Hindu Diners Should Drop Lawsuit Against Indian Restaurant That Accidentally Served Them Meat

I’m vegetarian. And I love Taco Bell. And this is a conversation I’ve honestly had at the drive-thru:

Me: I’d like a BEAN burrito.

Taco Bell Guy: Anything else?

Me: A Mexican Pizza… but with BEANS instead of beef.

Taco Bell Guy: Anything else?

Me: An order of cinnamon twists.

Taco Bell Guy: You want beans on that, too?

Me: I hate you so much…

Occasionally, they screw up my order. It’s rare, but it happens. I don’t realize it until I get home. I take that first bite. It tastes weird. I take a look. It’s beef. I get mad. I call the manager. They offer me free food the next time I visit. End of story. Everyone is happy.

My mom, on the other hand, goes a little crazier. If there’s accidental beef in her food, she’ll scream and spit it out like she just found a live bug in there. She’ll find some water and start gargling. I’ll call the manager. We’ll get free food. End of story. (I should mention that my mom is a practicing Jain, and I’m not, so it’s a slightly bigger deal for her to have accidentally eaten meat.)

That’s how you handle it. It’s not the end of the world. No one was purposely trying to put meat in our food. It was a mistake. Oh well. Get over it.

Now, check out this story:

Two summers ago, Durgesh Gupta and Sharad Agrawal walked into the popular Mughal Express on Oak Tree Road, in the heart of Edison’s Indian community, and ordered samosas. They were strict vegetarians, they said in making sure there was no meat in their order of the traditional Indian snack.

Gupta said a restaurant employee assured them that it did not make meat samosas, according to court documents. A half-hour later, the two men picked up a tray labeled “VEG samosas.”

But after Gupta and his group of 16 people began eating the triangular deep-fried pastries, they grew concerned they were eating meat. When they went to return the uneaten samosas, the restaurant said it had made a mistake, court documents showed.

Ok, so my first thought is: The restaurant employee made a mistake. That employee should apologize and the restaurant might even want to offer a gesture of goodwill — maybe coupons for free meals for everyone in the group.

The Hindus should accept that apology. After all, granting (and asking for) forgiveness is a big part of following the Hindu faith.

Guess no one told them that… because they’ve filed a lawsuit against the restaurant:

What the 16 Hindus want is compensation for a trip to the Hindu holy town of Haridwar, India, where the Ganges begins its downward flow to the ocean. There, they want to take dips in the river and, by Hindu belief, cleanse their souls of sin.

And they want the restaurant to pay for it all.

A lower court decided in favor of the restaurant, but an appellate court reversed the decision… so the restaurant may very well have to pay up.

The stereotypically cheap Indian side of me is thinking, “They just want a free trip to India…”

The must-poke-holes-in-their-argument side of me is thinking, “What? All 16 of them ate the samosas at once?! No way. More like one guy ate a bite, tasted meat, and then told everyone else to stop eating for a bit while he checked it out.”

The non-Hindu side of me is thinking, “I’ve visited the Ganges River. It’s disgustingly brown and full of debris, bacteria, and the ashes of dead relatives. If you ‘take dips’ in it, you have a better chance of catching a disease than you do cleansing anything in/on/around your body.”

The atheist/pretend-lawyer side of me is thinking, “Why should the restaurant have to pay for their religious superstitions? What if their faith told them the only way to cleanse their souls was to buy a personal jet? When does it stop? What’s the price-cap?”

At least other Hindus are speaking out against the Gang of 16′s actions:

Pradip Kothari, president of the Indo-American Cultural Society in Edison, suggested the diners could easily go to a temple to cleanse their souls.

“I understand how they feel,” Kothari said. “I myself am a Hindu. But this is hypocrisy of the law.”

He did not know the diners, he said, but they should be ashamed for bringing a bad name not just to Hindus but to the Indian-American community.

Agreed.

Drop the lawsuit. Accept an apology. Don’t go back to that restaurant. Stop embarrassing me (as a vegetarian and Indian).

And, if you’re really desperate, there are some con artists willing to sell you “Holy” Ganges water online.

(Thanks to Clarice for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Jojo

    Re your flubbed Taco Bell orders — no worries — chances of your order being tainted with real beef are fairly remote.

    • Trace

      True :)

    • Vlademir1

      Actually they just use the cheapest grade of beef you can legally serve to people, one step above what you’ll find in dog food.  In the end it’s still actually beef.

      • http://carpescripturum.wordpress.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        But a lot less of it than they claim.

        Anyways, interesting factoid: In soviet Russia, they used to mix toilet paper in with ground beef. It absorbed the grease from the meat and disintegrated so it was hard to tell that it was done, while increasing the volume of the “meat” sold. 

        Taco Bell may be bad, but at least it isn’t USSR bad!

        • Nerdolympian

          In Soviet Russia, beef grinds you.  

        • Rich Wilson

          in Russia toilet paper is more like sandpaper. Ok Bit of an exaggeration. But not much.
          I also had trouble in Russis with really getting people to understand that I really didn’t eat meat as opposed to don’t buy meat, but will ear it if served. I was assured it was more a language issue than anything.
          Not drinking alcohol was also taken to mean no vodka. Who doesn’t drink beer and wine?

          • http://carpescripturum.wordpress.com/ MrPopularSentiment

            I don’t drink. It took me about five years to convince my Russian inlaws that I wasn’t trying to me rude or insulting!

  • Chris

    I was served normal haggis instead of vegetarian haggis once… I thought it looked a bit iffy. Very glad I didn’t take a bite… but the restaurant gave me my meal for free :)

    So all was good…

    People make mistakes. If folk know they are going to be psychologically scarred by eating meat it is THEIR responsibility to check everything they eat beforehand. Others cannot be responsible for their neuroses… 

    • stellaluna

      is it really possible to make a vegetarian haggis?  wouldn’t that be the antithesis of a haggis? ;)

      • http://carpescripturum.wordpress.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        Don’t kid yourself. Haggis has very little actual meat in it…

        • Indigo

          It’s about equal parts sheep and oats, much like the land it comes from. (I’m of Scottish extraction and my parents like to celebrate Burns Night very traditionally. The good news is that after enough scotch you don’t mind the haggis.)

        • Indigo

          It’s about equal parts sheep and oats, much like the land it comes from. (I’m of Scottish extraction and my parents like to celebrate Burns Night very traditionally. The good news is that after enough scotch you don’t mind the haggis.)

      • Chris

        Haggis is just spiced mince. The flavour comes from the spices and oats. Vegetarian haggis manages to taste very similar, and I have had many meat-eating friends say it is nicer than ‘real’ haggis. Still suffers from the usual meat-substitute problem of being a bit dry, though…

        But yes.. you can’t exactly take the entrails of vegetables and stuff them inside other entrails and mince them :)

      • Michael
  • Trace

    I think all that energy could be used towards something positive. But what do I know.

  • Michael

    I always feel guilty if I eat vegetarian, because I know that wherever I am eating, they’ve got a smaller supply of vegetarian food based on the number of vegetarians they are expecting, so if I order vegetarian, or worse yet take it from a buffet where they have an exact headcount of vegetarians, I am increasing the risk of a vegetarian not being able to get the food they want in that location.

    • Heisenberg

      Don’t worry about it! As a vegetarian myself I only go out to eat at places where I know it’s not a huge hassle for the cooks/wait staff to give me vegetarian food. That being said, I love it when non-vegetarian people keep their options open and realize they don’t always have to have meat for every meal. Eat up my friend! Devour all the vegetarian food your heart desires! We will be fine :D

      • Alleyprowler

        Exactly. As long as there is enough to go around, I’m happy to share with my omnivorous friends. Sometimes they even discover a new favorite!

