Thursday, 23 May 2013


I'd be happy to meet you for a glass of wine.” There was a pause at the other end of the line, which I knew I was expected to fill, but didn't.
Does The Controversial Veggie drink wine?” Again a pause, “Well?”
A simple enough question, but my head was reeling. Think, quick! Does The Controversial Veggie drink wine? Do I drink wine? It would be easy to please, but should I be truthful?
Actually,” I blurt, “I'm teetotal!” I waited for the inevitable...
Why?!” Spluttered the voice on the line.
I held my breath and let this first exclamation mark hang in the air... yep, here it comes: coercion. The taunts, the reasons: 'You're no fun!' 'Party-pooper!' 'You don't know what you're missing!' 'Go on, have a proper drink with me, you know you want to!'
I listened silently and when it ended politely said, “Invitation not accepted.” And hung up.
I've been down that road before, given in when I really didn't want to, or dug in my heels and been made to feel I've spoilt the evening. The constant ribbing, the guilt trip, and the worry that whoever buys the next round may disrespect my wishes. 'Loosen up, just have a sip.' A stand-off ensues where I stubbornly refuse or reluctantly cave in. My defences are up, my enjoyment's curtailed. The joke's on me: No alcohol and veggie food, oh what an evening!
Am I a teetotal veggie or a veggie teetotaller? Did one influence the other? Neither. Although it's true alcohol does use animal derived products to clarify: egg; gelatine; milk protein; chitin, the shell from crabs or lobster; and isinglass, fish swim bladder, are all used as fining agents. In theory, these should not remain in the final product, but there's no guarantee, and therefore some veggies choose alcohol that uses non-animal derivatives. Spirits are more acceptable as they don't involve the use of animal substances, but having explained that, this is not why I'm teetotal.
Temperance does not exist in my family history, far from it! From an early age, I was taught to appreciate beer, wine and spirits: sips of Dad's low-alcoholic beer, or a small glass of Pop's cider; wines were matched to dinners, a full-bodied red to accompany a rich bolognese, or a delicate white with fish or chicken. In our households it was standard to ask: 'Are you wining?' I even went on to study wine tasting, though at the time I preferred sickly sweet Peach Schnapps or Vodka, and I always adhered to that sage advice: Never drink on an empty stomach. I was a classic 'lightweight', who could be tipsy and giggly, but never drunk. I stuck well within my limits, stopped before it made me feel powerless. I kept my head as being out of control didn't look 'hilarious'. The change in people's personalities was unnerving: glazed eyes, slurred speech, giddiness or aggression. I was a sensible drinker, but even then the much talked about relaxed, pleasurable sensation evaded me. The slightest drop made me feel I could lose my grip on myself and my reality, becoming an 'Alice' that didn't shrink, enlarge, or walk through a mirror, but spiralled down a tunnel. Alcohol gave me heightened sensitivity but with a curiously muffled effect. In short, I disliked this slight blurring of the edges, so my last 'proper' drink was over four years ago. As usual I preach non-conformity, but why should my refusal to wine make others uncomfortable?