Thursday, December 17, 2009

Anxious Vegetarian Markup Language

There was a spate of articles recently about how annoying it is when people who eat fish and/or bacon sandwiches call themselves vegetarian. Like this one. The Vegetarian Society is so pissed off about it that they've devoted a whole section of their website to the issue.

Now I regularly answer 'yes' to the question 'are you a vegetarian?'. And I'm not. But from my point of view what's annoying is that there isn't a word, or even a phrase, to describe what I do and don't eat. Not even close.

It goes a little something like this:
  • Vegetables = Yes. Although not aubergines, because they're the devil's vegetable. I try to eat vegetables which are organic, in season and grown in the UK, because they taste better, and I believe the taste better = grew better = better for the planet hype. We get a weekly box from Abel & Cole, which we supplement with things we grow on the allotment, or things we buy on Cowley Road. This can be from the uber-ethical East Oxford Farmer's Market, but can also be from the Co-op, Tesco, or any of the Asian grocers. I'm not a purist. Every now and again I buy Kenyan green beans in the middle of winter. I feel bad, but not that bad. Those Kenyan farmers have got to make a living. Those Asian shopkeepers have got to make a living.

  • Fruit = Yes. But mainly summer fruits, in summer. I like the fleeting nature of the soft fruit season. Lemons all year round. Fairtrade if I can get them, but whatever.

  • Lentils, beans, rice, pasta, bread = Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. The first three generally sourced from the aforementioned Asian grocers in large quantities, which is more about frugality than anything else. I have the kind of brain that can hold vast quantities of price comparison data. Bread, I'm kind of fussy about. I'll pay silly money for fresh rye bread. But there's also always a Warburton's Toastie in the freezer. Horses for courses.

  • Dairy = Mostly. My favourite cheese in the world is Norwegian Jarlsberg, and I don't even think that's vegetarian. But I don't have it very often. Mostly I cook with British (vegetarian) cheddar, and I eat ewes milk cheeses like roquefort and manchego. It costs more, but you can't farm sheep intensively, they won't stand for it. And it's easier to digest. These things are possibly related. Yoghurt = also ewes milk, if I can find it, else organic. Milk and butter... yes, in moderation. Sometimes organic, sometimes not.

  • Eggs = Yes, but free range only. Anyone who's seen a battery hen and still eats battery eggs has a bit missing. If you can't afford free range eggs, don't eat eggs. End of.

  • Fish = Some. I don't eat farmed fish. I don't eat things caught in purse seine nets. I don't eat fish where stocks are clearly at risk, eg sea bass, bluefin tuna, most types of cod. I read labels carefully and look things up on the internet. I adjust the list of fish I do eat all the time, mostly downwards. But I do eat fish. Smoked mackerel, trout, tuna from M&S, anchovies, coley, pollack all currently feature in my diet. Smoked wild salmon is one of my favourite things, but can only be justified at Christmas, on cost grounds.

  • Shellfish = Some. I don't eat warm water prawns because of the human and environmental evils of intensive prawn farming (the mangroves! the mangroves!). I don't eat oysters because I'm squeamish. I don't eat lobster because of they way they are cooked. I don't eat octopus because they're too big and wriggly. I don't eat scallops because I don't like them. But cold water prawns, mussels, clams, squid, I eat.

  • White and read meat = 99.9% No. Theoretical exceptions apply. The 0.1%: when poorly, I eat Knorr Chicken Noodle Soup, and on the first day of my period, if I am near anyone eating liver, I will have a bit. Intensive animal farming is bad and wrong. Bad for the animals, and wrong for the environment. The food that comes out the other end of it is also bad for people, as evidenced by the obesity, diabetes and heart disease statistics which have emerged over the last few decades. And that's before we talk about variant CJD.

  • Frog's legs, foie gras, veal, cat, dog, monkey brains = Never have, never will.

Those theoretical exceptions:

1. I gave up meat in 1983, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I have had the occasional drunken lapse in the mini pork pie direction, but these are very occasional. And there's the liver thing, but that counts for maybe 2oz of liver a year. Maintaining this while travelling is usually no problem, but it's a nightmare in many parts of Africa. Firstly, there aren't many vegetables, and secondly, someone else is usually taking care of the food side of things and the whole vegetarian concept is totally alien to them. And, I realised when I was in the Hot Place, my reasons for not eating meat do not apply in this context. The chicken or goat running round the yard has more freedom than a lot of people living in the same settlement. There's nothing intensive about it. So in those circumstances, I lapse where necessary, with necessary being defined as not otherwise eating anything, or deeply inconveniencing someone who is trying to be hospitable with limited resources.

2. I live with someone who eats meat, though not much of it, mostly organic, and mostly when I'm not around. We talk about it a lot. And I do think there's meat and meat - I have less objection to rabbit than to chicken, to venison than to beef. Wilder animals are fairer game, so to speak. In theory, I eat wild things. But in practice, I don't.

3. Meat grown in a lab that doesn't quite exist yet but will soon. No problem with that in theory, but I'll probably stick to Quorn.

4. Human placenta. Curious. Mainly because it's supposed to taste a bit like liver.

And that's it in a nutshell. Oh, nuts. Them as well. And seeds. Loads of them. And Marmite.

So I tick the 'vegetarian' box because there's a box to tick, and there's not much vegetarian that I won't eat. If I get on a plane, I am an AVML.

You might not agree with where I've drawn my personal line, and I might not agree with where you've drawn yours. But I have a lot more respect for people who've thought about it and drawn one. And there's no word for them either.


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Blogger Ben said...

I prefer your definition of AVML because it fills a hole in our society. Before defining anything you must first have a means of expressing that definition, after all.

In the long form that uses conventional words and grammar you've provided a comprehensive and interesting round-up! Thanks.

9:02 am  
Blogger tomato said...

oooh good post!

I became vegetarian at the age of 13, then began to eat fish again in my late 20's because my body (and the ME) told me to. I still eat fish. My body still wants it, and no, tofu is not a good healthy alternative.

For a while I started telling people I was pescetarian when they asked, but quickly discovered that most people think this means I want massive amounts of any and all seafood at every opportunity. I don't.

Vegetarian-who-occassionaly-eats-some-fish seems to be understood by most people, so that, dear Veggie Society, is why I still use the sacred word 'vegetarian' to describe my preferred diet. are so right on the AVML: looks of pure envy all around as everyone else thinks 'I didn't even know that was an option...' while peeling back the lid on their cardboard chicken tikka. Ha. Ha. Ha.

2:01 pm  
Blogger Duncan said...

I'm happy to eat a lot of things on your banned list, but I completely agree with you about it being important to think about these things. I have a memory of once going into the butcher for some pork chops. They'd run out of ones that were already chopped so he went through the back and returned with literally half a pig including the head. I'd never before seen exactly where in the animal the chops come from, but ever since I've thought that should be required schooling for all children to see an animal being cut up rather than thinking of meat as something that comes prepacked in a plastic tray. Sure some of them will become vegetarians as a result but maybe those that don't will at least have some respect for the food they're eating.

Not sure about #4 on the list of exceptions, but has some recipes on pages 11&12.

3:54 pm  
Anonymous cookie said...

You know I'm not veggie, though I admire those who are. I'm so glad you're still speaking out for ethically reared/maintained poultry,-- as are my latest 3 rescued ex batts who arrived last week. (Small achievement,-- with the help of friends, I've saved 36 perfectly healthy birds from the petfood factory this time. That pales into insignificance when you realise that 10,000 went for slaughter) We can only try. Lovely eggs ready on your next visit. xxx

8:33 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

Yes, we do need more words. Pescatarian just doesn't cut it, as tomato says. People (some people, not all people) seem to assume that you want to eat the highest possible thing up the food chain. I went to a really weird Sunday lunch once (it was weird for other reasons too), where there was roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, vegetables etc and... a salmon fillet for me, in fact two, over which much fuss was made. A beef-free roast dinner would have been fine, I've had hundreds of those, but instead I got reminded of how awkward I was to cater for *and* I had to eat fish and gravy.

AVMLs are aviation's best kept secret, I'm glad someone else has picked up on them!

Thanks for the placenta recipes Duncan! I think it would have to be one I had made myself, though, and that doesn't seem likely. Shame though, as V8 juice is one of my favourite things in the world, and I'm intrigued that they can be combined. I wonder if you can add gin?

Cookie, I think this is one of the things that is shifting... Waitrose and (I believe) the Co-op only sell free range now, and M&S egg sandwiches are free range too - though factory made sandwiches are another thing I avoid most of the time, for people rather than animal reasons. There will be a turkey in our oven this Christmas, for the first time in many years, but not one of these. I won't be eating it, but I am happy with its provenance.

12:06 am  

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