The Flaming Vegan

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A Working Class Veg-O
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A Working Class Veg-O

Apologies to the estate of John Lennon for this post's title, but for the sake of a half-decent pun, I find that often, literary pleasantries must be flung out of the window.

In short, this is my first post for TFV, and I'm far more astute in writing about music, but for the past eight years, food has played a key role in my life (although mainly around my mid-section) ever since I took the first steps to becoming vegetarian, so writing about it felt as natural as eating it.

I'd love to be bold or erudite enough to reel of a list of reasons why I decided not to partake in eating meat anymore, but all it boiled down to was empathy: I saw footage of a pig forcibly having his head rammed on to a pike in the name of chorizo, and reached my tipping point.

Naturally, my initial disgust was soon replaced by a restlessly inquisitive temperament, and the facts and figures faithfully followed as to why I found abstaining the decent thing to do, but hell- you're on this site, so the chances are, you already know about these or want to find out more in your own time. Not to mention, I know far less than most on the subject.

For me, it's solely a personal choice.

But being a V-Curious vegetarian in a strongly working class Northern town can sometimes feel like being The Omega Man. Of course, I don't mean that to sound as offensive at it came across for those who know the film, as I've never dug that attitude of snooty condescending towards someone based upon what they eat. That's not how I roll.

It isn't even like I moved here and brought any of my occasionally gingered ways from an affluent coastal town. I grew up here, I've lived here all of my life and I love the place. Out of respect, I won't even name where it is.

But from its poor origins in manual labour via its success at the hands of the Industrial Revolution, the industry which made it famous now, the area now lies in the wake of Generation Call-Centre.

As jobs became more a necessity than a passion, so did the tastes of the area.

Come six p.m., your average grafter will get home and eat something consisting of veg, starch and some MRM in breadcrumbs, something I did myself before I had a change of heart. If that's your thing, then so be it.

The support I received from my family was almost nondescript, although, thankfully, this has now changed in recent years, as they knew it wasn't just a fad.

I suppose that having a seven year-old who wants to give up meat is difficult for any parent, so I respected their wishes. It didn't help that I saw a kid my age on TV who was severely unwell and a member of my family pointed out that "That's what happens if you don't eat all of your meat, Mark". It wasn't a threat, more parental guilt, but either way, it worked. Besides, it didn't leave any emotional scars and I still think, that moment aside, my parents are wonderful and I love them like any half-way decent son should.

As for meat, however, it just isn't for some people, and I happen to be one of them. So here follows a few examples of what to expect if you fancy something quick to eat at local chip shops, supermarket cafés and two-for-one chain pubs:

I've been shrugged at for asking if the curry sauce in a chippy was vegetarian, laughed at for asking if things are fried in animal fat, had  "We do chicken,"  reported as the vegetarian option. Other notable examples include a time when my girlfriend and I (also a vegetarian) had to buy a load of deep-fried starters as all of the main dishes consisted of aubergine, a vegetable which I can't stomach. It reminds me of swallowing my own phlegm.

Don't get me started on vending machine cheese sandwiches. The sight of them merely depresses me these days.

If you want to eat quickly and try a vegan option around the greasy spoon cafés and pubs here, don't be surprised if you get looks from people as if you've just walked in wearing a Jimmy Savile t-shirt. You'll probably be offered a plate of sawdust or be told where to go, only in far more colourful language (mainly blue).

I've noticed that the fairly recent trends of The Paleo Diet and Caveman Training play a massive part, too. Although, frankly, I don't recall caveman taking so many supplements or drinking protein shakes from ridiculously-shaped beakers.

I also don't get what's so manly about buying some shrink-wrapped steak from the local Tesco.

As for the times I've had to defend myself against the argument that we have "evolved" to eat the stringy stuff, I've genuinely lost count. Yes, as a race, we do have canine teeth for tearing, but, by that logic, we also have rounded foreheads so should solve every dispute with a head-butt instead of the wonder of vocabulary.

Perhaps I'm too cynical, but it's pretty hard not to feel jaded when you've consumed your bodyweight in dried-out bean burgers at over-the-odds restaurant prices.

But as I draw this post to a close, I'm slightly reassured that all is not lost.

Flavorsome vegetarian options are slowly gaining supermarket freezer space and giving the frozen Lips 'n' Offal pasties a run for their money. Linda McCartney also do a wonderful mozzarella quarter pounder that even notorious foodie Adam Richman would high-five the air over. Juicy and crispy, this mother has it all.

The area’s restaurants, if you bother to ring ahead, are mostly fine. Myself and the better half even stumbled upon a dedicated vegetarian cafe called The Big Strawberry, whose food was as wonderful and idiosyncratic as the lovely proprietor herself!

If your average small town meat-eater was presented a baked potato with beans, sage and a glorious little salad, the chances are, they'd love it. If, however, you offered them The Vegan Option (re: exactly the same dish), without divulging what it is, the chances are you'd feel as welcome in your own home as a fart in a space suit. Or at least this is what I've come to figure from living here my whole life.

I'm not even like I'm asking the area to revolve around me, but choice is what this country fought for almost seventy years ago.

When asked if he would cut the art budget to contribute to the war effort, Winston Churchill famously replied "Then what are we fighting for?"

Choice gave us art, astounding literature and musical freedom way beyond that which was expected. Even if the area is making steps in the right direction regarding the aforementioned, expanding the palette here in the Midlands would do well to catch up, just so that I could sleep a little better at night.

Choice and freedom also made this country what it is today, but food wise, cities like mine need the same kick in the jaffas that the arts have had in recent years.

Perhaps it just all boils down the power of language, but until attitudes change, people like myself will seemingly forever be 'the awkward one' when it comes to eating out or at omnivorous households.

 

*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.

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  1. Clean Cook Lily
    Clean Cook Lily
    Exactly the same here in the Midlands! Good first post. CCL
    Log in to reply.

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