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Green Light in the City

National Vegetarian Week

16 May 16 words: Ash Carter

We're never going to tell you how to live your life here at LeftLion, but we love a good opinion

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We're not 100% sure what's happening here, but it looks fun. photo: Steve Fareham

The main problem with conversation in the age of social media is the lack of any sense of pluralism. Ideas are given the same level of blind devotion as football teams, supported through thick and thin, regardless of outside influence and never subject to change. To back down on an opinion is to somehow lose, as if victory is gained through the rigorous devotion to a cause, rather than the ability to understand a different perspective.

Although vegetarian is just a word for someone who doesn’t eat meat, it’s become tarnished with the same brush that ruined ‘atheist’ for those who don’t believe in God. Where once you could just be a person who chose not to consume animals as part of your diet, you’re now part of a group of goddamned long-hairs who aggressively harangue meat eaters to give up their sinful ways. It’s as much down the many misconceptions about living as a non-meat eater as it is the sanctimonious nature of some vegans and vegetarians. My sister still apologises whenever she eats meat in front of me, as if the very presence of a pork chop is unnerving, despite my never having uttered a word about it.

And the reputation isn’t entirely undeserved.  I know vegans whose incessant Martin Luther-King stances on animal welfare inspire me to sink my teeth into the nearest living creature. Passion is great; but being on the receiving end of passionate rhetoric on a subject you don’t always have the energy to care about is soul-destroying. We all care about something deeply in life, and to a lot of people, animal welfare isn’t chief among them. It’s a privilege to choose what you will and won’t eat on a daily basis, and for most people around the world, taking the decision to avoid meat comes fairly close to the summit of Maslow’s pyramid. 

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illustration: Jamie Wignall

Conversely, I spent a year at university living in halls occupied by the more affluent members of the student population. To many of them, I may as well have worn a leper’s bell round my neck, as they relished in describing the hunts they went on the previous weekend in gory detail. It makes no sense why you’d care that someone didn’t eat meat. It feels like vegetarianism is the impassable line people reach with animal welfare: You’re against hunting foxes? Excellent. You think that daft American woman who shot a lion is a wrong’un? Me too. Ban bullfighting? All for it.  Don’t kill animals for food? Fuck off mate, stop trying to oppress me. It’s fuelled mostly by slacktavism: while it’s easy to share a link on Facebook, actually doing something about an issue takes effort. 

Although those on the extremes on both sides have some valid arguments, I believe there are more and more people who simply just choose not to eat meat either because they find it against their own personal morality, or like me, they just don’t much fancy the thought of eating flesh.

Before going on, I should also say that I’m probably the worst person to talk about vegetarianism. Although I love any animal I’ve only just met far more than most humans I’ve known for a decade, I have broken my non-meat diet on occasion, and take tablets coated in gelatine every day. I also bust the stereotype of vegetarianism being a healthy alternative; if you were going to compare me to Buddha, my silhouette would be first choice before my non-meat diet.

The biggest misconception comes with the limits to the diet of a vegetarian, or that giving up meat is difficult. Since I stopped eating meat in 2007, Quorn have improved both the variety and quality of their products enormously. Almost all of their chicken products are far tastier than their meat alternatives, and it’s only with red meat that they’re still lacking. Linda McCartney’s range of sausages and mozzarella burgers also at least match, if not better, their meaty substitutes. 

The two statistics I learned about Nottingham before I moved here were that woman outnumbered men 5 to 1, and that there were more restaurants per capita than any other city in the UK except London. Whereas the former has made zero difference to my life, the latter has made living as a vegetarian in the city incredible. The variety of non-meat options depends massively on the type of cuisine, and I’ve always found Thai, Chinese, Greek, Indian and Mexican naturally provide perfect vegetarian options, with tofu, paneer, chickpeas, halloumi or beans offered as a meat-alternative to most main courses on the menu.

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These vork pies are almost too cute to eat... almost. 

Anoki – followed closely by The Calcutta Club – is the best Indian restaurant for vegetarian food, although both are more on the pricey side. Tarn Thai on George Street offers about a dozen vegetarian main courses on its inexpensively priced lunch-time menu, and for me offers one of the best dining experiences in the city, both with the range and quality of food, and the price and décor of the restaurant itself.  Equally, Yamas Meze and Tapas on Thurland Street is consistently fantastic, with a great array of vegetarian options on both its regular and meze menus. 

There are also a number of great restaurants and cafes that cater specifically for non-meat eaters in Nottingham. The Alley Café Bar off Angel Row in the city centre, The Bluebird Café on Mansfield Road, Café Roya and The Flying Goose in Beeston all provide vegetarian cuisine that even the most ardent carnivore would struggle to find fault with. The Screaming Carrot bakery in Forest Fields has established itself as the number one spot for vegan cakes, cookies and bread, supplying several city-centre locations, including Lee Rosy’s on Broad Street. As much as I initially loathe being dragged there on a Saturday morning, it’s hard not to be impressed by the phenomenal range of food on offer at the Sneinton Vegan Food Market, which takes place on the first Saturday of every month. Half an hour walking around it would do more to break the stereotype of a vegan’s limited diet than any 10,000 words I could write; at the most recent, you could buy meat and dairy free pizza, burgers, kebabs, chocolate, sweets, bread, doughnuts (including bacon and maple syrup), pies and ice-cream.

Life for vegetarians has changed enormously over the last decade. Gone are the days of a group of meat eaters impatiently waiting, sweaty-browed while the one veggie in the party trawls through the menu before assuring everyone that they’re fine just with a portion of chips. Other than the BBQ/meat specialist restaurants, I can’t think of a single venue in Nottingham that I couldn’t comfortably eat at. 

As much as I love animals, and want to continue not eating them as long as I am able, if I was somehow given the opportunity to see Juan Belmonte fight in the twenties, I’d punch a pig directly in the snout to make it happen. Our obsession to crowbar people into categories of a limited scope for our own intellectually indolent purposes only serves to ensure the steady erosion of the very things that separate us as individuals. Life is rarely made up of extremes, and an individual completely devoted to any one single idea, unable to consider the alternative isn’t really worthy of a place in the debate. 

The increasing popularity of vegetarianism is evident from the ever-growing number of food options available in both supermarkets and restaurants and as this number grows, so will the variety of vegetarian.  Whether you avoid red meat, only eat fish, don’t eat meat at all or go through racks of ribs like the opening credits of The Flintstones, there’s more than enough variety for everyone – the only person who should ever be affected by your choice of diet is you. 

National Vegetarian Week runs until Sunday 22 May 2016.

National Vegetarian Week website
Ash Carter's Blog









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