I have been a vegetarian since 1990, that’s 20 years. I guess I don’t look too much like your stereo-typically vegi, so people are often keen to ask why. When they ask they normally have an agenda. Some are genuinely interested, that’s cool I have no problem with that. Then there are those that do it because they think its fun to pick an argument or try and ridicule me. Yawn! I have so heard it all before. Finally there are those who do it in an attempt to bond where the normal reply is “we hardly eat any meat at home”, or “I would give up meat but its my husband/wife”. That's nice but to be honest, I think what you eat is your business.
So when group 2 and 3 ask why I generally opt for Nige Mountney’s reply “I did it to impress girls”, because it’s so inane it normally kills the conversation dead. Otherwise I try and explain.
It's for moral and health reasons. I grew up on a farm and I have no problem with the principal of eating animals that are humanly reared and slaughtered. However, unless you do it yourself or specifically go our of your way to find organic produce then you will end up eating a lot of factory farmed and processed meat, from animals reared in small boxes, standing waist deep in their own shit, eating their own cousins entrails and pecking, scratching and biting their equally stressed neighbours. These poor unfortunates live in conditions that or so squalid they have to be pumped full of antibiotics to keep them from going putrid, which in turn has led to the rise of antibiotic resistance bacteria. When their untimely end comes they are transported around the country in conditions that make your Monday morning tube train ride look like a stoll in the park. Once butchered their carcasses are then mechanically stripped of all the good bits followed by the cheeks, lips and arseholes which go to make your hotdogs and pølse. Now what was the question again? Oh yes “why don’t you eat meat?”
Most people then agree with the idea that factory farming is bad before asking why I don’t eat organic meat? The reality is that it started out simpler to just give it all up and now after 20 years I just can’t stomach the idea of eating the flesh of another being. It’s so unnecessary. As for hunting, I simply can’t comprehend the fun in going out and killing something. I understand the going out into the countryside with your mates bit. I understand the fun of the chase but I don’t see why you need to kill it. I think it has something to do with having a very small penis and wanting to try and rectify some of the emancipation that comes with a sedate desk job in a safe western society.
This brings me to life in Norway which, after 25 years of travelling the global and visiting about 60 different countries, I can honestly say is undoubtedly the worse place to be a veggie that I have ever been. Lets be clear, that is worse than, Argentina (steak capital of the World), South Africa, Texas and even Japan.
So what is so bad? Basically there is no such think as veggie food, especially when you are travelling or eating out. When you are driving to the mountain, the garage will sell 5 different sandwiches, all with meat. Linked to the genes of blonde hair and blue eyes is a gene that makes it impossible to make a cheese sandwich without slipping a slice of dead pig flesh into it.
The pizza slices at the airport or in 7/11, four different varieties, all with a liberal sprinkling of some nasty processed meat. Why can’t you just do one that is without meat? I am not talking about all of them, just 1 in 4. Is that really so much to ask? And then when you get to the restaurant, about 1 in 5 will have anything on the menu that is veggie. The rest will look at you as if you just parked your space craft outside and hobbled in on three legs, put a pot of lube on the table and then asked to bugger them.
I guess I shouldn’t complain to much, it’s my choice to live here and you take the rough with the smooth. The old time ex-pats tell me it was much worse 20 years ago. Back then the only fresh vegetables in the supermarket were root veg (spuds, turnips and carrots), the rest of the shelves were stacked with tins of meatballs and the freezers were filled with salted meat. I believe this because occasionally when I feel really masochistic I go and shop in Rimi1000, which is still like that.
Going to someone’s house was also traumatic. They could cook a meal for 20, no worries but faced with a veggie they went into cold shock! So what do you eat? As if I might start gnawing on the furniture or chewing the daffodils. Some friends saw it as a challenge to be embraced, many just saw it as a nightmare. So in the interest of not being a total social pariah, not starving to death on long car journeys and not embarrassing my friends in restaurants I started to eat fish. Norway does fish very well and it is commonly available and generally of good quality. Its also probably good for me although it does bother me a bit, I know there are only about 26 fish left in the entire Norwegian Sea, that over-fishing caused the collapse of the cod in the north Atlantic and that the industrial salmon farms in the fjords of Norway and Chile poison the once pristine waters, but it’s about compromise and personal boundaries.
When I lived in the UK most of my friends where veggie or very veggie friendly to the point that nobody ever even discussed it. That’s just the way it was. Then I met a guy called Frank. He was a friend of a friend and needed somewhere to stay whilst in town. He was vegan and fairly rampant about it. He told me with heart felt conviction of the suffering bees go through when we take their honey. At that point I realized that it’s all about your personal boundaries. While Frank wouldn’t eat honey, I would not eat meat or fish. Somebody else would not eat factory farmed meat and many draw the line at veal. Most but not everyone, would not eat chimpanzees or whale and very few would actually eat another person.
Vegan to Cannibal are just end members, names we put on a sliding scale of carnivorous acceptance. It’s a matter of personal choice, however it has just occurred to me that as a nation my Norwegian friends are just one step down from Hannibal Lecter which makes me hope I never get stranded in a cabin in the mountains with them for too long.