PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD JULY 2019
Vegetarianism, and its stricter variation veganism, is all the rage these days, isn’t it? We have Leo Varadkar announcing that he’s now eating less meat for health reasons. Veganism – the pure uncut crack to vegetarianism’s cocaine – has become very cool with those ever-on-trend weathervanes of social change, hipsters and celebs.
Meanwhile the meat industry faces strident calls to transition to crops, as all those flatulent cows are blamed for contributing to climate change. (In fairness to the Irish beef industry, we should add, it’s one of the most eco-friendly on the planet, in a number of ways.)
Yep, everyone’s going meat-free in 2019. Except, that is, for your humble correspondent.
I have a rather unusual perspective on all this, you see. I was vegetarian for many years (though never fully vegan – I just love melted cheese on everything too damn much), but have recently returned to consuming animal-flesh. Yes, I know it’s doing things backwards, that’s just how I am.
I bought a mini-disc player about five minutes before they became defunct. I was wearing a man-bun (known then to me as a samurai top-knot) as far back as the millennium; you couldn’t pay me to sport one today. I moved to Japan for work literally within weeks of their economy suffering its first major downturn since the Second World War…and right as Ireland was entering an era of unprecedented growth and employment opportunity.
My sense of timing, therefore, is less than exceptional. And so it is with this whole meat-eating thing: I began my “12 Years a Vegetarian” odyssey around the year 2000, when approximately 15 other people on the entire island weren’t carnivorous, and 14 of those were Hari Krishnas.
It’s so long ago now that I’m a bit hazy on the exact whys of this decision; as far as I can recall, it was a mixture of moral queasiness, nutritional reasons and probably a soupcon of good old-fashioned contrariness. In other words, it amused me to annoy people.
And my God, annoy them it did. It’s a funny irony that vegetarians are constantly stereotyped as nags and zealots, forever demanding that omnivores justify their diet.
In my experience, I have never – not once – been harassed about eating meat by a vegetarian.
On the flipside, though, I was often attacked, assailed, assaulted and harangued for daring to forego the pleasures of a dead beast on my plate. Eventually, I began to empathise with, and even envy, the cows lining up for a bolt to the head.
Where do you get your protein! You’re just trying to be cool! You think you’re better than us! Where do you get your protein! What’s the matter with you! I couldn’t live like that! You must have a tofu turkey at Christmas ha ha ha! You must feel weak all the time! Where do you get your protein!
By the end I used to wonder if these people had shares in a meat-processing plant or something. They seemed so personally invested in what I had for dinner. Like – why do you care so much? I don’t give a rat’s ass what you eat…including if it’s actually a rat’s ass.
Anyway, around six or seven years ago, I went back eating fish. Society just wore me down, I guess.
I got tired of explaining my meal in restaurants; the one single thing I find more boring than talking about food is talking about myself. I got tired of paying nearly the same prices for vegetable- or bean-based dishes as intensive-production meat ones – it’s a total rip-off.
And I got tired of asking the waitress at weddings if the chef couldn’t possibly cook something different for me. From now on, I reckoned, at least I can say: “I’ll have the salmon.”
That led, inexorably, to a gradual reengagement with culinary corpses. Now I eat meat sometimes; I’ve added “I’ll have the beef” to my repertoire at weddings.
I hardly ever cook it myself – and I’d forgotten what a stinking mess meat makes of your kitchen, as opposed to vegetarian food – but it’s handy when you’re out and the only veggie option is “goat’s cheese tart with salad”.
Ah no, I exaggerate: in fact, after a decade-and-a-bit of enduring stir-fried veg and rice at social functions, many eateries now have a decent range of vegetarian dishes.
Which is a bit ironic, when you think about it. But it’s not the only one: after years of people hassling me for being vegetarian, I can now look forward to years of people hassling me for being a callous murderer and/or ruining the planet.
Talk about going against the prevailing currents. Then again, as Roy Keane famously said, the only thing that goes with the current is a dead fish.
Which I am about to eat with lemon and tartar sauce. Somewhere in a parallel dimension, where things took a different turn, another Darragh – still vegetarian – is shuddering with disgust, without quite understanding why.