Monday, August 01, 2011

Oh, these veggies!

My husband’s (Sunny) friend and his wife dropped in once without notice. Sunny had gone out, and so i was left entertaining them. That was the first time i was meeting them. As i got up to make tea for them, his wife said to me.
“Mrs. Joseph, we are vegetarians. We don’t eat eggs too’
“OK”, i said sweetly. I had no intention of giving them any snacks but since she announced her expectations, i quickly pulled out ready to fry small samosas I’d stored in the freezer, and deep fried them and served.
“You sure it’s fully vegetarian?” asked the lady anxiously.
“absolutely’, i said with the sweetest smile i could plaster around my lips, hoping it’d sufficiently conceal my irritation.
The husband, Mr. A was obviously embarrassed by his wife’s obsession with vegetarianism. With an apologetic smile he explained how they once found some non veg stuff in the food served as vegetarian, and ever since his wife’s was paranoid.
And then he related a story.
“Two years back, i went to Paris. The European countries do not provide for veggies. As the official dinner was flagged off, two waiters walked into the banquet hall carrying a huge sizzler tray with a piglet sizzling. The creature was complete with the head tuned towards its right. They carried the tray and placed it in one corner of the buffet table. Then, i heard another sizzling sound, and turning around, saw another piglet sizzling in another tray, but its head turned towards its left. It was placed at the other end of the table.
The buffet started and i went around. There was nothing i could eat. So i walked up to the bearer and asked him what there was for vegetarians. He pointed to a table. I found leaves of different hues and shapes arranged high in fancy dishes.’
‘Do they think we vegetarians are cows, to eat grass?” he asked indignantly.
I repeated this tale to Sunny who had a good laugh and said.
“That story was for the benefit of his wife. I’ve seen him hogging non veg. Am sure he must have been the one to have had the largest helping of the sizzling pig!”
I have seen many many vegetarians who claim that label for the benefit of their parents, spouses and communities. Understandable duplicity. I have nothing against them. But i do have something against those hardcore vegetarians who behave as though we non vegetarians are still in the rhesus stage of evolution while they are in the ninth incarnation.
Many years ago, the doorbell of my flat rang and i opened it to find my neighbour – she was a Jain – with a steel plate in her hand. My heart skipped a beat 'cos i love some of the Guajarati dishes, and i invited her in. Before she entered she asked me, “Have you cooked non-veg in the house?”
I stared blankly at her. Who the hell is she to ask me whether i cook non-veg in MY house? After all, it is a free country.
Seeing my puzzlement she explained, “Today was ----- pooja in our house, and this is Prasad. We can’t give it to you if you have cooked non-veg in the house”.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????????????? grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
“Mrs. X, i am in fact cooking beef right now”.
The lady bolted, Prasad and all!
Actually it was lent period and it was the week we had decided to be complete vegetarians.
I find that the veggies have a habit of cribbing. We went for a trip to Italy in a group of forty. More than half were veggies. The breakfast at Marriott was on the house, and always there was a fantastic spread. Different types of breads, cheese, butter, fruits, fruit juices, veg salad, boiled vegetables etc. Along with this there was ham and sausage and omelette. Though the veggies could have a real sumptuous breakfast, they crib and crib and crib about how they are always ignored by the hotel caterers. A sort of dog in the manger attitude. Fed up of listening to the cribbing i ventured to say, “but there’s enough vegetarian stuff for a grand breakfast”.
“but you have more’, one irate lady squealed, a little hysterically, i thought.
“and yours and our package is the same. It’s not as though you pay more’, butted in another grumpy veggie.
The most exciting part of our trip was at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The travel operators arranged to have typical homemade Italian food at a restaurant run by an Italian family just a stone throw from the tower. The restaurant was originally their home. I was quite excited, ‘cos that was the first time that we were having Italian food. Throughout the trip, the veggies in our group insisted on Indian restaurants whichever part of Italy we were in ‘cos ‘Europe doesn’t cater to vegetarians’. And i was quite annoyed. Imagine coming all the way to Italy and having roti and pulao and makhani and kofta! But then, often in crowds such as these, we non vegetarians find ourselves feeling apologetic for our very existences – like inhabitants of planet of apes who are stuck like aliens among superior humans! So we maintained our peace.
To come back to the Leaning Tower, the members of the family that owned the restaurant themselves served us. All the men looked like Robert de Niro. The younger ones looked like him in his youth, the older ones as he is now. One of them made an announcement that the vegetarians and non vegetarians must sit separate. Immediatelty, all the vegetarian ladies went up in arms. They wanted to sit with the usual group. Some could not be separate from their husbands who was vegetarian “but ate chicken, fish and egg”. So they sat together.
Soup began to be served. I saw that the family was having some problem identifying the vegetarians from the mixed group. We started our Italian soup. I was beginning to have it with great relish when a piercing scream rent the air. A vegetarian lady was up on her feet at the table next to mine, looking agitated, gesticulating wildly.
“there’s fish in my soup, there’s fish in my soup”, she screamed at the top of her shrilly voice.
The father of the family came charging to her table, took away her soup with profuse apologies, and literally ran towards the kitchen with it. The charming son came to the table with his mother and told the lady another bowl will be served.
“make sure it has no fish pieces in it”, she said unpleasantly.
I was furious and embarrassed about my compatriot. I turned to the lady and very politely told her. “This is why they wanted to separate vegetarians from non vegetarians”.
“so they put fish into my soup because we didn’t do as they said?” she asked me angrily.
Sunny asked to not to interfere. But it really spoilt the only Italian meal we had.
I wish someone would convince these veggies that though they may be at an advanced stage of evolution we are not evolutionary dropouts because we eat non vegetarian food.


