Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Veggie woes

I never cease to be astonished at how bemused meat eaters are by my vegetarianism. My very simple preference for foods that don’t include meat is met with anything from wide-eyed puzzlement to seething hostility, as if I’m asking for something utterly outlandish. Freshly grilled newborn babies maybe or honey roasted virgin’s vagina.

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?


  1. I have been following a pescatarian diet (vegetarian and seafood) for twelve years. SInce i do eat fish, finding food is rarely a problem. However, I have to scan menu items carefully and request that meat be left out, even so, have been brought dishes with bacon on top.

    But I have certainly encountered my share of negative responses, ranging from the baffled to the hostile. My guess is that when I say I don't eat bird or mammal people take it as a criticism of their choice. It is not. I believe everyone has to make their own decisions on things like that.And I get weary of explaining to people my reasons. The fact that earth can't support a meat-based diet for the entire population, the issue of pollution, the inefficiency of meat versus produce. And more complicated still, because I have a more intense feeling about mammals (a no-go under any circumstances for me) and birds, which II object to primarily because of the inhumane conditions under which they are farmed. I say none of all that unless pressed - really, I want to be left in peace to eat as I see fit.

  2. Agent: I agree with all those other reasons for refusing meat. The amount of edible food wasted as animal feed is appalling. And as you say the conditions of farming (and slaughter) are often atrocious.

    Actually I would say my refusal of meat IS a criticism, but I'm not forcing anyone to give up meat, it's their choice. And like any other criticism, people are free to ignore it.

  3. i think that unless you scrupulously avoid all animal products everywhere in all circumstances, that might possibly harm animals, including leather products, it's probably best to avoid the criticism-of-others line.


  4. Also, I was a strict vegetarian for many years, and only one person in all those years made me feel weird about it.

  5. ALSO the main thing to me is not the eating of animals (our teeth are, after all, made to tear meat) but as mentioned above, inhumane farming and slaughter conditions.

  6. Leah: I admit to wearing leather shoes. I did once try synthetic shoes but they were totally unhygienic. I don't have any leather jackets or trousers but eeek! I have two leather belts. So yes, I'd better not be too critical!

    I wouldn't mind trying veganism, but Jenny is keen on dairy products so it would be tricky.

  7. Yes, I never could make the leap to veganism. We're lucky to have so many options for purchasing humanely farmed dairy now, including big chains like Wal-Mart!

    Btw, I didn't mean to pull too far away from the actual topic of the blog post...


  8. It seems so common nowadays that I'm surprised you've run into so much criticism. With so many food allergies and special requests out there, I wouldn't think anyone would make a big deal about it. Lots of haters out there, I guess!

  9. People need little boxes to put others in
    Different people scared them
    It's a fact of life
    We all do it

    Hey ho

  10. I am surprised you are being criticised Nick. I was vegetarian for about 10 years and also played around with veganism. I am heading towards piscetarianism.

    I find because of all the allergies these days and having a daughter who is gluten, dairy and legume intolerant there is much more acceptance of diets.

    I know I accommodate these in my home when hosting. Without complaint.


  11. Leah: Well, it was a related topic so that's okay. I'm not sure how humanely farmed our dairy products are, there's not so much emphasis on that here.

    Bijoux: I'm surprised Americans are so tolerant of vegetarians, I thought they were generally major meat enthusiasts. But yes, I do encounter some very hostile people sometimes.

  12. John: Yes, and so often the vegetarian box also comes with a label saying Weirdo.

    www: So Canadians are pretty tolerant as well? I must say the Northern Irish are very keen on their meat and fish, they don't understand people who can happily exist without eating them.

  13. Some cultures are more veggie-welcoming than others. It's unusual in Italy but as long as you want pizza easy to find a veggie option!

  14. Liz: Indeed, Italians are very fond of meat and fish as well. But as you say veggie pizzas are easy to come by - and delicious!

  15. I think Secret Agent Woman is right: people see vegetarianism as an attack on their own meat based diet.

    I am not a vegetarian, though I probably eat meat in less than half my meals. I'd kind of like to be, because I really hate the way some people farm, but my food allergies and sensitivities - which include oats, malt and yeast, and some varieties of nuts, fruit & funghi - plus an inability to eat anything remotely spicy or acid due to GERD, would make that a very difficult choice for me.

    Believe it or not, I often get met with aggressive responses from vegetarians when I say that. I kid you not.

  16. Jay: That's atrocious that vegetarians get nasty about your food allergies. Do they think you're making them all up? Why would you do that? It must make preparing meals pretty tricky though....

  17. No one will bat an eyelid here in India. There are many more vegetarians than meat eaters here and you will be very comfortable here with a wide variety of cuisines available too.

  18. Ramana: That's good to hear. I'm glad there's somewhere I could be treated as normal and not as suspiciously deviant.

  19. Like most categories of people - it's not the category, but how they wear it. I know loads of veggies and didn't cook meat - or even have it at all - in the house for a long time out of respect for the cohabiting veggies. And fair play to them.

    Sure, there's usually some inconsistency if you dig deep enough. Shoes is one. Gingernut biscuits often have fish products in them. Confectionery and gelatine with pig. But hey - who's perfect and at least they're trying.

    It's the preachy disdainful ones who are more trying.
    And then there are the pizzatarians - can't cook, won't cook, have a rotten monotonous diet with the meat removed.

    But none of the above distinguishes veggies from the rest of us - we're all a bit rubbish or annoying in some way.

    On the plus side for me - it wasn't until I was living with a veggie that I broadened my own cooking repetoire and learned to love my inner vegetable. I still do.

  20. Paul: Indeed, there are inconsistencies in everyone's behaviour, from vegetarianism to politics. I try to avoid anything animal-based but it's not always possible, particularly when animal derivatives are sneaked into some unlikely product.

  21. I was a vegetarian for 4 years and that was certainly my experience. Bemusement to outright hostility. Like my choice of diet had anything to do with anyone else.

    But people do like to criticise and food seems to be a particularly emotive discussion.

  22. Roses: I don't know why people get so het up about someone else's diet. Why are they so defensive and antsy about their own? It's not as if I'm taking the meat off their plate and throwing it in the bin.

  23. I was a vegetarian for about 13 years. But I started so I could avoid my mother's cooking.
    Then so I could avoid calories
    So. I am always aware there might be a subtext going on somewhere.

  24. Macy: Vegetarians do tend to be thinner but that's not the reason I took it up as I've always been thin! Avoiding mother's cooking is an excellent reason however....

  25. Nick, it's not that they think I'm making it up, they just think I should be committed enough (to their way of life) to subsist on an extremely limited diet with very little flavour, just so I could be vegetarian!

    Fanatics, ya think?

    I know most vegetarians aren't like that, but those that are ... yikes!

  26. Jay: Oh I see what you mean. Yes, expecting you to eat such a restricted range of foods is very dictatorial. I certainly wouldn't be as fanatical as that. What you eat is your decision, not mine or anyone else's.

  27. I used to be vegetarian but am not anymore (not that I'm much of a meat eater anyway, but as I do eat some very occasionally I can't claim not to) but I am with you on this - the attitudes to vegetarians and vegetarinism are ridiculous.

    The only part of so-called vegetarianism I have never understood is those who eat fish. Are fish not living creatures, too?

  28. Val: I know, the number of fish-eaters who claim to be vegetarians constantly exasperates me. What part of "fish are living creatures" do they not understand?