I’m back, and I’ve got something new to soapbox about. Now, there are a number of things I want to change about myself — my anxiety, my quickness to anger (especially where our flaky Virgin Media broadband connection is concerned), my inability to appreciate the fact that others don’t grasp things the way I do (as my poor mother knows after I got her to do some Wii Fit Plus exercises at the weekend) — but there are also some things about myself that I definitely don’t want to change. Hence, the brand new post category of “unapologies”, which I’m inaugurisationating with tonight’s topic: my vegetarianism.
I decided in the mid-1990s, for reasons not entirely unconnected to the image on the left, that since there’s enough food available in our society, the only reason to eat meat (leaving aside getting marooned on a desert island etc.) would be for the taste, and furthermore that it wouldn’t be worth an animal dying just to give me a taste sensation that could be equalled or even surpassed by other means. I made the switch at university, fair enough, but I’d already been thinking about it for a year or so (despite enjoying McDonald’s — ah, perhaps therein lies a clue?), and once made, it was an easy path to follow. I had to do it in stages, though: for one thing, I didn’t manage to cut out gelatine-based foods (I really, really liked Wine Gums) for a long time, and Walkers cheese-and-onion crisps contained animal rennet until that glorious day in 2004…
Anyway, it’ll have been 16 years in April since the Geology field trip to Wales on which, due to it being self-catering, I decided to become a vegetarian (like the proverbial gay man bedding one last woman, I made myself a steak-and-kidney pie that day… hey, who is this gay man and why does he get more girly action than me?!). Thanks to the availability of things like Quorn and Linda McCartney “fake meat” products, I haven’t been inclined to go back again, and the smell of frying bacon, ironically, also helped (though it should be noted it was bacon being fried by university students, so the word “carbonised” would be more appropriate). Here in London, where I’ve lived since 2003, one of my female friends once showed me a nice little vegetarian fast food restaurant in Dean Street called RedVeg, now sadly long gone (thanks for ruining my life, Crossrail), at which I frequently had a very nice vegetarian burger (the one at Nando’s just doesn’t compete, and peri-peri be damned).
However, society in general (and Gordon Ramsey in particular) seems to think I’m some kind of dangerous deviant because I choose not to eat meat. Leaving aside the stupid loud-mouthed vegetarians who go around preaching at meat-eaters that they’re “cavemen” (I’ve never been like that and never will be), what’s the deal with criticising my eating habits? It’s like the kind of homophobic bully who tells gay men they need to be “normal”, rather than just tolerating them and saying “hey, more chicks for me”; so similarly, why not say “hey, more steak for me”? Are they really annoyed that I’m not competing with them for a finite resource? (Not that I’m describing women as a “resource”, I should add, but there aren’t many single women left… oh, sorry, I digress!)
And then there’s the whole “herp derp, do you wear leather shoes?” (no, I go to annoying lengths not to, and shoe shop staff look at me like I’m crazy every damn time), or the “fact” that $DEITY put the animals on Earth for us to eat and thus made them out of meat (gee, never heard that one before), or “vegetables aren’t food, they’re what food eats” (ooh, careful with that joke, it’s an antique), or “don’t you ever hunger for a steak?” (yes, so I have a Quorn one — er, other fake meat product lines are available), and so on. In fact, here’s a bingo chart about the subject:
I should add at this point that my former “good housemate” was like this a lot of the time, though he also concluded I was gay (sorry for bringing that topic up three times in this post — ooh, Matron!) because I hadn’t had “enough” women. Basically he liked taunting me all the time, but he also supported me when I needed it, so I tolerated his humour (and he even made me some vegetarian chilli once). What got to me, though, was our final “third housemate” who once told me, in all seriousness, that he wanted to “cure” me of my vegetarianism. Yes, that’s the guy I grew to loathe before we moved out of Caledonian Road (should I conclude from his example that all meat eaters refuse to do their washing-up unless bullied into doing so, and make a lot of noise at night?). One of my housemates here made a similar comment, but he at least was funny about it, and since he helped me out when I first moved in (especially with the heavy lifting), he’d earned the right. My female best friends have both catered for me willingly and without grumbling (one of them has food intolerances and so knows all about cooking separate meals).
I guess I’m lucky to live in a country that actually caters for vegetarians (and, to a lesser extent, vegans). There was actually a BBC News article about this topic recently, and I’m a bit worried about my holiday to the USA in May, but the company assures me I can buy my own vegetarian food and cook it over the campfire with no problem, rather than relying on American restaurants where they might think “vegetarian” just means “with vegetables on the side”. At least I’m not going anywhere near South Dakota or Texas, and I know that the restaurant on the Eiffel Tower can provide vegetarian pasta if you specifically ask for it (and don’t call the waiter garçon, presumably).
I couldn’t become a vegan, though… I just like dairy too much!
Okay, so my eating habits aren’t perfect: I do need to eat more vegetables (though never broccoli — sorry, some lines just can’t be crossed), and I’m trying to have more stir fries and less pizzas / chocolate / caffeinated fizzy drinks. But give me a break about meat, okay? I won’t preach at you if you won’t sneer at me. It’s like Paul McCartney sang: “Live and Let Live”. Actually, it was “Live and Let Die”… well, whatever, it had a good rhythm!
(As a Godwin’s Law-based postscript, here’s the obligatory Hitler reference: not only was he not a strict vegetarian (he liked roast dove), but he also liked cakes, was heterosexual, breathed oxygen, occupied three-dimensional space and experienced time in a linear progression from cause to effect. Are those things evil because Hitler did them? Honestly, reductio ad Hitlerum is ridiculous — next you’ll be saying genocide is evil just because the Nazis did it!)
(Oh, and PPS: there’s a stupid IAMS advert on TV with cats “saying” that they’re carnivores and not vegetarians, as a way of advertising that the product has a greater percentage of animal protein in it than other brands of cat food. So, er, why isn’t it 100% animal protein, P&G? Is one of the richest companies in the world not only cheap but a bit hypocritical?)