It’s true, I work in hospitality.
Don’t hate me.
I was a Barista before I was vegan, and it’s always been a job I really enjoyed and was good at. It also paid the rent while waiting for Steven Spielberg to call and beg me to star in his next film (apposite Ryan Gosling, of course).
I love coffee. Making it, drinking it, reading how bad it is for me. And happily admit that I’m a good Barista (I do the pretty patterns on top and everything). I work in an adorable café that quickly became all about the people – the crazy love lives of our regulars, discussing latest news stories and serving delicious food and coffee.
Then, I bloody went vegan, didn’t I? I had to go and ruin it. Suddenly my happy customers, delicious creamy coffee and banter over the counter, all looked very different. I saw the jug in my hands and realized I was a part of the problem. I saw a plate of bacon and eggs that Table 2 sent back because it “wasn’t hot enough” get chucked in the bin by my co-worker and her then start cooking it all over again. I suddenly felt overwhelmed and didn’t know how to marry my new vegan ethics with what I did for a living.
I can take the products off my plate, but does that matter when every day I’m serving them to others?
I hounded the ONE vegan cafe in my home city and they were never hiring (people just don’t quit those places, I guess). My brief vision of skipping over to a veggie café was dashed and I really wasn’t sure what I should do.
Then one day my boss randomly informed me that he’d decided to start buying a better brand of soy milk for the café instead of the cheap one we was currently using, purely because I was now drinking it. I gazed at him; so happy I could have burst and just like that, with his simple gesture, I saw how I can make this a good thing. Without even trying, the café was going to better provide for soy drinkers and buy an organic brand. Wow, if I applied myself – what else could I achieve?
When life gives you lemons, right?
If there have to be Baristas and cafés and restaurants (we know they’re not all going to disappear any time soon) perhaps having vegans working in these places is a sneaky victory? A vegan who will be careful and thoughtful about things that most people never even consider in an industry that is disgracefully wasteful?
Okay, time for an example! The café instructs us to take a pot of milk alongside every cup of tea and coffee, even if the beverage should be black. So, a lot of the time when clearing a table – you see a full jug of (now old) milk waiting to go straight down the drain.
Can you say: “waste?!”
Any staff member will throw these products away without a second thought – whereas I go out of my way to avoid such devastating wastage. I deliver black coffees and teas as they are and if a customer then asks for milk, I fetch them a small jug. Automatically: no waste. I love when they say: “can I have my milk, please?” and I just want to say, “well, it’s not YOUR milk, now, is it?” with a big, old smile.
While on shift, I see staff make themselves coffee after coffee even if they are running around and don’t have time to drink it. Lots of “staff drinks” go to waste because they do not see milk any differently to Coke or juice or water; it’s just a free beverage for them to consume. And sadly, most Baristas will stand behind their coffee machine for hours, practicing latte art, making cup after cup of milky coffee and pouring it all down the drain. I’m serious.
This simply doesn’t happen when your Barista is a vegan.
And I promise: my coffees still taste great and look pretty.
One thing I’m happy to observe and report back is how often regular customers adjust their coffee order because: “the milk’s not sitting well with me”, or something along those lines. I smile enthusiastically and try to keep the conversation rolling – I tell them that I stopped drinking milk years ago and feel great, would they like to try a black coffee today? Or even try a dash of soy or almond milk in it? They always respond well and I love being able to give some real advice that can be implemented immediately. (Then I have the pleasure of regular health updates, which is hilarious!)
Ingrid Bergman famously said that she doesn’t believe vegans should all stick together. Vegans can andshould work with non-vegans, date non-vegans, and socialize with everyone! Why keep our amazing selves and ideas in a cosy vegan club? We can share little bits of wisdom with everyone. It would be incredible to know more vegans and work with them, but I also see the benefit of being the only vegan in a very meat-centric work place. I meet SO many people being in hospitality and many of them, whether they’re a co-worker or a random customer, say they now think a little bit more about where meat is coming from. Some have gone vegetarian, a few even vegan!
And I know that couldn’t have happened if I’d quit my lovely, happy café working with people I love to go and work in the vegan place.
They don’t need my Barista vegan powers – they’re all vegan already!
I’ll save going in there for my days off.
Published for Chic Vegan 24/4
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