I gave up eating meat a long time ago. There was no big ceremony, no fuss, no final bacon sandwich nibbled tearfully in my mother’s cosy December kitchen. I just stopped.
I was a teenager and I had only just discovered that vegetarianism was a thing, thanks to the handsome, exotic older brother of a school friend who wafted into town on a cloud of petunia oil and with an insouciant, wholesale rejection of ‘the norm’. I was in awe. He lived on a bus, didn’t have a job and wonder of wonders, he didn’t eat meat or fish and continued to thrive, indeed his beard would have been the envy of every hipster on the planet, had hipsters been invented then. I was convinced: I might grow up to get a job and live in bricks and mortar but I was not going to eat meat. Ever. Again.
So, I haven’t. I ignored the early, dire warnings of malnutrition, anaemia and vampirism and simply didn’t eat meat. Or fish but I never really liked fish anyway. Indeed, I’d never liked meat either. Even as a child the taste, the look, the very idea of eating meat forced me into tears and tantrums and this was long before Peppa Pig came on the scene. I felt freed when I became vegetarian, free from a sentence I had thought all humans were bound by and I delighted in creating new meals that were gloriously untainted, as I saw it, by blood and flesh.
Throughout university I shared a house with two like minded “veggies”. We’d cook curries, chilli and various soups in a saucepan big enough to feed the street from and that’s often what we’d end up doing: bring a bottle of cheap Lambrusco to our place and you’d be guaranteed a decent feed. I learned to cook properly during those couple of years in a dingy terraced house in Nottingham. We’d pore over recipe books more frequently than our text books and even today, I’m enormously proud to recall feats such as hand mashing chick peas to make falafel or kneading dough to make calzone and this long before such international foods became middle class mainstream. Since then, I’ve lived in countries where people have crossed themselves upon hearing that I would not consume meat, where waiters have argued that the slice of ham in my salad was not “meat” and where I’d end up blind drunk at the end of an evening meal in a restaurant because the only vegetarian options were on the wine list. I’ve lived to tell the tale and more than thirty years on, I still don’t eat meat. Or fish.
My vegetarianism has never been a big issue for me, it simply is what it is. Others though have, at times, been a little confronted by it. I recall one excruciatingly awkward meal at a friend’s place when her mother unveiled, with a great swell of pride, the “veggie meal” that she had spent so many anguished hours preparing in my honour. Behold: the fish pie. Her crumpled red face and the glistening tears in her eyes upon hearing that my ‘condition’ extended to not eating fish either, were almost enough to convince me to have just a little…almost. I’ve spent many an hour listening to people tell me how we’re built to eat meat, using cavemen or the presence of canine teeth in our mouths as their evidence, or ignoring the eye rolls and the knowing looks when someone I’ve just met hears I’m one of them. I’ve lost count of the jokes I’ve heard about the screams of fruit as it is plucked from the tree or the pain a mushroom feels when you grill it. I used to feel I needed to defend or at least explain my choices. Not now.
My vegetarianism still isn’t a big deal to me and thankfully over the years, it has become less of one to those around me. In fact, these days it is almost a given that someone at any gathering will be a “veggie”. We’re almost embarrassingly passe, it’s so much more sexy to hold forth on your various obscure intolerances or your zodiac inspired food combining or your channelling chakras through kale consumption. There’s a wealth of meat free choice in the supermarket and just about every restaurant, bar and cafe out there has at least one or two vegetarian options. Vegetarianism isn’t a “thing” any longer. It simply is what it is. Or perhaps now is more than that: perhaps now, even more excitingly, it simply is the way forward, for us all.