This week is National Vegetarian Week in the UK and I thought I’d write a little bit about what it means to me to be vegetarian, and how it links to my writing.
I was seventeen when I decided to be vegetarian. I had wanted to for years and years before that but my mum had a real aversion to the idea, given that I did not eat vegetables. I hated them. I dreaded Sunday lunch purely because of the veg I’d be given to eat – I actually liked the meat, so turning veggie has not been a matter of taste for me.
I used to try and come up with imaginative ways to make it looks like I’d eaten my vegetables: squashing them and hiding them under my knife and fork; filling my mouth with them, excusing myself and spitting them into the toilet; once – just once – I thought I could get away with tipping the contents of my plate into a wastepaper bin. Incredibly, this cunning ruse didn’t work. Apparently this was not the usual place to dispose of food waste.
Anyway, I gradually grew up and my tastes changed, and of course I became more vehemently opinionated as all good teenagers are. Still, it took me to the age of seventeen to finally make that leap into vegetarianism – but I haven’t looked back. It seems that it was always destined to be tied up with my writing as well, as the place where I made this decision was Lumb Bank – the beautiful Yorkshire writing centre which once was Ted Hughes‘ home and now belongs to the Arvon Foundation. My A-level teacher said to me: I’m surprised you’re not vegetarian” and I thought I’m also surprised I’m not vegetarian (or something to that effect). I arrived home at the end of the week determined to be a writer, and determined to be a vegetarian. Unfortunately Mum had already prepared me a lunch – ham sandwiches. I ate these as it seemed rude not to but that is the last time I ate meat.
Now I have two children, who are vegetarian – well, fish-eating-non-meat-eaters to be precise. My husband is not vegetarian so this seems a good compromise. It does also make life easier when it comes to kids’ parties, which is poor reasoning, I know – or at least not particularly principled.
I want them to have the choice to eat meat – as opposed to the choice not to – when they are old enough to understand what it’s all about. Obviously I hope they choose not to but that’s got to be up to them.
It can be quite annoying being vegetarian. It’s one of those things which people pick up on and for some reason make a big deal about, when you have no intention of making a big deal out of them eating meat (even though you probably feel more strongly about that). From the very amusing ‘what if vegetables have feelings too?’ to the equally hilarious ‘If God didn’t want us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat’. I was pleased to see Sara Pascoe putting this in Room 101 the other week.
There are also people who want to have an argument with you about it – again, usually when you’re not in the slightest trying to justify your choice.
Often they say people have always eaten meat, and we are designed to do so. Yes, in the past people did eat meat as a matter of course. Yes, we were hunter-gatherers. However, people were also – at various times, and amongst other things – witch-hunters, superstitious and cave-dwellers; in the past people thought the world was flat, and that the slave trade was thoroughly acceptable.
My point here is that the human race has progressed – in some ways at least – so arguing for something just because it’s something people used to do is pointless.
I still have a way to go. I am not vegan, although my beliefs lead me to the conclusion that I should be. I also own some leather boots; again if I am really being true to my beliefs, I shouldn’t wear leather. So I’m not trying to say I’m perfect, by any means. Just that I am vegetarian because I want to be, and I prefer not to have people giving me a hard time because of it.
Vegetarianism is a very strong theme in Writing the Town Read. Jamie is a character with strong opinions, including about being vegetarian. Friends and family see a lot of me in the things she has to say. And it’s true that I was inspired in part by being a vegetarian who has moved to a rural community and feeling a bit like a fish out of water. I really hope I’m not quite as annoying as Jamie can be, though… I am equally as opinionated but I try to keep a lid on it, aside from annoying my husband with the odd rant.
One of the other themes I have tried to communicate is how things are rarely black-and-white. Simon, Jamie’s brother’s friend, is a farmer and she is very critical of him, almost overlooking the fact that he is one of her greatest allies.
Looking Past features Sarah, also a vegetarian, and the main characters in my new book are also veggie. I think I will continue this tradition throughout my writing career. However, rather than making it a big deal – as with Jamie – it will just be another aspect of each character. I just can’t imagine describing my heroes and heroines as meat-eaters.
Now I can see I’ve gone on much more than I meant to, and probably more than I should have, but believe me I could have said much more…
If you’ve read to this point, thank you – whether herbivore, carnivore or omnivore.
I wish you all a happy National Vegetarian Week!