So vegetarians like a slice of ham to garnish the top of their omelettes, and meat in their tomato soup do they? Those things have actually happened when on family holidays in Portugal and the Netherlands respectively. My wife and son are both vegetarians, my daughter and I carnivores. My wife will eat fish. My son will not, but has always been happy to stuff himself full of artisan bread and local cheese delicacies. Both are very healthy. My daughter and I became accustomed to vegetarian food twenty years ago or more because logistically it meant cooking just one meal rather than two being doled out at every meal time, and for a full year from March 20th 2012 I decided to ‘go veggie’. Well, very nearly. I believe the term for a vegetarian who eats fish is ‘pescatarian’ which is what I have done and continue to do, but as it’s hard enough to explain vegetarianism in cafes and restaurants I felt pescatarianism might lead to confusion!
I find it fascinating that in a world where there is so much vegetarianism, that there can still be such diverse attitudes towards those who travel but do not eat meat, not to mention the often limited menu options as you travel between countries. We’ve had all kinds of reactions from ‘but you must eat meat or you will not be healthy’ to ‘we can probably do you an omelette’ or plain ‘we do not cater for vegetarians’, which is all a bit bizarre considering that our digestive systems are not actually designed to process meat. We were all vegetarians once…or should that be pescatarians?
I took a Finnair flight to Helsinki from Manchester recently, and ordered a vegetarian option in advance for both the outward and return journeys. On the outward journey, the stewardess arrived at my seat and said ‘I believe you have ordered a special meal’. Well no I hadn’t actually but I wasn’t going to make an issue of it. I had ordered the vegetarian option that Finnair offered. I half expected the see a pack with ‘Weird Food for Seat C14’ but it was just a cheese salad sandwich in a clear plastic bag. Nothing so unusual about that. Nothing ‘special’.
My eldest sister and her (still extremely healthy) family were trailblazing vegetarians in the meat and two veg 1970’s, or at least that’s how the rest of came to think of them. Apart from vegetables, nuts, and the right sort of bread, their food choices were relatively limited at that time, and there was talk within the wider family that they had to survive on budgie seed! Those attitudes have mainly been left behind as vegetarian choices in the UK, both in the supermarkets and independent shops, and in cafes, pubs and restaurants have become so much better. However, it is only when you travel widely that you realise that vegetarians in some other countries don’t have it so good, where others are in vegetarian heaven!
Even as a non-vegetarian I have found myself constantly weighing up the vegetarian offers, because it’s in my blood now. And it varies from city to city as well as from country to country. For example, I found Moscow quite challenging for vegetarians but not so St. Petersburg, although in general terms the more cosmopolitan cities offer the best variety of vegetarian and vegan food. It is really important to research where you are going before you go, to locate the nearest source of vegetarian food, whether a restaurant or a supermarket, but also to stock up on essentials and carry them with you if you happen to be travelling for a while. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s I travelled a great deal in Germany where in the smaller cities meat dishes were invariably not served with any kind of vegetable or salad leaf, which didn’t bother me at the time. It was also tough during that time to find a good variety vegetarian food across Portugal, Spain, and in France. But on my more recent trips, I have almost always been able to find good vegetarian food at the local supermarkets, so times and tastes change. Conversely, travelling in India was a complete delight because most meals offered tended to be vegetarian.
After a year of being a ‘pescatarian’, and almost a lifetime of having to find vegetarian alternatives, I have some empathy with those whose travel experiences are affected by the type of food that they are able to eat, either on ethical or health grounds, so now I am a Born Again Carnivore I thought I’d include a few links here by way of supporting those who aren’t: