I'm a vegetarian, and have been so for about 20 years. There isn't a question I haven't heard; there isn't a ‘hilarious‘ quip that hasn't been rolled out already.
I don't mind talking about it sometimes, and certainly don't mind friendly curiosity. The fact that I'm vegetarian sometimes provokes more than curiosity though – for some reason, it makes people a bit defensive, as though I'm judging them, or they can be downright aggressive in challenging me, as though I'm being offensive.
I even ended up in an (admittedly alcohol-fuelled – it was at a wedding) outright, vehement, sweary argument once with a chef that resulted in my storming from the room. A lot of chefs really hate vegetarians, by the way, in my experience, but maybe that's because it's harder to be creative with a vegetarian dish.
It's never a subject I raise myself. I'm not a proselytiser. I'm not trying to convert anyone to a cause. Of course I'd be pleased if more people were vegetarian, or at least made ethical choices about their food and ate less processed, intensively produced meat than they do. But it's your shout what you eat, just as it's mine about what I eat.
It's a personal choice I've made, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't bug me sometimes that I'm cornered and challenged on it when I just want to enjoy my meal.
For the sake of simplicity, I've prepared this handy Q & A sheet which I may hand out in future when people want to spoil my dinner with an interrogation.
Please bear in mind I'm not preaching. These are all questions I'm often asked so I'm assuming curiosity.
Why did you become vegetarian? Was it for ethical reasons, or taste?
A little of both, and neither. My ex-husband was a vegetarian, and I hated preparing raw meat in any case, so I was eating very little except when out in a restaurant. I had an epiphany one day in that Mecca of finely produced meat, McDonald's, in Liverpool Street station. I bit into a burger, chewed on a particularly unpleasant piece of gristle, and decided then and there I never wanted to eat meat again. I must have been working up to that moment, either consciously or below the surface, but that was the moment the decision was made.
The other issues that I'm aware of now such as factory farming, the impact of meat production on the environment, health, etc, came in later, and reinforced my initial decision.
Don't you miss it? You must crave a bacon sandwich!
Nope. I genuinely never want to eat meat again, and have no cravings for it.
I'm told that bacon has been the downfall of many a person experimenting with vegetarianism, particularly in their student days. Occasionally the smell of barbecuing or roasting meat or frying bacon fleetingly seems attractive, because I grew up eating the stuff and it still has associations. But I'd never want to follow it through. I just don't want to eat animals.
Do you eat fish?
This is an ill-informed question, and a personal pet peeve. A fish is an animal, and eating it involves killing an animal. Vegetarians don't eat animals. It really is that simple.
People who describe themselves as vegetarians but then tuck into a fish dinner are on The List. Just so you know. Thanks to them, I get offered fish as the ‘vegetarian option’. If you don't want to eat red meat or poultry, then great – but you're not a vegetarian.
Do you eat eggs and dairy?
Yes, I do. If I'm honest, I wish I didn't, because these products still entail the slaughter of male chickens and cattle, who are surplus to requirements. It's one of the uncomfortable compromises I've made on vegetarianism, because a vegan diet would be the logical conclusion of the ethical grounds of my diet choices. I personally would find it difficult to go vegan for practical reasons, and also because I really like cheese. Some day, perhaps.
Nice shoes. Leather?
Another uncomfortable compromise. Yes, many of my shoes are leather. Good quality alternatives are difficult to find, and expensive. I try to avoid other leather accessories such as belts and bags, where possible and where I can find a good quality alternative.
I've been accused of hypocrisy because of the leather shoes. It's a fair call, and not one I can really argue against, except to show me anyone who hasn't had to compromise on something or other in their lives. I accept the accusation.
Humans are carnivores. We need meat to survive.
No. Humans are omnivores. One of the reasons that the human species is so successful is because we can adapt so well, and can extract nutrition from a wide range of sources.
I'm lucky to live in a country wealthy enough to offer a huge range of healthy alternatives to meat. I accept that if I were impoverished, or in a developing country, meat would be the fastest and most nutritional way to get protein. However, we really don't need as much protein as is consumed in the developed world anyway. I can easily get a balanced diet without meat. About the only vitamin that's tricky for a vegetarian to get from a non-meat source is B12, but that can be overcome with food choices and supplements.
But what about your health? Aren't vegetarians all pale weaklings?
Oh really? Come over here and say that. (Weakly waves feeble fists)
No, really, I am one of the halest, healthiest people I know. I rarely get so much as a cold. And look at this belly. I'm not going to waste away any time soon.
Mm, yummy, I've got some Haribo sweets and marshmallows! Want some?
No thanks. I avoid sweets and other products made with gelatine, or indeed any slaughter byproduct. This also applies to cheese made with rennet, and food or beauty products coloured red with carmine.
(Perusing menu) Do you mind if I order meat?
Of course I don't! I'm not trying to convert anyone. Eat what you like. I hate the smell of fish and seafood though, and can't bear it when it's served complete with a head, so I may quietly move to another seat.
Gotme! Given people have been driven to cannibalisation by starvation, I might just eat the chicken. Is this likely to happen, though? Really? It's not a worry that keeps me up at night. Should it?
POSTSCRIPT: For more information on vegetarianism, there are great resources on the Vegetarian Society website.