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It’s so hard being a vegetarian … being me

June 11, 2009
This was 8 years ago, but things haven’t changed much, except that I now know that cheese is not vegetarian either!

“You can start giving him red meat now” said the doctor. It was my son’s general checkup session. My eyes popped. I replied “Doc, he won’t eat meat, would he require some kind of supplements ?”. The doctor went on to elaborate how I can feed him lots of fish and well cooked chicken (No curry, mind you !) and so on and so forth.

Obviously my German was not good enough. I said slowly “Look, I won’t be giving him any meat as I myself have never eaten (and don’t know how to make either) in my life. We are vegetarians”. The doctor’s eyes popped. I am not sure if it sunk in, but by the end of the session I wanted to pull my hair and run out !

This never happened where I come from. “I am a vegetarian” is like “I am Tom” or “I am Harry” there. One doesn’t have to justify one’s name; well, most of the times.

Since we left India, this has been one of the most difficult tasks we run into almost all the time.

We had been to Paris. The tour guide was a sweet, enthusiastic young man who said “Oh ! you are from India, how nice, I have been there”. That afternoon he took our group to his favourite place for lunch and insisted that we all enjoy. I asked him “would there be vegetarian food ?”. Guess what he said ? “Oh sure ! you can have Thun fish or …”. I didn’t hear the rest of it. We dashed to the pizzeria next door.

Why is it so difficult to understand what vegetarian means ? I am trying hard, but cannot figure out. I don’t know if it’s lack of exposure to a wider variety of peoples and culture or just reluctance to accept that someone may not want to eat salami three times a day. I guess it’s that ‘cultural shock’, literally. They ask me “is it your religion that forbids eating meat ?”. Yes, partly. But in my case, not really. It’s more of a habit since birth and I never once felt like trying something not vegetarian, as simple as that. It’s just a way of life we have got used to.

We were visiting our Scottish friends for dinner. Two days before the date, Chris called to check out “do you mind cheese ?”. I was taken aback. Why would I mind cheese of all the things ?! Then it struck me, my ignorance. He was wondering if we were vegans. Now I know there are more extreme cases that we never come across where I come from !

Iouri, our Russian colleague joins us for lunch at the cafeteria often. He talks about two things – Automobile and food. Invariably our conversation turns towards why I don’t eat meat. Being very systematic in his ways, he starts off “do u eat cheese ?”. I say “yes”. “Do you drink milk ?” he asks next. I nod “yes”. He fires “then why don’t you eat beef ?!”.

I know I am being mean. But I am waiting for the next lunch session. I want to ask him if he would eat his mother.

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