I have been a vegetarian for as long as I can remember and the main cause being..... you guessed it, my parents were vegetarians! When I started working (and thus came in contact with the professional world), I discovered a very startling fact – vegetarianism was no longer a religion; from something that you HAD to be followed, it had boiled down to something that COULD be followed…..simply put, a choice. For most of my veg (er.... I use this term literally, of course, and NOT figuratively!) colleagues, surreptitiously eating non-veg, away from the omniscient eyes of their elders became a way of life. And going abroad expanded the options for the non-veg fare while at the same time reducing the risk of ‘exposure’.
When I was leaving for UK, the uppermost concern for my extended family (I call them extended because after all, they too have played a major part in my upbringing) was that of food, and specifically vegetarian food, or the lack of it. "You are going all the way to some other country. What would you do for ooTatinDi?" This was the most common question thrown at me. Till date, I cannot recall the answer I gave. All I can remember is being in a tearing hurry to pack all my stuff and then fretting about exceeding the weight limit!
Scotland, UK had a pleasant surprise in store - the place had a few grocery stores in some nooks and corners that sold Indian commodities. Step into that store and it was almost like our pakkada mane grocery store except for the cleanliness part. So you see, the only reason I lost weight abroad was due to stress and not due to lack of food - I still remember (and can almost taste) those booootiful deep-fried veggie burgers! Leep-smacking stuff !
Even though CN, one of my two room-mates was a non-vegetarian, she was so mindful of us (vegetarians) that she did not cook any non-veg stuff at home. Instead, we ended up going to restaurants which served both veg and non-veg food. Back in India, I would have gone to a restaurant which served both veg and non-veg food only because of two reasons: one, I did not find a decent veg restaurant and two, there was some yummy veg specialty which was unique to that restaurant. I had faint trepidations because I had endured some unpleasant situations on the likes of the following.
Imagine you, along with your non-veg friends, are at a popular fast-food joint with mouth-watering burgers on the menu. Imagine that in spite of you ordering a meatless burger, you discover the presence of meat. And imagine if the waiter just whisks off the meat patty and plops down the same burger with the cheery words, “There you go, no meat now.” Would that be acceptable to you?
Here’s another situation: Imagine you go to a multi-cuisine place and order a soup after repeatedly verifying with the lady that it’s vegetarian. Imagine your dismay when you discover pieces of fish in the soup. On enquiry, the lady innocently replies, “But fish is vegetarian, no?”
Imagine one of your friends casually dips a ladle used for spooning a non-vegetarian dish into the one and only vegetarian dish ordered for yours truly. After this, would you consider helping yourself to some more of that veg dish?
One of the fears passed down to me from the upper echelons (aka previous generation) was the lack of hygiene in restaurants which served both veg and non-veg food, “What if they used the same utensils for cooking both varieties of food?” Later on, this among a host of other passed-down fears was conveniently side-lined with the belief that the management respected vegetarians sufficiently to use separate cooking gear, and not mix them up. However, this belief was put to test with the McDonald’s suit. On a personal note, one of my friends who was working part-time at a burger joint to support her education revealed that the same frying pan/grill was used to cook both veg and non-veg stuff! So where does this leave vegetarians? At ‘sea’, strictly sticking to home-made food.
There are times I feel that the whole idea of vegetarianism is skewed with people mutating the meaning to their advantage (and profits!). “Bread contains enzymes that are non-veg.” “What about gelatin in ice-cream?” The more one examines things under the microscope, the more confused one would be. “If chicken comes from egg, there’s no way that egg is vegetarian” says one of my friends who’s been trying to prove that I am, thus, an non vegetarian and ‘licensed’ to eat other non-veg food. It has to be revealed that she’s been trying to coerce me into becoming a non-vegetarian for almost an year now :-). Thankfully, for people like me, the“I-don’t-eat-eggs-directly-but-then-eat-cakes-with-eggs-in-them” variety, this article comes as a welcome relief :-)!
Vegetarianism for me remains a practice, and I am at an age where I can safely vouch for my practices. I like to experiment more with new habits rather than steady practices which have benefited me till date. My friends’ circle consists of mature people who not only respect me but also my choice of vegetarianism, and go out of their way to make me feel comfortable amidst them (aaah….bless these guys!). Belonging to the minority group is definitely a minus point with me being on the tenterhooks all the time in any restaurant that serves both veg and non veg food, or with blokes who don't understand where I from. Yet,I feel confident to proclaim that I am a vegetarian. Are you ;-)?