This time two years ago I stayed in a B&B in Co. Mayo that I will always remember for two reasons: firstly, the framed picture on the wall gifted to the owners without explanation by the US Air Force Special Operations Unit; and secondly because it was the venue for my last ever burger.
As of Tuesday, it is 760 days since I last ate meat. For most of my life, a decimal point inserted before the seven would have been as long as I could have lasted. I was an overly enthusiastic meat eater to the point that I could barely walk by a cow without licking it. Had I been on Noah’s Ark, the planet would look very different right now.
But two years ago, I turned my back on meat eating in favour of what is often somewhat sanctimoniously described as a plant-based diet, a term which ignores the frankly inhumane quantities of pasta that keep me alive.
Going vegetarian was a big decision that was easy to implement. I picked a relatively easy time in human development to decide that animals were for petting not frying. You wouldn’t quite say that it’s accepted but it’s not frowned upon in the way it once was. Like taking photographs of your dinner or voting Sinn Fein, most people think you shouldn’t do it but just aren’t arsed giving out to you about it.
It’s still not without its problems, however. Restaurants are, by and large, accommodating but often reluctantly. The belief among a minority of chefs remains that what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home is a matter for themselves – even if it involves an over-reliance on the courgette and a point-blank refusal to spear a pig – but at no point should polite society be exposed to their perversions.
For some chefs, this manifests itself in simply refusing to publish vegetarian options on their menus. Non-meat eaters are reduced to asking the waiter in hushed tones whether there is anything in the kitchen that hasn’t been skinned and had its flesh seared. It’s a fun way to pretend you’re ordering contraband when actually you just want broccoli. You realise that the scene when Edward Norton was giving knowing looks and covert nods of the head to waiters had nothing to do with the first rule of Fight Club. He just wanted steamed vegetables.
Other chefs try to appease the plant-eaters but tragically still confuse the words “I would like the vegetarian option” with “I have the appetite and stomach-capacity of an 11-year-old girl”. If at some stage I chose to live my life as a body-conscious 11-year-old female (and don’t you dare oppress me by saying I can’t) I will be sure to make this widely known. Until such a time, please continue to regard me as a fully-grown adult with associated energy needs.
It’s not only chefs who are the culprits here. We’ve all experienced hearing a friend lavish praise on a restaurant and then utter the reassuring words, “I’m sure there’ll be something for you”.
The mistaken belief that vegetarians can survive on three leaves of lettuce and a single cherry tomato (and enjoy paying €16 for the privilege) is reflective of a lack of understanding that still exists. It is also reflective of the fact that some people believe ‘vegetarian’ is derived from the Latin ‘vege’, meaning ‘the appetite of a small child’, and ‘tarian’, meaning ‘to enjoy the financial management practices of Sean Fitzpatrick’.
Some people still view vegetarians with the level of curious wonderment once reserved for circus performers and people from Louth. Really it should be us who view them with suspicion.
I eat things that grew from seeds in the earth, whereas you rear animals in compounds, slit their throats, bleed them dry, skin them, fry their muscle tissue and then dollop it in tomato ketchup. We should be clear about this: I’m not the weirdo.
The wide range of natural products available has never been so readily accessible. Humans once ate meat to survive but a little known fact is that this was before the advent of shops. If you find yourself craving the flesh of a living animal, it would be worthwhile to experiment with going to the shop where you will be pleasantly surprised by the range of alternatives. This lesson can be applied to anybody carrying out other pre-historic activities, such as cave-dwelling, grunting as a means of communication or painting buffalo on public walls
The fact is that, two years into this experiment, I’ve never felt so healthy. Don’t get me wrong: I still couldn’t run more than 10 yards without the need for medical intervention, but that’s probably around three yards further than my previous personal best.
I’ve managed to write an entire article only falling asleep twice.
My descent into vegetarianism was no doubt helped by a wife who has shunned meat since she was 11. Since my decision of two years ago, she has gone the full hog and turned vegan. For me, that remains a step too far. Veganism still strikes me as being the ISIS of the vegetarian world. I suspect she was radicalised at the local fruit and veg shop.
The number of vegans is rocketing, however, meaning that vegetarians are now coming under pressure from two fronts: those who fetishise meat and those who reject all diary. Waiters these days are almost as likely to point to a giant mural of a cows edible bits as they are to run away crying if you ask for a milk in your coffee.
Views are hardening on all sides. Like most moderates, we are increasingly looked down on by people on either extreme as weak, lily-livered sell-outs. Vegetarianism is essentially the culinary equivalent of the Labour Party.
As a group, we are tolerated but not respected by either the meat-eaters or the vegans. As the extremes grow, the middle-of-the-roaders are being squeezed.
I’m holding firm though. Sometimes it’s good to be a middle-of-the-roader, especially when the road has no roadkill.