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I'm an awkward bugger!
I'm an awkward bugger!
Awkward, for some people isn't the right way to describe what they are put through when I come to visit or when we go out somewhere to eat. [blog AlmondNut] raised the point in a recent post in her Blog; she's becoming a vegetarian and has a dairy products allergy, which makes her food requirements practically the same as a vegan.
I've been an awkward bugger, as far as food goes, since my thirteenth birthday (that's 5 March 1973, so you don't need to check on my profile!), when I decided that have a dead body, cooked or otherwise, on my plate was not the route I wished to follow through life.
Was it an ethical decision back in those heady days of youth? Or was I really being an awkward bugger and rebelling against a system which I hated and which, to all intents and purposes, disliked me intensely too? Back in the Seventies, you see, I wasn't living at home; I was consigned to a boarding school with roughly three hundred other people in the middle of nowhere; and I do mean the middle of nowhere. A small village in North Yorkshire surrounded by moorland and precious little else whose only claim to fame was that Captain James Cook - the explorer - went to school there. Not in my school, I hasten to add, but in a small single classroom school on the otherside of the village green.
I hated the school from the moment that I arrived, and that quite literally. You see, I was the boy that the school bully wished for; thick glasses, funny haircut (I had hair back in those days) and a posh accent coming, as I did, from London.
The school work bored me. I would rather spend time walking on the moors or reading in the library than in the classroom learning what they wished to teach me. I wanted to learn the things which interested me, and not those they demanded of me. I wanted to learn how to cook, but that was unheard of. Domestic Science was for the girls and woodwork was for the boys. In 1972 I got into the Domestic Science class, but had to keep up with the woodwork too. All the boys made fun of me for my interest in cooking; something that I would never need once I'd left school, they told me, because that's what girls are for. All the girls ate my food, but no more than that.
Perhaps I was rebelling against my family by becoming a vegetarian. I recall going to visit friends of my father, and he taking the family head aside and advising him that I was going through a phase and didn't eat meat or meat products at the moment. I remember another occasion, on a narrowboat crusing the inland waterways in England, being given a plateful of mashed potato with cheese - hardly inspirational - with a chicken leg on the side, just in case I should wish to change my mind. There was no waste involved; the chicken leg had no meat on it, only hard skin and a claw.
I remember countless comments over the ensuing years, things like: 'Yes, but you eat chicken, of course' and 'But cooking in pig fat is all right?' or 'So, you only eat salads?' and 'If God had meant us not to eat meat ...'.
I've cooked professionally. I've worked in an hotel restaurant in Strasbourg, in restaurants in Bremen and smaller towns. I've cooked for two hundred people without a second thought. A few years ago it was fashionable - just before I stopped cooking, I hasten to add, but this isn't the reason I stopped - to eat vegetarian food. I had a group of thirty-five members of a local Green Party come to a restaurant I was cooking in just to eat vegetarian food. The restaurant specialised in things like deer and wild boar. The members of the Green Party voted on the dishes they received, and elected as president a fine vegetable sweet and sour concoction. I doubt whether many of them changed their eating habits as a result of the meal, but perhaps it opened their eyes to other possibilities.
And still, in these modern times, I am an awkward bugger because I am a vegetarian. Because people cannot imagine what to cook for someone who doesn't eat meat; they seem to have a mental block and be totally lost. I've been to restaurant which promise exceptional gourmet experiences, and been given an omelette. Others where the entire meal consisted of cheese - partially cold, partially fried in breadcrumbs. Others where the staff didn't even know when fruit was ripe - battling to try and eat an avocado which was so hard I could have constructed a ballroom floor with it.
Some things are changing, though. There are more and more vegetarian products available, even in smaller towns like this. The new supermarket here (one of five!) has a section for vegetarians with a good selection of ready made soya products. They even have vegetarian Caviar. The old Tofu selection is no longer just a white mass, there are varieties available. More and more companies are starting to put labels on their products showing that it is suitable for vegetarians; allowing their products to be tested and assessed, a very good marketing strategy indeed. More and more people are eating less meat; possibly as a result of Mad Cow Disease (BSE), perhaps for other reasons.
Even so. I'm an awkward bugger because I'm a vegetarian, and it doesn't bother me in the slightest.