It always happens. The one that kills the conversation.
There you are chatting away happily about nothing in particular and it suddenly comes up.
Maybe you have refused the prawn vol-au-vent (yes I know I’m showing my age with that one), or the smoked salmon canapes, or the jamon serrano (it would have been parma ham back then), or even the potted meat sandwiches for goodness sake. It’s all the same.
‘Oh! Are you vegetarian?’ they ask. In that sort of nosy cum patronising cum what-a-strange-species-you-are sort of voice.
Whereupon, you say yes.
Naturally, they say they don’t eat much meat, although they do like fish. Because that’s ok. Fish aren’t as alive as animals are they?
Sort of wet and cold and inanimate. Of which more below. But they aren’t soft and fluffy like dear little lambs or piglets, or just insert appropriate cute animal of choice in here.
I could write the script for the conversation. So I might as well:
‘Oh we don’t eat a lot of meat. We’re almost vegetarian really. We like pasta. A little chicken occasionally, and lots of fish and seafood. Do you eat fish?’
Having just refused the prawn vol-au-vents and the smoked salmon canapés, it’s rather unlikely isn’t it?
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Oh, you’re not vegan, are you?’ (Tones of shock horror, as fish-eating vegetarians are sort of understood, but people who don’t eat fish must be those vegan extremists).
‘No.’ (Although I wish I was).
‘So what made you become vegetarian?’ I just love the way people feel it is their right to ask nosy personal questions to complete strangers as though it is a chat about the weather.
‘Was it for health or ethical reasons?’ they continue.
Sigh. Might as well bore them to sleep seeing as they are so interested in my dietary habits.
‘It was initially for health reasons. We heard rather a lot on Radio 4 back in the lovely days of the 80s when we were 80s babes and dinkies, about how eating too much red meat wasn’t that good for your health.
‘At the time, we invariably ate at least three red meat meals a week. A rather nice rump steak weighing well over a pound between two of us, a joint of beef, a mince meal, not forgetting the lamb shoulder, the pork fillet, that’s before you even get into the softer options of chicken and fish…..
‘So we cut down. By which I mean we ate chicken and fish and everything else was vegetarian.’
(This is why I know where people are coming from).
‘I bought lots of books, which were mostly on the lines of lentils and brown sandals, but still, we survived.
‘Our exceptions were when we went home to my parents who would have equated being vegetarian (and later did) as a worse sin than coming out of the closet. And when we ate out, it seemed a waste of money to buy mediocre food that was vegetarian when you could have a decent dead meal. I mean, fish, flesh or fowl.
‘But we all have our lapses. One day I cooked soya beans and they were vile. The next day I went out and bought some stewing steak for a ‘decent’ casserole.
‘Still, we got back on The Road to Good Intentions. And over time, our rationale changed, and the health took a back seat to the appalling treatment and slaughter of animals just to put a ‘tasty’ dish on the table for us to eat.
‘Even the organic free range chicken was gently edged out of the diet. But we still ate fish, ‘cos after all, being vegetarian means, not eating meat right? And fish aren’t meat.
‘I had bought some rather nice plaice for tea. I had a day off work, so I was standing in Smiths reading the magazines for free for a pleasant few hours. One of those was a vegetarian magazine. It was discussing the eating of fish – because that is one of the borderline and somewhat confusing issues (for non-vegetarians/and new vegetarians alike). Plenty of people genuinely think they are vegetarian even though they eat fish.’
‘Have you ever seen a fish, with a hook in its mouth, struggling to live on the end of a line?’
The words in the article might as well have been written in 72pt Helvetica Bold Italic to me at the time. I conjured up the image of the fish. On the end of the line. Struggling for its life. Through no fault of its own.
‘I walked home, looked at the plaice and felt sick. I cooked it. I still felt sick. I’d said nothing to my partner but my revulsion must have come across in the cooking. He said: “I think we’ll stop eating fish.” So we did.
‘That was when – and why – I became a vegetarian.’
Interrogator is now looking for a means of escape but I am on a roll and have my own victim who was intrepid enough to start asking Nosy Personal Questions. Still, they are tough, and after suffering my revelation about becoming vegetarian, they have a quick attack back.
‘What about the poor screaming carrots when they are pulled out of the ground?’
Honestly, that one isn’t even worth an answer. I really can’t be bothered to say they aren’t exactly sentient beings.
‘Or how about your shoes, belts, handbags (which I avoid like the plague) – they must be leather?’ Interrogator smirks.
‘Synthetic.’ I could launch into a list of – at-the-time – mail order companies that I used that were ethical, vegan/vegetarian but something tells me I’m not going to get the companies a new customer. And fortunately the Interrogator isn’t cute enough to get into the rights and wrongs of artificially-produced synthetic clothing.
‘So what do you eat?’ is their last-resort question. ‘How do you get enough protein?’
That isn’t the issue sweetheart. I thought everyone knew that a western diet has far too much protein, and the key to good nutrition is to ensure a good balance of everything. That’s presumably why the five essential foods of my mother’s day – meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, has changed to the five fruit and veg portions a day that we are all exhorted to eat by those who sit in power and know better than us.
But I don’t answer. I am now as bored as they are. I can’t be bothered to talk about tofu, tempeh, seitan, or even quorn products, explain that I don’t live on a diet of cheese omelettes or I will fall over because I am underfed etc etc. I probably ate enough meat, fish, game, chicken etc in the first half of my life to sustain most of Africa.
Speaking of which, I could get into the environmental issues of a vegetarian diet.
Hey! Wait person! Where are you going? I thought you were interested in why I became vegetarian? And have been for more than 20 something years.
A vegetarian diet is one that excludes flesh, fish and fowl, ie meat, fish, chicken, depending on how you want to define these things. The first one is the usual one used by the UK veg soc. Depending on their choice, veggies may eat dairy products and eggs. Preferably free-range eggs and cheese made only with vegetarian rennet.
Vegans don’t eat any products that exploit animals. That’s easy isn’t it? 🙂