Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Saturday, 12 July 2008


Note: This entry appeared previously on my old blog. Apologies if you are one of the three people that ever read it there but sometimes time constraints force a little recycling.

Before I begin I want to make one thing absolutely clear - some of my best friends are vegetarians ! I have absolutely nothing against them. I respect their beliefs and their lifestyle choices. I have eaten dinner at their houses and found it to be delicious. I do not in any way condone my fellow carnivores who bleat on about "rabbit food" and "nut cutlets" (the latter usually a reference to mental health rather than a recipe suggestion).
Vegetarians are perfectly nice, normal, decent people.
Let's face it though they can be a pain in the arse on a camping trip. I've camped everywhere from Alaska to Zambia, often in circumstances bearing too close a resemblance to "I'm a Celebrity-Get Me Out Of Here!". Occasionally we've been lucky and had no vegetarians in the group but more often there have been one or two. Now cooking for twelve people in camp conditions isn't especially taxing as the technique adopted by most people is to whack everything available into a pot and boil it death for a couple of hours. This of course doesn't work if you have vegetarians but it can be easily circumvented by using two pots.
Inevitably though there will be someone for whom this isn't good enough.

Many years ago I did a two week package tour in China with a large group - about thirty people - and it was all conducted in nice high class hotels with high quality restaurants. The trouble started at the airport when our Chinese guide informed us that vegetarians might find it a little troublesome because - in his words - "if it walks, crawls, swims or flies, we eat it."
There were dark mutterings.. We had arrived just in time for lunch in a local restaurant and it very quickly became apparent that our vegetarians were not happy. The vegetable soup contained chicken, the fried rice had small scraps of something unidentifiable as to species but definitely meat, dish after dish arrived with bits of things that had clearly once been squawking, bleating, mooing or in some cases barking. A cadre of about ten people formed and the only dish they would eat was plain boiled rice.
It was a pattern repeated over the next few days - I won't begin to repeat their remarks when we ate in the restaurant where the speciality was Peking Duck !
In Shanghai our local guide had got wind of the rising tide of gastronomic rebellion and took us to a restaurant where he arranged for a whole series of vegetable dishes to be produced. There were delicate soups, flavoured bean curd, flavoursome mixed dishes of hot peppers and bean sprouts - all sorts of things. It was delicious. I felt certain that this would please even our most militant vegetarians. Then I noticed one of them pushing it about on her plate with a fork.
"Has this" she queried loudly "been cooked in animal fat ?"
Nobody knew and when our guide asked the waiter he said he couldn't find out. She took this as oriental duplicity and flatly refused to eat anything. She would, she announced, be complaining to the holiday company. Her grumbling companions agreed.

It's happened all over the place. In Peru one of our party refused to eat for three days after being subjected to the hideous trauma of being forced to witness other people eating guinea pig. It spoiled her salad to be in the same room.
In Germany a diner in a hotel sent back her salad because it contained ham and then sent the replacement back because she suspected that they had just taken the ham off the old one and swapped it for cheese - the lettuce remaining contaminated.
In a Mongolian grill in San Francisco one man refused to eat food that had been cooked on a griddle that had previously had meat on it.

Camping is the worst though and when camping the ones who irritate me most are the part time vegetarians. These fall into two groups and it's tough to decide which is worse. Fist there are the ones who claim to be vegetarians unless they like the look of the meat option that you have cooked and then cheerfully tuck into that. Once while I was cooking a fry up I had a separate pan of fried vegetables and rice going on the other burner for the two people who had so far claimed to be vegetarians only to have both of them help themselves to sausages and ignore the food prepared for them. If there had been enough sausages to go around this wouldn't have been a problem but as there weren't it struck me as both inconsistent and extremely rude.
Then there are the ones who haven't been vegetarians at all but become so from pure squeamishness when confronted with certain foods - say chickens that are still basically chicken shaped rather than already processed and wrapped in film at the supermarket.
In Bam, in Iran, the cook team for the day had bought what they thought were frozen chicken portions. At lunch time as they took them from the ice box to thaw for the evening there was a penetrating shriek of
"Oh my god it's got a head !"
The "chicken portions" were whole quail complete with heads, wings and feet. None of the three people who were supposed to be cooking would go near them. A couple of us volunteered and chopped off the offending body parts but it was too late. They had already been seen, whole and intact. Nothing could persuade the cooks to return to the kitchen so we carried on and cooked them ourselves. Given that five people flatly refused to eat something that they had seen with its head attached, it gave the rest of us two each.
It was the same palaver - with the same people - as we worked our way through Pakistan and China. Whenever we had to buy chickens whole, especially if they had been running around in cages when we arrived, they refused food that they would gladly have eaten had it come in a polystyrene box from Tesco. Of course my insistence on giving our chickens names before they were killed probably didn't endear me to some people who thought that killing and cooking Annabelle, Lucinda and the gender-confused Tarquin was an act of monstrous cruelty.
Genuine and permanent vegetarians have my - admittedly rather baffled - respect and the ones who were vegetarians but suddenly change there mind when faced with sausages could just be considered lapsed but I find the squeamish variety nothing more than irritating.
Still I suppose they think the same about my mushroom allergy.

This weeks poem is a simple Limerick that I wrote many years ago when I was working with a vegetarian colleague who was rather partial to curries. The name has been changed.

John Robinson treated with scorn
Any food that had ever been born.
He would simply not eat
A dish made with meat
But sometimes stretched a point for a prawn. *

* Note for Americans. In UK English the words scorn/born/prawn all rhyme. I am aware that they don't in US English.

No comments: