Veggie Express opened last month in North Point. They continue to knowingly sell non-vegetarian products. This is despite deceiving customers with, “All ingredients are vegetarian” repeatedly stated on their menu. This is the Veggie Express tale of deception.
We visited Veggie Express in the week it opened in December and did our usual look over the menu. We spoke with a lady in the serving team (who subsequently said her name is Hannah). We asked Hannah if she was aware there is vegetarian and non-vegetarian cheese on the market. This was specifically with veal rennet in mind as the coagulant in non-vegetarian cheese. Hannah advised us it’s non-vegetarian cheese they use before merrily going about her work.
(Some of the cheese offerings on the Veggie Express menu. The tuna mentioned is mock tuna similar to how other meats they list are mock meats).
A revisit was made on Friday. Initially dialogue was established with a gentleman who said he is the manager. On being asked about the cheese he immediately replied that the cheese is vegetarian. This seemed an interesting turnaround. His offer was accepted when he suggested a look at the packaging as proof. However he returned serious faced from the kitchen stating that the cheese is not vegetarian. At this point he passed me across to Hannah.
(Rennet comes from calf stomach. Buying rennet supports calves being taken from their mother to be slaughtered after a short life enslaved in a veal crate like this. Pic source, farmsanctuary.org).
On discussing with Hannah and again explaining about animal rennet rendering cheese non-vegetarian she said she was aware of that already. I thus put it to Hannah that it is inappropriate for a restaurant that markets itself as vegetarian to sell customers non-vegetarian products. This deception is all the worse considering what we have highlighted in yellow on the Veggie Express menu:-
That’s seven separate locations on the Veggie Express menu misleading customers into the false sense of security that, “All ingredients are vegetarian”. When that menu statement was pointed out to Hannah her reaction was very disappointing. Rather than remove the non-vegetarian products she suggested removing “All ingredients are vegetarian” from the menu. Some people just don’t get it.
A second possible concerns is:-
- The menu has some dishes marked with an icon to indicate they contains egg
- By implication that means any dishes without the egg icon are certified by the restaurant as egg free
- In our experience many restaurants who take liberties with things like non-vegetarian cheese also cut other corners. e.g. there is often a lack of rigour in checking all mock meats used are manufactured without egg before implying on the menu that a mock meat dish is egg free. Similarly it would be interesting to know if the noodles are genuinely egg-free noodles in the way the Veggie Express menu indicates they are
(Veggie Express clearly certify their wheat noodles and many mock meats are egg free. Can Veggie Express be trusted on that?)
As explained to Hannah this is potentially bad news for people on egg free diets. e.g. Someone with egg allergy / intolerance could be misled into ingesting something that gives them an unhealthy reaction. Hannah insisted the egg marking is accurate on the menu. By now though she was being defensive so it is difficult to say how accurate her words are.
A third possible concern is:-
- Veggie Express use margarine in some dishes
- Margarine is usually made with whey
- Whey is a cheese by-product and so has the similar ethical risks for vegetarians as cheese (i.e. what was used as the cheese coagulant?)
It was then suggested to Hannah that Veggie Express should immediately stop selling non-vegetarian products (note the use of the word “immediately” and not when existing stocks run out as per the response from Vanimal in Kennedy Town). Hannah said she would discuss it with her boss. I then suggested I meet with her boss to find out exactly what steps would be taken about the issues highlighted above. They have after all had over five weeks awareness they are using non-vegetarian cheese. Yet five weeks later they still sell non-vegetarian cheese to unsuspecting customers who they mislead, “All ingredients are vegetarian”. Hannah was pretty uncooperative refusing to agree to such a meeting. Instead she only offered weasel word replies of no worthwhile commitment.
I suggested to Hannah that I revisit today to discuss this with them. Hannah’s manner made it clear a meeting wasn’t something she welcomed. Paying customers have a right to know about where they spend their hard earned money. Hence regrettably why this info about Veggie Express is being made public.
As per the linked VRG article, many dairy cheeses have GMO industry bio-engineered coagulants made from animal gene splicing. These get packaged as vegetarian friendly. Decide for yourself if that is genuinely vegetarian. These companies interestingly use “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” to describe these animal gene spliced products. Decide for yourself if that is genuinely non-GMO.
There are dairy free, vegetarian cheeses available. Cheese brands are available in Hong Kong such as Daiya and Sheese that have no connection to the beef and dairy industry. On the market are also animal free spread alternatives to margarine. There are also egg free noodles and egg free mock meats.
Sheese is distributed in Hong Kong by Metta International.