  1. I SOOO loved this post. :)

    I am a vegetarian (since 2009 - for personal reasons/PETA/etc.). Before becoming one, I have noticed this attitude by veggies and used to get irritated.

    After becoming one, I have made explicit effort to be not like those stereotypical vegetarians.

    (Also, I've seen people who just act like saints just the day they turned veggies - as if the are totally oblivious to all the non-veg food they ate till date - that is another irritating trait.)

    I am a vegetarian by choice, still I dislike when I tell my hosts/friends/etc. that I am one and create that discomfort in "arranging" veg food for me.

    I am seriously considering being a non-vegetarian when I am in a place when being a vegetarian could mean trouble to others.

    - Sands.

  2. WOW!! Now that's some apologia for non-veggies.

  3. Madame, what you wrote is truly an eye opener for such self proclaimed veggies. I am actually sympathetic towards these people, who actually have forgot that they are at an advanced stage of evolution, (as you tactically established it). I find many veggies who claim that they cannot, or they are not able to eat non veg, though I have seen many veggies, who eat 'meat, fish and egg'. To share something from my own life, I began my life as a veg, was not able to eat any meat, or if I had something, i used to have vomited. But my parents trained me to eat fried meat items, and I announced on the morning I began my college education, that, 'from today I am going to eat meat, because I am in college'..

  4. reminded me of a Jain friend of mine during my student days who always used to have his lunch with us at our college canteen. our food used to come in tiffin boxes from home, delivered at noon by cycle wallahs. i had chemmeen theeyal one day. the said friend, a total vegetarian, took a piece of chemmeen from it and liked the taste. "cashew nut, isn't it," he asked. i said yes and got very little for myself after his raid on my tiffin box. the friend mentioned above is Anil Surana, about whom i had made a reference in one of the pieces in my blog you have read.

    beautifully written madam. i often ask youngsters in my profession to take a look at your blog to learn the art of feature writing. you make it so effortless and beautiful.

  5. @ p venugpal
    venu sir, you floor me with your compliments. thank you so much. so very encouraging.

    @ sands, tomz
    so glad you agree with me. was a little apprehensive i'd have offended people - sep vegetarians.

    @ anon :-)

  6. Vegetarians think too high of themselves.They do not know the natural history of man.
    Man used to kill and eat animals.His system is designed to deal with non veg food.We don't have the enzymes to digest fibers, cellulase and that is why we pass all those fibers untouched.Man started farming and agriculture when he was too lazy to hunt and eat.That history is short too.

