As a vegetarian I spend a lot of time feeling guilty and apologising. I’m not suggesting this is specifically a vegetarian thing, I suspect it has more to do with my personality. But I do find myself saying sorry – a lot – when telling someone I don’t eat meat. I don’t really know why that should be the case. It’s not offensive and it doesn’t really cause that much trouble – at least not these days. And yet I find myself worrying about it.
It’s not really something you tell someone when you meet them and it’s not a subject that comes up in general conversation. ‘Hi, how are you? Did you have a good weekend. I don’t eat dead animals.’ Cue other person backing away looking scared. So it is most likely to be mentioned when a meal is involved, maybe for a birthday or other celebrations. I know I used to worry about the office Christmas meal. I didn’t want to be awkward and dictate where we could and couldn’t go but I also wanted to eat something!
I think it all stems back to when being veggy was, well, a bit odd. If you went out to a restaurant you had to ring up beforehand to check there would be something vegetarian on the menu. There often wasn’t and I would end up with a plate of pasta and some vegetables. Our honeymoon, 13 years ago, was spent in Italy. A country, you may think, with an amazing array of food. Sadly the hotels we were in for the first week did not subscribe to that theory. The veggy alternative every night for that week was mozzarella and tomato slices or mixed vegetables. I love cheese as much as the next person but after four nights I needed a change. In Florence I was served up a plate of overcooked, soggy green beans. And mash. Yum.
Only 10 years ago we went to a pub out in the countryside and asked what they did that was vegetarian. ‘Tuna jacket potato?’ was the helpful reply. Oh. Not really vegetarian I replied to be told ‘well fish don’t count do they?’ Erm, yes. Yes they do.
Deep down I am concerned that when I tell someone I’m vegetarian they will assume I am going to be incredibly awkward and can’t eat anything except lentils (which I don’t like) beans (which I loathe) and tofu (which is frankly disgusting.) In fact most people are fine about it. Often surprised but not particularly concerned by it. I can only imagine the host’s horror 20 years ago upon being told ‘one of them’s a vegetarian.’ Nowadays a lot of people have at least one meat free day and don’t necessarily think of it as being a veggy meal. It probably just tastes good!
So I know I shouldn’t feel guilty for being vegetarian. I don’t force my choice down anyone else’s throat and I am more than happy to fit in wherever possible.
But I can guarantee next time I tell someone I’m vegetarian I’ll add ‘sorry!’