Something doesn't taste right here....

I'm aware that this blog comes across as quite ranty. It's very much a last minute thing. You see, I had promised myself (and our readers) to either review another good book, extol the virtues of chiropractic adjustments for novelists' creativity, or talk about a work in progress. After starting a piece on random thoughts about writing, my disappointment was just too hard to contain. And what had let me down? A simple cookbook.

While piling the trolley high with herbaceous perennials at the garden centre, I noticed a book on a shelf in the reading section. It was one of those impulse buys, the type of item you buy alongside flowered wellies, fancy rakes, indoor scents and fine jams – stuff you don't really need, but which look good at the time in the shop. Given that the garden centre price was £3.99, in comparison with the publisher's price of £12.99, this should have set alarm bells ringing.

It's common knowledge that 99 per cent of those who buy vegetarian cookbooks are in fact vegetarian. Not semi-vegetarians, demi-vegetarians or the pescetarians, or indeed those who eat chicken and call themselves vegetarian, but those who adhere to the diet religiously.

When we arrived home, I perused the book over a light (vegetarian) lunch of rocket, potato salad and radish. The (badly printed) introductory illustrative photograph which caught my attention was a bowl of soup, and hanging over the rim of the bowl appeared to be these strange pink things.

'Oh that must be an exotic vegetable I've never tasted,' I muttered to myself. 'It looks like an elongated lychee.'

If it's vegetarian, and exotic, then I'm up for trying it.

However upon closer inspection, it became clear that the pink hangers-on were in fact prawns. Yuk. I gagged and flicked over. Then I came across a recipe which looked quite tasty. I read through the ingredients, realising the cupboard at Number Fifteen would yield all that was needed. Then to my utmost horror, the writer suggested serving 'with a selection of cold meats, such as chicken.

Something didn't taste right here! I was horrified and slammed the book shut. So this is a vegetarian book with meat-eating undertones?

The meat references didn't stop there - there seemed to be a massive reliance on gelatine in a lot of the recipes too. Granted, one can buy a vegetarian version, but it didn't state this in the book. Likewise with Parmesan cheese - and if a newbie veggie was buying these ingredients he or she might inadvertently purchase the wrong version, believing it to be vegetarian. Grrrr.

What should I do?

A) Write to the publisher, pointing out these errors.
B) Curse the editor and shove it under the bed.
C) Take it back and demand a refund as it's not a 'vegetarian' cook book. I mean, if I bought a Mills and Boon, I'd expect it to be Mills and Boon, not an obscure literary masterpiece and neither would I expect to find Ulysses inside.
OR D) Throw it out.

No wonder the book was £3.99.

Pic: a prawn - no thanks, I'll have a beanburger.


Fidelity said...

Judging by the pile of books I have on the floor in the corner, I'd suggest the usual way out of this sort of dilemma is 'Sell it on ebay'

Nicola Morgan said...

A and C, in my opinion. As well as the obvious annoyance for you (and I completely agree with you) this is an example of how udnervalued good books are, not just in terms of cookery, where you'd want the writer to be a brilliant, passionate cook who would understand everything about food, but in terms of any book, fiction or non-fiction: it needs to be written with the reader 100% in mind, and has a far greater value in every sense than a silly knock-down price suggests.

Please rant!

Emma Lee said...

A and C. The garden centre need to be aware they can't sell the book as a vegetarian cookbook and the publishers need to be educated. Doesn't matter that you got it at a reduced price, a vegetarian cookbook that isn't breaks both Trade Descriptions and Sale of Goods Act (for not being fit for the purpose it was intended).

I've had a long battle educating colleagues and relatives to read labels and generally avoid anything not labelled 'suitable for vegetarians'. And I'm fed up of conversations such as, 'It's broccoli and stilton soup.' 'So what are those pink bits floating in it?' 'Oh, bacon. But it only says bacon in small print in the ingredients, not on the front of the tin where broccoli and stilton are in large print.' Don't get me started on the battle to get Walkers crisps to properly label their cheese and onions crisps to include the word 'rennet' which makes the crisps unsuitable for vegetarians but the lack of labelling meant people thought they were OK.

I also can't forget the training course where I returned the form indicating I was vegetarian but when lunch was served, everything had meat in it (I forced them to run out to the local shop and buy a suitable alternative) or the wedding where half the guests were vegetarian and the bride's parents were vegan but everything in the buffet had meat in and the chef had to rapidly produce some cottage cheese and grape sandwiches because that was all that was available in his kitchen...