    Vegetarians act as if they are cleaner humans.But they are not truly vegetarians because they eat more of cheese,ghee, butter and drink lots of milk which are of animal origin.They fart more because of their food habits and it is a well known habit among some higher caste people.

    Let anyone eat what he wants.Who cares? All pass the same dung after eating..isn't that enough?

  7. You got it wrong, we the ones who eat non veg and veg with equal relish are the ones still crawling on our fours in the early stage of evolution. The veggies and the Vegans are the ones who are direct descendants from up above!

    It is indeed quite true that, "what is your food is my poison". But these self acclaimed puritans do not see so.

    Once during a parents meeting in my children school in Ketty, Ootty we where served lunch. A fabulous curry of veal with rice.The guy who was known to me a person from an orthodox community in Tamilnad took two helpings. He told me before he went forward for devouring the veal a third time, "Anil indha mutton kolambu pramadham"( Anil, this mutton curry is wonderful).I smiled from outside and laughed my gut out within.

    From that day I named him , whose given name was "mani", "mutton Mani". And the name stuck among the parents.

    But to be fair the best gourmets delights that I have enjoyed is also Vegetarian .

    It is lucky that I could relish anything peppered with masala, and salt, else I would be eating "grass" and only "grass as the elite Veggies .

  8. That a non-veg feast of laughter!!

    I can understand vegetarianism, but Vegans freak me out. They don't touch milk products either. But why worry, there are so many people out there with so many fads and fetishes. Veggies don't irritate me, because I avoid irritating veggies.

    I wish people would understand the simplicity of life. Eat veg where you get only veg, eat non-veg where you get- BOTH VEG AND NON-VEG!!! :-D

  9. And just a bit of info,that a frequent traveller to China told me once doesn't matter if your readers know about- The outlandish kinds of creatures the Chinese eat, dogs, ants, beetles,wigglers,millipedes, snakes, lizards etc etc and are considered delicacies in their menu was triggered into a normal practise by the great famine in China. When food that people eat rice and other ordinary things were not to be found. The food habits of the Chinese evolved and changed out of the necessity that the great famine and the food shortages of the last century inflicted on the country.

  10. lovely post..I had a good laugh..
    thats exactly what happens when ... people get paranoid!
    no offence But that its more hyped then actual ..about vegans!as if ...non-veg..are like some sort of contagious disease which is goin to spread ...and inferior people!

  11. Hilarious post...enjoy the way you depict life's small is a joy to read your blog these days...

    I should also confess that I have started appreciating your blog more these days because of posts like these than the older posts :)

    I read most of this post before leaving for lunch in the office cafeteria... And I should say that I was very apprehensive while I was eating "ayala fry" from my tiffin should the slight smell of fish will offend any of the hard core veggies around.

  12. @ elizabeth
    hope your aiya fry didnt win you dirty looks. talking of ayla, i've always wondered what's the richest veg source of omega 3. can someone advise/

    @ harman
    vegetarianism is catching on. i've no complaints abt that so long veggies adopt a live and let live policy.

    @ anil kurup
    i too have heard that theory, sir. i rememeber my father once suggesting that we create a hype about ratmeat being excellent preventive and cure for cancer. that'll take care of the rat menace that was hurting our poultry business:-)

    @ balachandran V
    i agree, sir, fully with your definition of simplicity of life.

    @ Dr. antony
    i always enjoy your comments:-)

  13. I empathise with the blogger's disappointment having to deal with vegetarians. But her blog is written with a prejudiced mind and with stereotypes. Everyone has some kind of dietry restrictions out of religion, choice or due to health wise.

    Jews have their Kosher laws, Muslims their Halal, Veg Hindus and Jains have their own, diabetic people have theirs. So it is wise for everyone to ask the guests if they have any special dietry restrictions so as not to embarass the guests and ourselves.

    It is unfortunate that the European tour operator the blogger went with did not consider the diet preferences of the majority of the group. I think our blogger could have travelled with a group of white Americans to avoid the hassele.

  14. Lovely blog ...

    although might seem offensive to veg. family like mine ..

    atleast we had one aggresive comment ... "FOOD FUNDAMENTALISM ...."????

