So, I mentioned that I’d do a post on vegetarianism. I’m not about to spout new age philosophy or persuade you it’s the healthiest diet around (it’s not, a balanced vegan diet is actually the healthiest). I don’t care if you do or don’t eat meat, whatever you want is fine with me, I happen to prefer animals in fields to on my plate. My views on it all are fairly simple. My daughter eats meat and fish, as does her father, she can decide for herself what she prefers when she’s older.
What I am going to do it clear the air a little, because various things about being veggie really wind me up so I’m going to tackle 3 of them here: what we eat, eating out, and being called fussy eaters.
I have genuinely been asked on several occasions ‘But what do you eat?’ The sarcastic person that I am tends to say ‘food’ at this point, with a seriously quizzical look, but if I’m being polite I describe a meal I made the previous night. I don’t exactly look like I’m starving by any stretch of the imagination so I’m always puzzled by this question.
Do you know what we eat? Food. Everything you meat eaters eat, we just change some of the ingredients a bit but don’t put meat or fish products in. We also use our imaginations. It’s all very radical.
But it’s mostly eating out in restaurants really drives me, and everyone I’m trying to have a nice meal with, utterly potty. Here’s the thing: I don’t eat cheese, I’m actually allergic to it. What I usually see on a pub/restaurant menu is cheese on everything that’s vegetarian, or tomatoes with everything, or worse there’s peppers, aubergines or courgettes comprising the entire meal. These are not good combinations, whatever anyone says, and they get really boring when they’re eaten on a loop. I realise this makes me sound like a picky eater but I’ll get to that, bear with me.
A large proportion of chefs/cooks, and I’m not talking all chefs/cooks here, some of you are fabulous and completely rock when it comes to veggie fare. Some seem, and I include the vast majority of pub food in this, to think that all vegetarians want to eat is risotto or lasagne. Eating out as a veggie can be a life of monotonous extremes; you either have lasagne made with mediterranean vegetables (can I just point out this is a revolting combination from my perspective) or stuffed butternut squash with ingredients you’ve never heard of and a tonne of spices to ‘make it taste nice’. This second example doesn’t irritate me as much, I can see effort and it’s appreciated – I’m not going to order it though, I’m not a huge fan of squash. Or, and here’s the really criminal act chefs commit, you think vegetarians eat fish. NO WE BLOODY DON’T!! Sorry, a bit of shouting there, but honestly, why do people think this?
Some clarification on definitions here. A vegetarian does not eat anything with a face and central nervous system that can feel pain. This means, for all you jokers who think it’s funny to ask if we mind carrots screaming when they’re cooked, that vegetables, pulses, grains etc (with their absence of a nervous system or brain) are fine to eat. Fruitarians do believe this and frankly I think they’re a bit potty myself, but each to their own. We veggies do eat the products of animals so long as they are obtained in a non-aggressive (i.e. free range) manner. A vegan goes a step further and doesn’t eat the products. I’m about 90% vegan given I don’t eat much dairy but Ben and Jerry’s, pizza and Thorntons chocolates are weaknesses that require indulging sometimes, so for me being vegan is never going to work.
The people who say they’re vegetarian but still eat fish and chicken are meat eaters who are just not eating red meat. The people who say they’re vegetarian but still eat fish are actually called piscatarians (piss-ca-tear-ians). I understand why they might not like this label but there you go, just deal with it. These individuals are not vegetarian so when they say they are, please give them a gentle slap from me and tell them to get a grip.
So, now we’ve covered that, what do vegetarians want to eat? Whatever we like, anything meat eaters are having we just make it veggie, and all sorts of lovely things besides – I recommend going to a vegetarian restaurant, it’s culinary heaven. It’s actually quite disconcerting being able to eat everything on the menu and we take ages to order.
My favourite vegetarian restaurants to date are in Ambleside in the Lake District: Fellinis and Zefferellis. Just click on the links below and look at the menus – it’s just amazing food, a masterclass in vegetarian cooking. I can eat the entire menu, it’s a wonderfully surreal experience.
I know some vegetarians don’t like meat substitutes, but most of us do and frankly I make lasagne just like you meat eaters do, except I use quorn/soya instead of beef – and mine tastes SO much nicer than that pepper concoction some people think is a good idea. Food does not have to be complicated. Whatever you do please stop with the cheese, peppers, aubergines and courgettes. Pretty please.
Which leads me to being called a fussy eater. I know some people like courgette but I’ve no idea why, in my world it’s slimy and bitter and I can taste it in anything – including that crazy chocolate cake recipe which calls for half a tonne of courgette (yes, there really is a chocolate cake recipe which involves courgettes, it’s all very wrong). I’m not a fussy eater, I’m a supertaster. Yes, that’s a real thing. Stay with me, we’re into the zone of things I teach now, I’ve also been tested thanks to a fellow PhD student a very long time ago.
Taste, like everything else about us, in on a continuum. We all of us have different numbers of taste buds on our tongues, called papillae. Some people have very few, they’re arranged more loosely and are larger in size. These people are classed as non-tasters. They can still taste food just fine but are probably those of you who love really, really hot chilli or curry. At the other end of the scale contains those of us with higher than average concentrations of papillae, they’re smaller and much closer together, we are the supertasters. Typically we do not like strong tasting foods or those which are bitter. Most people fall somewhere in-between. Apparently I’m at the extreme end of supertasters, which I think just means that I can appreciate chocolate more and I’m probably never going to like red wine. The research I was involved with hit a snag though, all the supertasters loved brussel sprouts, which are apparently a bitter taste that supertasters aren’t supposed to like. Bloody love sprouts though. How many of you thinking earlier ‘but courgettes are nice’ or ‘courgette doesn’t taste of anything’ who have now just said ‘eugh, I hate Brussel sprouts’? Does not liking sprouts make you fussy? No. Good, so not liking courgettes doesn’t make me fussy either.
So, think about the people who you think are fussy eaters, are they just saying no to strong or bitter tastes? If so then cut them some slack, they may actually intensely dislike those flavours and they will feel nauseated and overwhelmed if you try and force them to eat those things.
OK, that’s probably enough for now.
So, vegetarians do not eat fish, we don’t all eat cheese, we’re not fussy eaters and what we eat is food – just like you. See, not complicated at all.