    • Rich Wilson

      When I was a vegetarian I used to always get annoyed at the token veggie pizza at any function.  We’d order 6 pizzas for some big office meeting, and one would be veggie.  But many of the meat eaters would ‘try’ the veggie pizza, so if we were lucky we’d get one piece.  And vegetarians often made up more than 15% of the office.

      If you’re not going to order enough veggie pizza for the meat eaters, then the meat eaters should stay away from it until the vegetarians have had a chance to have seconds.

      • http://carpescripturum.wordpress.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        That’s a pretty easy fix. Just explain the issue privately to your boss so that s/he can make an announcement before lunch begins that anyone who isn’t a vegetarian should wait until towards then end of the function before they decide to sample the pizza. Or, better yet, just talk to the person who orders the pizzas and explain so that they can modify the ratio.

        Most people would be more than happy to accommodate veggies – it just doesn’t occur to them that there’s an issue. 

        • Michael

          Better yet, how many people would complain if one of the meat pizzas got replaced with mushroom & garlic?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

            People do.  If I want meat then I want meat.  I’d be pretty pissed if I wanted a meat based dish on a plane and all they had left were vegetarian meals.  

        • Rich Wilson

          Yes we tried that. People forget. People make mistakes. It gets tiresome. It’s a very minor case of privilege. Same thing at another workplace with alcohol. Yes the 3 of us who didn’t drink could get a coke from the machine. And even take it from petty cash. But it would be nice if these little things were remembered. We got tired of being squeaky wheels.
          Not the worst thing ever. Life goes on.

      • Anonymous

        I think that’s the perfect opportunity for you to mention how popular the veggie pizza was, and that maybe they should consider ordering more of those for future functions, instead of perhaps the ham & pineapple pizza that is only 1/4 gone.

        • Michael

          I agree. If you are running out of veggie pizza that is because there is not enough veggie pizza.

          Vegetables are not just for Vegetarians.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

      You don’t understand economics.   By ordering vegetarian you are in fact sending an economic signal to produce more not less vegetarian meals.    Vegetarians are more likely to be able to get their meals.    Just imagine if the rest of us ordered just half of our meals as vegetarian.    You’d expect not only half the menu to be vegetarian but half of the stock in the back of the restaurant (or on the plane) to be vegetarian.

      BTW, if there is an exact headcount you need not worry that you “might” screw someone over. You ARE screwing someone over.

  • Anonymous

    This is why I don’t eat out often.  I prefer to eat food that I’ve prepared myself.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    Yeah, I heard this story. From what I understand of the caste system if the patrons were Brahmins then even having their food prepared by those of a lower caste is considered spiritually polluting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    One incentive of this incident is for restaurants to refuse to serve vegetarian meals, and to put up signs indicating that any of the dishes may have meat in them.

    • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

      They could, and I’d be sort-of OK with that from a veggie POV. If you can’t deal with me, then that’s just one of those things, so long as I know about it and can avoid your restaurant.

      The practical problem though is that doing that rules out any party with even a single vegetarian in it. The stats on vegetarianism rates in the US seem to be remarkably fuzzy, but if we call it 10% for the sake of argument then for a group of six would-be diners you’ve only got just over a 50% chance of the group being completely veggie free. That sort of thing is going to put a pretty big dent in your potential customer base.

      • Anonymous

        There’s that, and I also see it in another light — it’s just adding more to the warning label epidemic that’s going on. Any consumer can sue any company for nearly any mistake, no matter how painfully obvious it should be that the consumer was at fault, as long as there wasn’t a warning label. This is why hot coffee has hot warnings on it. Of course, the consumer here wasn’t at fault, but the ridiculous amount their suing for still doesn’t fit the crime and as you’ve suggested could result in the same warning label effect.

        The fix isn’t to throw more warning labels on things to protect companies, or in this case, for restaurants to throw up a warning against vegetarians. The fix is to tear down moronic law suits that are after far, far too much money for their own good.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

          I call them “Idiot Labels” — you’d have to be an idiot to, say, tilt a vending machine and try to get free product. Not for the theft, though that’s pretty dumb in and of itself, but HELLO! That machine? It can fall and injure you — potentially even kill you!

