I’ve been a vegetarian, the ovo lacto variety, for most of my life, since I was twelve years old. So that means quite a few decades.
Mother thought i should be a member of the Vegetarian Society. I don’t know why I resisted, maybe she was expecting me to stump up my own membership fees out of my meagre pocket money. I think that must have been it, or otherwise she would have just signed me up anyway. But whatever the reason, I never joined.
I had a look at their site a while ago and thought it looked quite good, but couldn’t see any advantage in becoming a member. That changed on Saturday evening. I’d been working in Westminster and at the end of the day I was in Parliament Square. So were lots of other people. There had been a demonstration that ended in a rally. Corbynistas, anti-austerity protesters, anti-Theresa May protesters, and probably people who regard themselves as affiliated to other causes and groups were, by the time I was there, singing and dancing along to Bob Marley songs. Good for them. It all seemed very good natured and well behaved. I am all in favour of peaceful protest, of people taking to the streets to express their views. Had I not been working, who knows, I might have been there with them.
But I was tired. I wanted to go home. The streets were closed to traffic; the buses were diverted away from the area; we were told the tube stations were rammed with people. Having been on my feet all day I had no option but to start walking. I did manage to get a bus for the second half of my journey home, and it was then that I decided I was going to visit Marks and Spencer and try to get one of their £10 meal deals.
If you don’t live in the UK, these meal deals will be foreign to you in more ways than one. The deal is three courses plus a bottle of wine or an non-alcoholic drink. I always get the wine. I had tried earlier in the week. tried twice in fact. The first time they had sold out of the vegetarian option. This is not unusual. The second time, the vegetarian main course was available, but the pudding choice was limited. The trouble is many of the puddings contain gelatine, then there are others I don’t like. So I passed again. Still, I knew there would have been further deliveries, so there was a chance.
It was not to be. Neither the vegetarian main course, nor the fresh fruit pudding was available. Tired, and somewhat disappointed, I turned and saw a shop manager about three feet away. Why, I asked him, when the vegetarian option sells out so quickly does not the store receive more of them. I should say I was quite calm at this point. Resigned, even. He shrugged, said the store had requested more, but hadn’t received them. I then asked a subsidiary question; why is there only ever one vegetarian option, when there are several meat and fish options. He pointed to some salmon fillets. There are these, he said. I looked at the fillets, and then back at him. They are fish, I said, stating the obvious. Yes, he said. Fish is not a vegetarian option, I said. It’s considered vegetarian, he replied. Something in me snapped. That’s nonsense, I said sharply. Then, Marks and Spencer doesn’t deserve my custom if that’s its attitude.
Maybe he had a long day. He shrugged again. I left, fuming, but not before I had relayed the conversation to another member of staff who had opened a till to serve me. Complain, she advised. I’ll go on Twitter, I told her. She laughed and said she’d look for my tweet. Thanks to her, my mood was already lighter by the time I got home.
So it was a while before I did go to Twitter. I posted two tweets. In the second I attached a link to the Vegetarian Society‘s page giving a definition of what it is to be vegetarian.
By the time I went to bed, two further things had happened. Marks and Spencer had replied, apologetically, and I had belatedly joined the Vegetarian Society. Since Christmas the lacto bit of my vegetarianism has slumped. I am now more or less ovo, and my egg consumption is of eggs laid by hens who will not be killed when their laying days are over. The rest of my diet is vegan. I can’t tell you the last time I bought cheese. I don’t like milk anyway, and the cream I have in my morning coffee is made from soya, as is the yoghurt I often have for pudding. Vegetarianism is far more widespread than it was when I was twelve, alternatives to meat and fish are more widely available. So in many ways I am rather late to join an organisation that campaigns for greater understanding and awareness of what vegetarianism means. But people claiming the vegetarian label when they eat fish, or even, in some cases, chicken, have irritated me for many years. Those shrugs by the manager showed me there are still battles to be won.
I am now ready to become a militant vegetarian. To paraphrase William Blake:
Bring me my soya of burning gold!
Bring me my chickpeas of desire!
Bring me my asparagus spears! Oh cloudberries, unfold!
Bring me my chillis of fire!
I will not cease from lentils’ fight,
Nor shall my soy beans sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
Where does Jeremy Corbyn stand on vegetarianism by the way?