Ahimsa Buffet succeeds Orchid Veggie as worst restaurant of the month. This is their tale of woe.
News reached this way Ahimsa Buffet use cheese manufactured with non-vegetarian ingredients. A visit was made on 20 January 2017 and the question asked of James Yeung who fronts customer service there. It was quickly obvious James had no idea about animal parts added in cheese making rendering cheese non-vegetarian (e.g. veal rennet). James thus went to the kitchen and came back with the cheese Ahimsa use.
On inspecting the packaging there was no manufacturer’s claim of the cheese being vegetarian. James however stated without being asked:
“I think it’s vegetarian.”
This seemed odd as there was no visible proof to prompt such an assertion. James seemed to want to justify the risk of selling vegetarians this product. This is despite the absence of any supporting proof to justify such a morally questionable risk.
The following was then put to James; for a vegetarian restaurant it should be the restaurant’s responsibility to ensure the cheese used is vegetarian. James at this point walked away from the conversation without reply. This is regrettable as previously James had seemed like an OK sort of person.
The above photo of the cheese in James’ hand is blurred. It’s still easy enough to see the brand and product of cheese is Anchor Cream Cheese Traditional Style. It should thus be easy enough for James and his colleagues to follow up with the manufacturer (Fonterra Foods headquartered in New Zealand) or Ahimsa’s supplier. On Fonterra’s Hong Kong webiste there’s a Contact Us page with a Hong Kong phone number. Without ringing or emailing it’s not straight forward to ascertain if the Anchor cream cheese Ahimsa use is vegetarian. On the Fonterra websites for Hong Kong and New Zealand there’s reference to Anchor cream cheese of different types. None though match the Anchor Cream Cheese Traditional Style in the photo above. What is abundantly clear though is Fonterra manufacture many non-vegetarian cheeses:-
- On their NZ website they list seven different types of Anchor cream or cottage cheese
- Six of those different types have a transparent Yes/No listing on whether they are lacto vegetarian
- All six of those with a vegetarian suitability listed have that suitability listed as “No”
(Anchor have at least six cream and cottage cheeses they mark with the above non-vegetarian label)
On 6 April 2017 Ahimsa was revisited for a follow up. The cheese question didn’t seem on James’ mind as he asked if I was there to make a group reservation. In reply to being asked about the cheese, James said Ahimsa are now using a different type of Anchor cream cheese. Since the product used in January was an Anchor cream cheese, the meaning of James’ comment seemed unclear. He was thus asked to provide the packaging to clear this up. However on returning from the kitchen James said no such packaging was available. Make of that as you will.
James was again asked if the cheese they use has been verified with the manufacturer or supplier as being vegetarian. After prompting him for detail James said he didn’t know and that he would need to ask their supplier. For at least two and a half months (and probably much longer), Ahimsa seem to have been happy selling their customers a product that has a very significant risk of being made with dead animal parts.
In response to this article Ahimsa should do the right thing. Namely they should immediately withdraw from stock any product they haven’t screened as vegetarian. As we repeatedly state:-
- the fundamental tenet of a vegetarian restaurant is restaurant management are responsible and accountable to screen everything they offer is vegetarian
- Since a restaurant (in this case Ahimsa Buffet) are happy to cut that corner, what other liberties are they taking with their customers? Can they be trusted?
It may be that against the apparent odds the cheese Ahimsa use is vegetarian. If that turned out to be the case it would be through them being lucky rather than being rigorous.
Identifying genuinely vegetarian dairy cheese has issues. As per this linked VRG article, many dairy cheeses have:-
- GMO industry bio-engineered coagulants made from spliced animal genes. These get packaged as vegetarian friendly. Decide for yourself if that is genuinely vegetarian
- These companies use “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” to describe these spliced animal gene products. Decide for yourself if that is genuinely non-GMO
We could choose from a ton of articles on the medical issues with dairy cheese. We will restrict ourselves to just this piece by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
There are dairy free, vegetarian cheeses available. Such brands available in Hong Kong such as Daiya and Sheese do not supply from the beef and dairy industry. Both include ‘cream’ style cheese in their ranges.
Non-dairy products make good business sense. They have a wider target client potential than vegetarian dairy products. That is since they are additionally suitable for:-
- people with milk allergy or intolerance
- vegans (every vegan is vegetarian but many vegetarians are not vegan)
Returning to the headline point. It is regrettable to report that the March 2017 Worst Restaurant of the Month is Ahimsa Buffet.