    • Keljopy

      I can see that happening, just like currently anything made in the same location as something with peanuts/gluten/nuts/shellfish/take your allergen pick is labeled as such, that it may contain traces of these products.  Maybe they’ll still have vegetarian meals or be willing to substitute if they don’t, but with a blurb at the bottom of the menu that meat products are served here and while we’ll do our best not to “contaminate” your food, we can’t make promises.

  • Less

    I loved your conversation with Taco Bell Guy. Made me LOL!

  • http://carpescripturum.wordpress.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    I’ve never understood the idea of being “spiritually polluted” by an accident. Can I pollute the spirits of other people? If that’s the case, we’re getting away from ideas about personal responsibility and heading towards black magic.

    But if your spirit is polluted when you do something bad, how can you be held responsible for something that happened by accident?

    Your mom’s reaction is an indication that it has nothing to do with morality or responsibility, but is instead about magic. Careful, or the evil wizards might pollute your spirit!!

    • http://profiles.google.com/nathanlee2 nathan lee

      That’s another case when the “spirit” world is just another physical property. It’s not the intention that caused the pollution, but the actual eating of meat. So yes, you could intentionally pollute the spirits of other people, if you were feeling spiritually masochistic.

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    I’m vegetarian for completely non-religious reasons but I’d be bloody livid if someone did that to me. Mistakes are one thing, but if I have a full conversation with someone, they assure me that they don’t even have meat samosas in the building (when they do), take a plate of meat samosas and label them as vegetarian, and then give them to me, that’s not a mistake, it’s a deception.

    Asking for a trip to India it clearly nuts, but the restaurant deserves to have some action taken against them for their absolutely appalling course of behaviour.

  • Heisenberg

    I don’t want to be THAT guy but where is the Republican outcry about this? Isn’t this essentially the government trying to step in and punish a (small?) business owner? Isn’t this the government being “too big”? Hrmmm.

    I’m a vegetarian myself and this is ridiculous. I’m with you on the Tbell Hemant. It’s totally a guilty pleasure for me, especially after those long days where I just can’t drum up the energy to make something. However, whenever I end up with a beefy burrito instead of a beany burrito I just get really disappointed. I don’t really ever make a big fuss about it. I figure that you just take that risk when you eat a meal that costs about $3.50. 

  • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

    This reminds me of the older Jewish couple who were suing their building because an automated light in the entryway trapped’ them in their apartment. They claimed that if they triggered the light to turn on during a religious period, they were violating the edict of not making fire. The building owner claimed residents coming in late should have a light to see by, but didn’t want to leave the light on all night. Hence motion sensor lights.

    I never did hear how that case played out…

    • http://carpescripturum.wordpress.com/ MrPopularSentiment

      I’m not a fan of going out of our way to accommodate beliefs like this, but if the Jewish couple were willing to pay (or at least co-pay), there could be a pretty easy compromise. In Switzerland apartment buildings, most of the hallway lights are on timers. So you hit the switch (technically it’s a button, not a switch), and then you have X amount of time to get to where you’re going before the light goes out again. 

      This would allow for the people coming home late to have light without it being on all night while also allowing for the Jewish couple to fumble around in the (metaphorical?) dark if they want to.

      • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

        That is a good point, and I believe part of the issue was that they claimed that they had been promised that automated lights wouldn’t be installed, and the building owner claimed that they did not make the promise and were worried about setting a precedent even though the couple were willing to pay for an over ride switch. I have looked it up, but can’t seem to find any articles mentioning how the case played out.

        • http://carpescripturum.wordpress.com/ MrPopularSentiment

          If that’s the case, the issue is a non-starter. Verbal promises hold no weight between landlords and tenants. Get it in writing or let it go (or, as the internet likes to put it, “screen shot or it didn’t happen”). 

          An override switch doesn’t seem like a solution if there are other tenants in the building. The Jewish couple could forget to turn off the override just as easily as tenants could forget to turn off the lights once they get to their apartment. 

