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Once again I recently came across a vegetarian stall in a non-vegetarian food court. The individual stalls share some of their kitchen utensils, but seem to prepare most of their food separately. However contrary to a market hall a food court like this (Pier 21 in Bangkok) will be run as a single enterprise. The employees taking orders for the vegetarian food have no particular affinity to vegetarianism and the supply chain is likely to be the same as for all the other kitchens. It's a single restaurant operation.

For a vegetarian there are at least two reasons to favour vegetarian restaurants over regular ones. The first is the wish to eat food that isn't "contaminated" with residues of non-vegetarian food preparation. This might be due to neglect of staff that doesn't have any affinity to vegetarianism, general laxness etc. The second is the wish not to support businesses that generate most of their profits by killing or abusing animals. (I regard the second aspect as much more important as the first, because the second is less about me and my "purity" and more about animals and their interests.)

So does a vegetarian food counter in a non-vegetarian food court qualify as vegetarian? The Happycow community seems convinced it does. I couldn't find any examples of vegetarian stalls being downgraded because of their surrounding. But shouldn't we take the context into consideration?

The split-up of a restaurant into a vegetarian stall, a stall for fish and a stall for meat is arbitrary. Is this much better than to separate Asian, European and Arabic kitchens from each other (and have vegetarian choices marked as such on each menu)? What is won by the first set-up?

To provide an example: The MBK Centre Food Court in Bangkok gets 4 out of 5 stars on Happycow ( I haven't been to the place, but if it is run like the food courts I have seen, the vegetarian counter belongs to the same restaurant operation that is famous for its Shark Fin Soup (see the MBK Bangkok review on Tripadvisor). Shark fin is one of the ingredients explicitly despised by Happycow. (Try to create an entry for a non-vegetarian restaurant and read the note!) Shouldn't we take this into consideration?

Responses (4)

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    Posted by ahimsa32fa at 12/16/14 05:38:17

    Thank you for this well-informed and important post.

    The same can be said for many of the vegetarian and vegan food companies that have been taken over by the industry giants...who also sell anything that can make them a buck. You have to wonder about their "quality control"...

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    Posted by happycowgirl at 12/16/14 08:37:57

    HI Zungi & Ahimsa,
    Interesting points made by all.

    I can personally say that I take such things into consideration when rating a restaurant on HappyCow. For example, years ago I was in a restaurant in Michigan that had a unique set up - it was like 2 restaurants under one roof. Half the restaurant was the vegetarian side, the other was the meat side. Separate counters for ordering, separate menus, separate kitchens, but when you got your food, the tables were located in the middle of the restaurant and were mixed. Some people may like that. If you're going out with your meat-eating family maybe you like that you can order separate but then sit down and eat with them. They get what they want, you get what you want. For me though, it was not pleasant. I was on Cloud 9 ordering off an all-vegetarian menu but that bliss was ruined when I would see the lamb kabob on the guy's plate next to me.

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    Posted by eric at 12/18/14 14:55:10

    Hi Felix,
    Want to weigh in here, especially since I've eaten at MBK food court before.
    A lot of times these places actually have their own tiny kitchen right in the food stall. For instance, in Terminal 21 it's that way. Actually only a couple that I know of go somewhere in back to cook the food. I did ask before at one and they said they have their own dedicated pots in back, so although the kitchen is shared, none of the pots, knives, cutting areas, etc, should be shared,... but who really knows.
    For me, food courts are not destination restaurants, but rather conveniences when in the area / mall.
    I'd say if we know for sure that a place is cooking using the same pots as meat stalls we should mark the listing veg-friendly, or at least note it in the description.
    Open to ideas.
    Best, Eric

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    Posted by ahimsa32fa at 12/19/14 07:02:34

    I'm old enough to remember when most restaurants were small, family operations and their were very few "fast food" outlets.

    Everyone knew how to cook, and most people actually sat down to meals with their families.

    I think we need to move back toward those days.

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