It’s Friday and 1’o clock is approaching fast. Daydreams of beautiful Italian and Indian dishes are dancing further and further away. As pretty standard protocol in the industry, it’s been decided that we’re all being taken out by a sales team to a fancy restaurant. Now, the words “fancy” and “food” are not a combination of words that make my mouth water like it does the average human being. Pricey means meaty and I leap onto Google to find a menu.
Right, there doesn’t seem to be many “V” signs next to these so-called options and if they do, I have no idea what they even mean. I’m met with either comforting words of “I’m sure they’ll rustle something up for you” or “Hahaha you’re going to have to eat lettuce”. Hesitantly, I get up and get on with things. The worst thing to do is be the “annoying, complaining vegetarian” so instead I settle with the “awkward, pitiful vegetarian” label (which is hardly better).
Introductions over and we’re all opening the menu. Everyone suggests we share everything we order. It’s at this point I have to raise my hand awkwardly and announce I am a vegetarian (it always feels like a confession at an Alcoholics Anonymous). There is a real skill in doing this and unfortunately it means you have to sound slightly apologetic to avoid being viewed as an aggressive, principle-powered, patronising tree-hugger. Startled faces across the table and I’m thinking “Oh here we go”. There is immediately a very subtle, invisible cloud around me. I can see it in their eyes. I am no longer one of them. “Surely you eat fish?” No, no, I’m a real veggie; I don’t eat things that have a brain or a set of eyes.
Casting my mind back to the most decent thing I remember seeing on Google, I will do either one of two things: 1) Ask a useless waiter for their entirely non-expert opinion on what I should order (he is a meat eater, what does he know?) 2) Pick anything that I can eat and hope for the best. Both scenarios always end in my taste buds dozing off to sleep from the sheer unexcitement of bland ingredients. The disappointing choice and the lack of creativity. It’s like my food was an afterthought and all I can imagine is the chef spitting and stirring meat juice in it before it leaves the kitchen just to spite me (ok, maybe I over exaggerated).
All of this I can deal with. It’s a meal and it’s free. In the big scheme of things I know there’s a lot going for me as far as vegetarian food is concerned. What really bothers me is that choosing this lifestyle is so sickening, outrageous and alien to most people I have met in London. Throughout the meal, I will be asked: Why are you one in the first place, don’t you get “tempted”?, why don’t you just try a bit?, how can you live without it?, what do you actually eat?. To make matters even worse, I am then usually made fun of and pushed into the Vegetarian Spotlight (which is what I like to call it). In a nutshell this means when other conversation has dried up everyone will remember the big blinding light above my head and quickly remember that they can squeeze some more “banter” out of the pathetic meal I’ve just been served.
An unnoticed but highly important factor to consider is that people who choose a lifestyle like mines rarely ever impose their own views on others. They never sit on a high horse and talk morals. They never act disgusted in the fact that they’re surrounded by animal cruelty. They never question why someone eats meat. They never laugh at people. They have their own principles and foundations and they quietly stick to them.
I could talk at this dinner table about how awful animal cruelty is. How meat-eaters with pets are hypocrites. About saving the planet and caring for nature. But it would fall on deaf ears which I’m perfectly aware of. It’s a real shame that open-mindedness doesn’t exist as much as I naively thought it did. So I just smile along knowing that I have all the answers locked away in my brain and I don’t need to speak them to defend myself.
And then I go home that night and make myself a delicious meal to pamper my poor taste buds that suffered all afternoon in “the world’s best restaurant”.
This life will hit you hard. In the face. Wait for you to get back up, just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air…
—Sarah Kay, poet
Sarah Kay, an awe-inspiring spoken word poet.
Chip Kidd at McNally-Jackson, 10/14/13
We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.
—Thich Nhat Hanh (via larmoyante)