Being a vegetarian is a bit like marmite: people either love us or hate us. A lifestyle choice often provoking strong reactions from family, friends, next door neighbours, and people you've only just met. You quickly learn to either gauge who to tell rather than justifying your beliefs, or like me announce it dismissively, secretly hope nobody notices and pause for the inevitable questions that usually follow. When? Why? What do you eat? Do you eat fish? Wouldn't the world be over-run with animals if they weren't on our plates? Don't you get bored? I appreciate people's healthy curiosity, but there are boundaries to interrogation. Imagine this taking place in a workplace or restaurant setting when all eyes are suddenly forced upon you, and it bears close resemblance to a hunter stalking its prey. I wear my veggie badge with honour, but choose not to divulge it to all and sundry.
Why then am I writing this column I hear you ask? Because I got to wondering why vegetarianism is such an emotive subject. Could it be that for many this choice muddies the nation's love affair with food? Or is it because of the way veggies are (mis)represented? I decided it was time somebody tried to change that, so here goes... “Hello, my name's Ling and I'm a vegetarian.” With the introductions over, allow me to dispel some of the myths. Veggies like most people hate being pigeonholed. We're not all one and the same. We turn to vegetarianism for many different reasons – animal welfare, health, environment, cultural heritage, religion etc. Some are strict and self-disciplined, while others are more relaxed. I profess to be a mixture of the two, which is confusing to say the very least! We're not all related to Mr. Muscle – weedy and anaemic looking, extreme fussy eaters, animal rights activists, hippies or new age thinkers who go round proclaiming love, peace and hugging trees, although there are certainly a few that do. We're just a group of people from different walks of life with diverse views on what it means to be veggie in the 21st century.
The conflict in the world is usually caused by the diversity seen between peoples and nations, but opposing views are healthy. It's how we understand what makes each other tick and promotes compassion, tolerance and unity. Conflict surrounding vegetarianism is the same, even amongst ourselves as numbers grow. My views on forthcoming topics might be considered controversial by my fellow veggies, but that's my point – it's just my opinion. I, for one, am not claiming to be the voice for vegetarianism nor do I wish to preach to the converted. My voice is just one perspective – one insight into the vegetarian lifestyle.
Personally, I love marmite and there was a time when I would smother it on everything. The sandwich combinations were endless, although nothing could beat hot buttered marmite toast. My love affair's since moved on to other foods, but the early commitment to marmite remains. This is also true of those following a vegetarian path – love us or loathe us, the combinations are infinite and our commitment to vegetarianism sustainable