I WAS about 19 when I came out. My father thought it was just a phase I was going through. That’s what he told people at the working men’s club and I didn’t want to let him down by contradicting him in front of meat eaters.
I had decided some time before to give up eating meat. My mum’s main concern was what she would feed me (I was fine with crisps), my dad’s that it was “bloody ridiculous” and my brother’s that I was helping put people like him (a butcher at the time) out of work.
I don’t know what prompted my giving up meat (fish would come a year later), though I do recall watching a particularly grizzly Panorama (I think) documentary about The Smiths’ album Meat is Murder.
Vegetarian options were pretty limited back then — since then vegans have come along and stolen my halo so the range is wider — largely consisting of lasagne and quiche, with the only alternatives offered up by Holland & Barrett and other health food stores.
It was strange at first. A trip to a pub or restaurant for a meal always featured a nervy scan of the menu, which would usually reveal one not meat/fish option at most. On occasion, someone would be sent out to inform me the chef would do me something “special”, such as a jacket potato or an omelette. Or perhaps I would just like to order some sides. To be fair, I would generally be happy with chips and onion rings anyway.
About two weeks after telling someone it was just a phase I was going through, they were handing out free pork pies at the workers’ and when I politely declined my father proudly (I may be over-stretching this) explained to everyone that I was vegetarian and if anyone wanted to make anything of it he would knock their block off (I made up the last part of that sentence but I like to believe that is what he was thinking).
Over the years I must have been asked about 2,000 times why I’m a vegetarian and, more disturbingly, people have picked me out as being one simply because I’ve ordered a non-meat sandwich or a packet of cheese and onion crisps.
Other popular questions, alongside whether or not I miss eating meat (no), are doesn’t the smell of bacon tempt me (no) and what do I eat on Christmas Day instead of turkey (the contents of selection boxes mostly)?
Sometimes people ask what I would choose if I was to have a meat-based meal again, do I eat fish and would I eat an animal if I was starving?
They also ask if I have ever given in and had meat. I haven’t, though I was once served a pizza with meat on it and didn’t realise until a few bites in, and another time a meat pasty (I spotted this after one bite).
Recently I also discovered that on a number of occasions my brother rubbed my meals at home with meat.
I’m not going down the road of falling out with him over that though as it was decades ago and I don’t want to put my life at steak. Stake.