          It’d be nice to see what the actual case was, but based on the information here it seems that the only real solution is for them to drop the case and offer to pay for button lights with a timer.

    • Anonymous

      It’s BS of course. They didn’t do any work to activate the light. It sensed their body heat and turned on itself.

  • kris

    I have to admit, Taco Bell is not a name I considered remotely synonymous with vegetarian. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/hotvernors Chrissy Depowski

      You’d be surprised! I’ve been ordering things “minus beef plus rice” for about fifteen years now, and they’re very accommodating–they’ll do it for basically anything on the menu.

  • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

    If eating meat for them is such an issue that any accidental ingestion would require a trip thousands of miles for a dip in magic water then wouldn’t the onus be on them to ensure that they are either eating at a vegetarian only restaurant or to double check their food?

    • Chris

      Exactly!

    • Travshad

      Actually, I think it is reasonable to expect a restaurant to serve you exactly what you order.

      • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

        Whether or not that’s reasonable has nothing whatsoever to do with what I said.  Reasonable or not, if something is such a major issue for you then it’s just sensible to take extra precautions.

        As to restaurants – I think it’s reasonable to hope that you get exactly what you order, however I also think that it’s reasonable to accept that this can not always be the case.  That’s just life – hope for the best, plan for the worst.

        If you absolutely, positively, make-no-mistake, accept-no-substitute can NOT eat meat, for whatever the reason, then you should do whatever you can to take human error out of the equation because whatever you expect, people make mistakes.

        Personally I think that it’s unreasonable to expect a 100% success rate for everyone working in the service industry.  If you go in with those sorts of standards then I guarantee that you will A) be disappointed and B) ingest something you had not planned on ingesting.  I’m not saying it’ll be pubes – but it’ll probably be pubes.

  • Lauren S

    there is a lot of sabotage of vegetarians. So It is unclear if it is a mistake or not.  People don’t believe you, or don’t take you seriously all the time.  There is a lack of respect for choosing to not eat meat for whatever reason.  I think that suing for that amount is a bit much, but I am less willing to give the benefit of the doubt considering my experiences, and the experiences of my fellow vegan friends. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/hotvernors Chrissy Depowski

      I don’t find that to be true, very often. I don’t live in a particularly vegetarian/vegan friendly place, but I still find that people in restaurants generally try to be accommodating as possible, because they want to keep their customers coming back.  When in doubt, say you have an allergy!

      • Susoeffl

        I can’t help that your experiences are different than mine.  But I have had people actively try to trick me into eating animal products, so have many of my friends.  I read an article, ( see: http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/cityofate/2010/09/sneaky_meat_survey_finds_chefs.php)  where many chefs sabotage meals.

        also my mother recently told me of a carolyn hax article (sorry I don’t have the link) in which someone WAS allergic to meat, and their fiance’s parents secreted some into food because they thought it was funny.  it is not isolated or rare.  You are very lucky not to have dealt with it. 

        The thing that is really the kicker, is that because it isn’t for PRESCRIBED religious reasons, but because of my own ethical conclusions, people seem to place LESS weight on them.  I suppose because they know I won’t feel “spirutually” tainted.  Somehow, my moral reasons are not as important as prescriptive religion. 

        Lucky you, that you haven’t knowingly been sabotaged yet.  I live in a big city, with lots of veggie friendly places, but when out with a large group of people I sometimes end up at less friendly institutions.  There are douches and concern trolls everywhere who think I NEED meat.

        • Chrissy Jones

          I’ve been a vegetarian for fifteen years, and have many friends who are vegetarian also. I’ve also cooked at restaurants for a living. This is not something that is common, in fact, I’ve never even heard of it happening.

          Sure, I’ve encountered plenty of jerks who have something rude to say when they find out I don’t eat meat, but I’ve met way, way, way more people who try very hard to be accommodating. There are also plenty of people (particularly in restaurants) who just don’t understand, so you have to be very specific, and mention that you don’t eat stock, broth, sauce etc… that came from an animal.

