Whatever reason I give for my aversion to meat, it’s usually regarded as slightly bonkers, or stubbornly perverse, or deliberately awkward. Seldom do people understand the quite valid reason for my attitude – that I don’t want animals to be killed to provide me with food, when there are hundreds of delicious non-animal alternatives readily available. And a lot cheaper.
I’ve been a vegetarian for 37 years, but the general bafflement at my choice is as strong as ever. The idea that meat is not only vital for health but is obviously tastier than any other type of food is a long time dying. The fact that most people are eating vegetarian dishes every day of the week – macaroni cheese anyone? – seems to make no difference.
So I wasn’t too surprised to read 20 stories of vegetarians being insulted and patronised and sneered at in umpteen different countries. The reactions are all too typical - insisting ham or chicken aren’t really meat, serving totally inedible meatless dishes, declaring anything other than meat to be mere animal feed, assuming a secret yearning for meat. And so on and so on.
So many meals became an all-out battle between diners who just wanted something meat-free and cooks and wait-staff determined to give them something meaty, even if it had to be stealthily concealed among the other items on the plate.
One woman who was constantly harangued by meat-eaters in West Africa finally stumbled on a foolproof tactic. When she explained that her dying grandfather had forbidden her to eat meat, to her delight she found that nobody dared question her grandfather’s final wishes.
I really don’t know why meat-eaters get so defensive and angry at those of us who don’t share their particular passion. A guilty conscience perhaps over the thousands of animals who’ve died for their gastric pleasure?