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An American Affair, Vegetarian in America

A Vegetarian Abroad

I’ve been vegetarian more years than I have not been, if that makes sense. From an early age, I was reluctant to eat meat. I kept asking what the stringy bits on the chicken were (veins), I refused pork sausages on the grounds,it made me feel unwell. I remember dreading mealtimes and carefully eating around the meat, focusing instead on everything and anything that wasn’t dead animal. I believe that I was born vegetarian.

As parents we make automatically choices for our children which is largely based on our own lifestyles and beliefs. Raising my children vegetarian was considered tantamount to child abuse by many. Why? I’ve been vegetarian for 32 years and the illnesses associated with eating too much red meat, the shape and location of our teeth and a multitude of other factors leads me to believe that humans were meant to be vegetarians.

To ‘complicate’ matters further, I’m lacto-vegetarian. This means no meat, no fish and no eggs. I don’t find this complicated, but it poses a major dilemma for caterers. I’m offered cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise – main ingredient = raw eggs. I’m offered salad sandwiches – seriously, would you eat bread with leaves? Seldom am I offered a simple jacket potato with cheese and beans, which would tick all the boxes.

Lacto-vegetarianism is a step away from being vegan. I don’t like to ingest animal milk; the very thought disgust me. However, being vegan is just one step too far for me. Instead, I actively avoid milk, preferring soya milk wherever I can. If I have cheese, make it the strongest flavour available so that I don’t taste the creamy milkiness of cows milk. Goats and sheep milk is strictly off the menu for me. The mere thought sends my facial muscles into contortions of disgust. Eventually, I’ll probably remove milk from my diet, I guess.

When I go out to gatherings I don’t really expect to be catered for. People give it a go, but usually misinterpret vegetarianism and offer fish based dishes or stuff with eggs. I find it usually causes offense to refuse food that someone believes that they have spent a log of time thinking about and planning. Sorry, I’m not going to eat dead animals just to appease you!

So, what’s a lacto-veggie girl supposed to do when trying to ‘eat on the street’ and on the go. When abroad, I resign myself to eating lots of fruit, fruit and more fruit. This is good news on the weight-loss front, but quite unfair on the food enjoyment front.

In Canada, I stumbled upon a (very expensive) whole food supermarket. Paradise beckoned, I heeded the call. My self catering apartment was soon stocked with more food than could be reasonably consumed in my week-long stay. In America, I rediscovered Trader Joes in Lansdowne PA, each day eating a delicious and healthy protein based vegetarian meal.

I was surprised and dismayed to find that the majority of fast food outlets that I visited fried their fries in the same oil as meat based dishes. My usual standby of a portion of fries, in the absence of vegetarian food was blocked. On one memorable night in New Jersey, I had a Nutrigrain bar, a bag of crisps and a sugar/addittive-laced drink for my evening meal. Pizza Hut insists on using eggs in its base sauce so this was strictly off menu for me.

My experiences leads me to ask a simple question – why is is so hard to be vegetarian in North America? Arguably, the most developed nation in the world, and yet lagging behind at least ten years in its attitude towards the vegetarian lifestyle.

In New York, I fared slightly better. There’s a fabulous eaterie in the Port Authority terminal, lots of healthy soup options and each sandwich individually made. I also began a love affair with cinnamon pretzels, an affair which shall no doubt continue on my return home.

A parting message to North America; vegetarians exist, we’re not communists and we are not going away anytime soon. So just get over it, acknowledge it and feed us please!

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