  15. hehe... wonderful story telling :D i guess it can be applied to all fundamentalists who consider themselves superior and inconvenience "lesser mortals " ...;)i guess, sometimes the sacrifice bigger than that of abstaining from something is that of "feasting with those who feast " to multiply their joy and mourning with those who mourn to halve their sorrow...hmmm... thankyou ammai, enjoyable reading!

  16. I am a vegetarian and I myself am annoyed(and embarassed) by such 'vegetarians' who are always asking 'Does this have egg in it' ? etc. I believe in letting everyone eat and enjoy what they like without being a judgemental fool.
    But as I have been living in EU for almost 3 years now, it is indeed a sad fact that european cuisine in general has much less to offer to vegetarians. And I also get heckled by my non-veggie friends here telling me things like .. "What have you eaten if not are wasting your life by not eating this", "eating ghaas phoos" or 'grass' as one person commented before..or even being derided as they presume my being a veggie is due to 'religious reasons' ... so being a veggie is same as being branded a religious nut. Not amusing at you see there is no lack of taking the high moral ground from the non-veggies too. Being a veggie in a large group of non-veggies is just as nightmarish if not more than what you related.

    From : bjigya

  17. I know what yu mean. I have had people ask if the chocolates I offered them had anything non veg in it! On the contrary, I had strict veggie friends who wudnt mind sharing the rice of my chicken biriyani from the same plate. Vegetarianism's respectable but the fuss that some people are born with - intolerable!

  18. Hmm, this is going to be a long comment. :)

    Firstly, I agree with you about the attitudes of some vegetarians (and I know there are a lot of them!), who act superior because of their food preferences. It is even more infuriating when they act like non veg food is impure/dirty, hold their noses when someone is eating non veg food near them etc. The absolute height is when people refuse to drink even a glass of water from a household that is not pure vegetarian! These are attitudes arising from ignorance and pettiness, and I hope that with travel, international exposure and mingling with different people, these stupid attitudes would change.

    That said, I do not agree with a few points you/other commenters made. For eg: I do not see anything wrong with asking 'Is there egg in this'? Let's face it: some people do not eat eggs. It may or may not be choice. Would you be offended if a person with peanut allergy asked 'Is there peanut in this?' The people who ask are making sure they can eat something. Isn't it infinitely better to ask and then politely refrain from eating, rather than eat without asking, and then make a big fuss about it? ( a la your lady friend at the Italy tour)

    Coming to the Italy tour bit, asking vegetarians and non vegetarians to sit separately is a bit much! Your point is that the waiters were getting confused between the veggies and non veggies. That is their job! They should be able to keep tab of who ordered what. In the case of large parties with numerous orders, the simplest thing is to announce the dish as it is brought to the table, and the people who ordered it would let the waiter know where to place it. I have been to plenty of group dinners/parties etc (with > 40 ppl) where the food is distributed this way. To use an analogy, let's say 10 people go to a restaurant and 5 order dosas and 5 order idlis. Would the restaurant people ask the dosa folks and the idli folks to sit separately? Ridiculous! (I do not support the way your lady friend reacted on accidentally being served fish, though. There are other ways to make a complaint than making a scene and killing the mood, so I understand your irritation. :) )

    As for going to other people's homes for food, I don't think there is anything wrong with letting them know of your dietary restrictions. Better to let them know about it in advance, rather than show up and not eat anything, thereby upsetting your hosts. I get emails all the time from folks that I invite home for meals saying ' I'm allergic to peanuts/ I'm a vegan/ I'm lactose intolerant/ I'm diabetic/ I can't handle spicy food', and I actually appreciate that they've let me know in advance, and try to accomodate everyone's tastes as far as possible. And whenever I am invited to someone's house for meals, I try to do the same, plus volunteer to bring a vegetarian dish so as not to trouble the host too much. I think the key is in not being too demanding, and letting people know as nicely as you can :)

    Sorry about the long comment! I have been reading your blog for a long time, and have been impressed by your balanced viewpoints on most subjects. On this topic, however, I feel you've been a little prejudiced. Did a bad experience with a veggie prompt you to write this? :)

  19. @ simple
    point well taken.

    i however feel u missed the point. it's all abt attitude


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