          Paranoia doesn’t do anyone any good.

          • Travshad

            It is not paranoia when it is a fact that it occurs very frequently.  If you read Susoeffl’s link, it says that 15% of the chefs surveys by the Food Network had used animal ingredients in vegetarian meals.  One even said that he saw a chef add lamb’s blood to a vegetarian meal.  I remember a BBC interview with Gordon Ramsay where he said he has lied to vegetarians in his restaurants. 

            • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

              Bullshit.

              • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd Studge

                Do you have issues with the Dallas Observer article?  It seemed both clear and credible to me, although I suppose I haven’t investigated the study in question enough to assess its methodology.  Either way I’d think that we can take a rational look at the evidence rather than dismissing it out of hand.

                Note that the article talks about deliberate sabotage, not simply misunderstanding what a vegan diet is.  Also note that, according to the article, the sabotage is simply in response to ordering off-the-menu, not ranting or ‘preaching’.

                • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

                  I never said that it doesn’t happen — I just have serious doubts about the prevalence of “sabotaging” a veggie’s food. And a couple of people here are acting like, if you dare to order anything “off the menu”, the chefs WILL slip meat into it (which simply isn’t the case).

                  I suspect that, when food is “sabotaged” in such a manner, it is, in fact, a response to a veggie who is loud, obnoxious, and pushy about their dietary choices. (Please note that other veggies, in this very thread, have outright said that they have never seen this sabotage actually happen.)

                • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd Studge

                  Uh, the whole point of chef-sabotage is that nobody who isn’t in the kitchen sees it. 

                  But I think we’re getting away from the main point, which is that however obnoxious or pushy a vegetarian is (and in my experience, I’ve never once seen a veg person ordering at a restaurant rudely) it’s still indefensible to sneak meat into the meal they’ve paid for.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

          Is it even possible to have a genuine allergy to meat?

          And have you considered that perhaps the “sabotage” is simply payback for being a preachy about your dietary choices? (Note that quiet veggies haven’t had this problem…)

  • http://www.facebook.com/hotvernors Chrissy Depowski

    I’m a vegetarian too, and I agree with Hemant. Maybe I’m cynical, but it really sounds like they’re just trying to get a free trip to India out of the deal. They should get their money back for the samosas, and not much else. If I’m at a restaurant, and meat somehow accidentally (or on purpose. who knows, who cares.) gets put in my food, I send it back, simple as that. Usually, if that happens, the restaurant has lost me as a customer, but I couldn’t imagine going so far as to sue over it. Shit happens.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    This is why Jews who keep kosher and take it seriously often only eat at places which have supervision to make sure that eveything is kosher. Similar remarks apply to Muslims who care about halal. Many of those are still willing to eat at completely vegetarian restaurants that don’t have supervision. In that context, I have even less sympathy to people who went to a fast food restaurant and had their order messed up. We’ve all had orders messed up before. And they are shocked that the screw-up happens to involve the thing they care about? Then don’t eat that the restaurant that has meat options. 

  • Sierramomma

    I order my food altered all of the time due to food intolerances.. and they mess up on a regular basis. I actually incur health problems when they do so- but do I sue- no I chalk it up to part of the experience- learn from it and move on.

  • Rich Wilson

    My dad is mildly allergic to sesame seeds.  If he’s with someone else, he’ll just trade his bun top for the other person’s bun bottom.  But alone, I don’t think he’s ever been able to order a hamburger with two bun bottoms without the 18 year old cashier looking at him like he’s just tried to make a pass at them.

  • http://twitter.com/rohit_ajitkumar Rohit Ajitkumar

    Hemant, this may be moving slightly away from the topic but there are some parts of the Ganges which are very clean. Haridwar and Varanasi are the places where it is very disgusting. Of course all talk of “purification” is bullshit.

  • Jude

    In rural Colorado, no one knows what a vegetarian is.  I would *never* eat at a Taco Bell, and seldom eat out.  Where’s the joy in eating out?


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