Caroline Green said...

Yup, I think A and C too.
While we're on the subject, I'd quite like a small rant about books whose back cover blurb is misleading. I've noticed this a lot lately - one book I read a while back [and I can;t remember the blessed title now] had a blurb that literally covered the first 40 pages out of about 200. It then went off in a completely different direction that was much less interesting. I wonder whether these sometimes get written in a hurry by assistants who haven't read the book? Does anyone know? Nicola?

Old Kitty said...

Oh that's terrible!! That's illegal isn't?? A defamation of all things vegetarian!! I'd report it to the Vegetarian Society - seriously!! That's just so wrong and £3.99 is still nearly £4.00 and better off spent on a really nice plant! What a rip-off.


Take care

Nicola Morgan said...

CarolineG - yes, that definitely happens. Usually, the blurb is first drafted by someone who may not have read it, based on the synopsis originally offered (which may not ultimately have been followed!) - BUT, it is then the editor's responsibility to make sure the blurb is not only right, but brilliant, and any good editor would do that jointly with the author. My editor and I work intensively on the blurb, but I know that's not always the case.

Also, if it's a somewhat generic, publisher-engineered book (which often includes cheapo cookbooks designed for the cut-price/mass market) the author may barely have had a look in and be on a fee-only basis, with no say over cover/copy/blurb etc.

The lesson being that if you're a writer who CARES about your book (ie any real writer) you must make sure that your editor is a) on the ball and b) keeps you involved.

Ellen Brickley said...

A and C, no question.

I'm not even a vegetarian and this makes me so mad!

Gillian McDade said...

I'm so glad this has generated some debate, even among non-veggies!
Emma - good point about it breaking Trade descriptions! We have a lot in common. I know the perils of attending a wedding as a 'vegetarian'. It means you may get vegetable soup for starters made from chicken stock and a dessert made with gelatine :(

Fidelity said...

I bought a packet of 'Peppermint' tea from a store recently; I'm very familiar with the taste of the herb because I've been drinking it for yonks. This didn't taste in the slightest of peppermint but just like ordinary tea. The largest print on the packet says 'English Classic Tea'; smaller print says 'Peppermint Tea/Rich in Antioxidants'; on one side of the box it says 'Pure Ceylon Tea/Packed in Sri Lanka'. It also says best before 02/2013. A packet of tea that stays fresh for three years!

Once - in London - I was told, on 'remand in custody', by the chief prison officer, after creating 'mayhem' by refusing to wear leather prison shoes (I'd been a vegetarian for years) after they'd taken my canvas plimsols from me, "Those shoes are made of the best of leather." Oh dear, just trying to persuade me...the kicking and ripping the hair out of my head proved the more effective with me; I'm not a veggie any more but sympathise with 'them'.

Don't waste your life trying to make people sensible, honest or even human. It's a curiosity to some - again I suggest put it on ebay, reduce the price and sell it as a curiosity.

Sorry, forget to say, great blog, good responses!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Extraordinary. How did the publishers - who presumably are in the business of selling cookbooks - manage not to notice the obvious? We hear so much about what a risky business it is to take on and publish a book - so what's this about?

DT said...

I'd send the book directly to the publishers (finding out the head of PR first) to demand your money back, adding that this has severely damaged the reputation of a publisher you once highly regarded. Then sit back and wait for the restitution. I've understood the appeal of prawns, by the way - they look like little people.

Fionnuala said...

Send it back to the publishers and demand the full retail price back then donate it to your fave charity. I think you should include an amount for pain and suffering...!

Brian Keaney said...

You don't say what the title was (or did I miss that?). If it hasn't got vegetarian in the title then take it back to the shop. If it has, then write tot he publisher, the Vegetarian Society and anyone else you can think of.

Gillian McDade said...

I didn't want to announce the title publicly although it does have 'vegetarian' in the title. If it had been a 'vegetable' cookbook then that would be different.

Gillian McDade said...

STOP PRESS - one of the recipes further on in the book features tuna fish!! Oh dear.....

Simon Kewin said...

Yep, I'd say A and C too. I know how annoying that is; I've been a vegetarian for 25 years. Have you ever had a waiter in a restaurant ask if you can eat meat "if they chop it up really small"? Happened to me!

Gillian McDade said...

Simon, that's terrible! lol

Emma Lee said...

Tuna??? Definitely A & C then.

I've not had waiter ask if I can eat meat if they chop it up really small. But have been offered scampi, tuna, prawns when asking what the vegetarian option is.