Sunday, 4 March 2007

On being a vegetarian

Being a vegetarian is still seen as something rather strange and puzzling, as if it's some hare-brained new fashion rather than a long-standing tradition thousands of years old and found all over the world.

When someone discovers I'm vegetarian, they usually react as if I've revealed something slightly eccentric, like ironing my underwear or collecting cuckoo clocks. They ask me what exactly I eat, as if the only options are lettuce leaves, carrots or nut cutlets, and that once meat is ruled out there's nothing else worth eating.

Even after 30 meatless years, people still think I'm in the grip of some impulsive fad rather than a rational and principled choice. They just can't comprehend the simple desire to eat foods that don't involve killing sentient animals - aren't I just being squeamish and sentimental?

I'm also accused of being selfish and demanding, putting households to the extra effort of cooking both a meat dish and a non-meat dish. To which I can only say, why not be adventurous and try something vegetarian on all of them? It's only the once after all. And who knows - they might even enjoy it. Is it really such a sacrifice to abandon meat for half an hour?

Even eating in restaurants is quite a challenge. Belfast may be increasingly open-minded and eclectic, with an amazing variety of eating places compared with a decade ago - Indian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, you name it - but there still is no vegetarian or vegan restaurant. There are some excellent health food shops like Eatwell in Lisburn Road and Nutmeg in Lombard Street, but when eating out I usually have to comb the menu thoroughly for the one or two meat-free options. At least they exist, unlike in Connemara, where I stayed in the summer, and where the locals saw vegetarians as something akin to sheep-rustlers or petrol-siphoners, and were clearly about to tip off the gardai over my perverted habits.

Belfast is proud of its steadily rising tourist visits, but do they come back again? Plenty of those tourists will be vegetarians and when they find there isn't a single veggie hangout in the city, they are likely to strike Belfast off their list and head for other, more vegetarian-friendly capitals. How about the NI Tourist Board giving someone a grant to open a really world-class vegetarian diner? Or maybe Invest Northern Ireland? Isn't this what they call a howling gap in the market? Come on, Belfast, wake up and smell the tofu!

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia


  1. Around these parts vegetarianism is regarded as something of an eating disorder.

    But then again, we have been living on a sole diet of potatoes for the last 400 years!

  2. Hill Street Brasserie (opposite Nick's Warehouse on Hill Street) has a superb vegetarian range on its menu - in fact a separate specials board of vegetarian dishes above the bar. Even a devoted omnivore such as me has been tempted by them!