The problem with being a vegetarian…

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Vegetarians
Tags: , ,

I don’t know what it is with non-vegetarians. The minute they learn you are a vegetarian they become condescending, irritated and at times downright rude. I am a vegetarian and I could also be extremely rude if I wanted to be with my fellow non-vegetarians, but I share a table with them without showing any signs of squeamishness! I’m not a ‘vegan’ either, but I really don’t care if people want to go the other extremes in the zeal to not touch any living organism! That’s their fetish, not mine. I still love a good cheese-chilly omelette!

I’ve been a vegetarian by choice as far back as I can remember. I have never developed a taste for the stuff and I remember as a kid, a friend of my mother’s even fed me a sandwich that was covered in something that looked like jam. I ate it, but something about the taste put me off. When I was asked if I had liked it I told them I didn’t like the taste of the ‘jam’, which I later learnt was a variety of fish! So I guess me and non-vegetarian food weren’t made for each other.

The other day I was travelling to Mumbai with a senior editor of an auto magazine and in our conversation I mentioned that I was a vegetarian. I narrated an incident to him that occurred during my stay in Lucknow when some of my then colleagues wanted to take me out for some “booze and chicken”. I told them that I was a vegetarian. Then one of them asked if I drank and I said I had quit. Someone else asked if I had pan masala and I replied in the negative. One exasperated soul asked “You don’t drink or smoke; don’t chew paan; don’t eat non-vegetarian food…so what the hell do you do?”

When the editor heard the anecdote, he laughed and said “I don’t know you well enough otherwise I too would have called you something quite nasty!” Now, he might have meant that as a joke, but it got me thinking. Why should a non-vegetarian deride my eating habits when I don’t go around calling a non vegetarian a ‘f*****g carnivore’? I have been the butt of some nasty comments by non-vegetarians and have been quite taken aback. I’ve also been told on numerous occasions that “you don’t know what you’re missing” – which is untrue, because I know what I am missing and have no problems at all, unlike some of my friends who get withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have a piece of chicken during a meal or get orgasmic when they do!

I remember going for a Malayali Christian friend’s wedding down South where the only dish on the menu was mutton biryani. The friend had forgotten that I did not touch the stuff. Totally mortified, he offered to go into the kitchen, and remove the pieces of mutton from the biryani and offer it to me. I reluctantly agreed. I’d even stopped visiting friends because they would have to take the trouble to cook dal and rice just for me. Nowadays, there are a lot more people who’ve become vegetarians by choice. So it’s not that bad.

I have absolutely no problems dining with die-hard non-vegetarians, either. I am not a ‘brahmin’ who’ll sit at another table if I have some chicken-eaters dining alongside me, or rush off to wash my plate just because some oil from the chicken dish dropped into my plate. Heck, my wife is a ‘Brahmin’ in the real sense of the word and she is a rabid non-vegetarian. We cook it all at home. I often introduce her to people with “I’m a vegetarian and she’s the brahmin, but eats anything dead!”

Now to the subject of drinking – I used to enjoy my beer and the occasional well-made Bloody Mary, until a decade ago. I was never a hard drinker like a lot of other people I know. I quit having even that occasional drink on my volition, after being diagnosed with diabetes. I am not even the kind of guy who preaches on the ills of boozing either. I have friends who can drink an entire bottle of whisky and I have no issues with that. I still enjoy their company, because they don’t behave like idiots. The problem is with people who think a teetotaller isn’t macho. If macho means, getting into a fight at a bar or a restaurant to impress the women around, or falling into a gutter, or crashing the car into a lamppost after a few pegs, I am glad I don’t drink.

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Comments
  1. H V Kumar says:

    Vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism are so ingrained in most from their childhood onwards that each regards the other with bemusement and pity! It is only the “brahmins”-turned-non-vegetarians who can probably understand the mortification of a vegetarian when confronted with fish, meat and such like. If in Bengal, your hosts are horrified if you say that “hilsa” fish is not vegetarian. If from Kerala, you have to eat beef.

  2. Soumyadeep says:

    made for an awesome read sir. remember the time i had cooked chicken and offered you in the mess? and you mentioned you’re a vegetarian by choice. yeas, i was a little bemused, but most of my friends are vegetarians, so i hadn’t had any issues with that. nice way of mentioning about the way people look at you in a horrified expression when you say you don’t eat a particular dish (animal). I’m a Brahmin, and beef is definitely not my thing, but i have friends who are Brahmins, but eat beef, and look at me as if i’m an alien when i say i don’t eat beef. perceptions is all that we use to define people. now coming to the earlier comment by H V Kumar. “If in Bengal, your hosts are horrified if you say that “hilsa” fish is not vegetarian. If from Kerala, you have to eat beef.”
    I totally disagree. I’m a Bengali, brahmin, and Hilsa or Ilish is anything but vegetarian. It’s a fish for god’s sake. agreed that it’s one of the most popular fish in Bengal, and loved by almost every bengali household. however, calling it vegetarian just because of it’s popularity is utterly ridiculous. Mr Kumar needs to know what he’s saying before making a foolish comment like the one above. My due respects to him, but what he mentioned, is wrong.

  3. H V Kumar says:

    I agree, fish is not vegetarian, but the point I was making is that habits and cultural mores overshadow narrow definitions of brahminism and vegetarianism. It is like Jains do not think underground vegetables should be eaten or some old gen people do not touch onions even when they are vegetarian. Till recently, true vegetarians in South India would think twice about eating even mushrooms! In South East Asia, sea food cuisine is so much a way of life that no meal is complete without it. It is like the European notion of “vegan”ism – even cow’s milk is not vegetarian, it is an animal product.

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