender-reversed introduction]
I dined recently in your eating establishment, and while I enjoyed the evening (in spite of the people I was with) I was dismayed/disheartened/mightily pissed off [delete according to hyperbole preference] to find your menu included Parmesan in its vegetarian dishes. Let’s be clear here: Parmesan is not vegetarian. Parmesan (Parmesano Reggiano) uses rennet, an enzyme taken from cows’ stomachs. It’s not even slightly vegetarian, carrying with it the foul stench of bovine death.
But fear not, there are options available to you. You could very easily buy some vegetarian imitation parmesan (small P) which would thrill and delight your vegetarian customers and encourage me to make a return visit to your otherwise pleasant eatery. There’s Parmazano or Bookham’s veggie parmesan or others to choose from and they all taste more or less like the cowed up stuff you currently serve. Get on it!
And so it begins. If we can change just one restaurant’s use of Parmesan, if we can educate just one vegetarian who doesn’t know any better, if we can save just one cow’s stomach then frankly this whole thing will have been a colossal waste of time. Seriously, if we only change one person we’ll have failed not just with this campaign but with life in general. There’s yer pep talk, now get on it!
Photo credit: The Zero