Many customers think this decision takes matters too far.
The Rainbow Vegetarian Café in Cambridge, England, has announced that it will not accept the new £5 polymer notes, introduced by the Bank of England in September. Last week the British vegan community discovered that the notes contain trace amounts of beef tallow, which is animal fat, and are therefore unacceptable by their cruelty-free standards. A heated online controversy has resulted, including a petition asking the Bank to remove tallow from the polymer.
The Rainbow Café’s owner, Sharon Meijland, told The Telegraph that her stance was announced last Wednesday, at the end of a BBC radio interview on the unrelated topic of Christmas food.
“We sponsor the Vegan Fair and announced on Wednesday we would not be accepting the £5 notes because they are dubious ethically. We have been providing food for vegans for 30 years and have tried to be as ethical as we possibly can…This is not just a restaurant, it's a restaurant where tiny details like this are really important.”
One puzzling inconsistency is the fact that the Rainbow Café is vegetarian, not strictly vegan (although it does offer vegan menu items). This means that some animal products are still used on the premises, which makes Meijland’s stance a bit surprising.
Reactions to Meijland’s announcement are fierce. She told The Guardian that she has been shocked and frightened by online comments. Indeed, on the café’s Facebook page, there are many antagonistic comments, as well as calmer ones that challenge her logic. Some accuse her of “ cheap shot at free advertising.” One commenter wrote:
“Just about everything made of polypropylene or polyethylene contains larger trace amounts of tallow than you'll find in the new fivers. This includes keyboards and mobile phones. The sentiment behind not accepting them is admirable, but slightly hypocritical if you're going to carry on living a normal existence using modern technology and facilities. Even tyres (including bicycle ones) contain animal products.”
The BBC reports that the Bank of England has “declined to say whether there was a legal obligation to accept the notes.” A question-and-answer forum on The Guardian website says that UK businesses are not obligated to accept banknotes, unless it’s to settle a debt, in which case the Rainbow Café could not legally refuse the money:
“They can choose to refuse your note because a display of priced goods is merely an ‘offer to treat’ - to negotiate a deal… If the 'transaction' is instantaneous, then anyone selling anything can refuse. However, if the payment is to settle a debt (e.g. for a taxi ride, a meal in a restaurant etc), then it is illegal to refuse legal tender.”
Meijland says she’ll stand by her decision, despite the online abuse, and if someone pushes to “take up the legal tender issue,” then the fiver will be donated to the local animal shelter.