Two weeks ago, for the first time in over ten years, I ate meat.
Pork, to be precise. Little slivers of pork or bacon – something from a pig – in soup.
Then I threw up.
Context, you ask?
I was sent to Scandinavia on a work trip (tough life, I know) and three nights were spent on board a ship with all meals included. The ship had been informed – well in advance – that I was a vegetarian.
On the first night, we headed down to the on board restaurant unsure of exactly what to expect as we’d heard mixed reviews. When the waitress brought out the starter, it was soup. There were a few little red bits on top and I asked if there was meat in said soup. I was told, no, no, no… it’s cauliflower soup.
Perhaps the little slivers are red onion, or radish as garnish, I thought?
Had it been any other day… Had I not been up since 3am that morning and travelled for half a day; had I eaten food since that airport sandwich at 6am; had I trusted my instincts as I usually do, then perhaps I would have questioned it more. But instead, I trusted the staff who serve the food and surely knew what it consisted of.
I ate most of the soup, picking out some of the funny red things as I didn’t like them. They were so small and thin, and mixed in with the soup that I couldn’t really taste them but the texture was weird.
When a different waitress came to collect the plates, my colleague questioned if the dish was definitely vegetarian and this waitress looked shocked and confirmed, no – it definitely wasn’t vegetarian! It had pork in it.
My stomach dropped. I felt dizzy. I felt nauseous. I started shaking.
I left the table (throwing restaurant etiquette out the window), ran back to my cabin and dropped to my knees on the bathroom floor. To put it as nicely as possible… the soup didn’t stay down long.
It took me a while to compose myself and stop shaking and crying.
Now, I know this all seems very dramatic but to be honest, I surprised myself with just how strong my reaction was.
I think perhaps it was not only about the fact that I’d just eaten meat for the first time in ten years but more about the fact that my choice – one I felt very strongly about – was ignored, deemed unimportant and taken away from me. (And yes, also because I’d just eaten meat for the first time in ten years…)
When I finally went back to the table, the manager came to speak to me and explained that the girl who had said that there was no meat in the soup was a trainee and didn’t know. Unacceptable. She also said that yes, they had me down as vegetarian, she just “didn’t notice”. Unacceptable.
Now, I’m not going to say which company this was, partly because I’d probably lose my job but mostly because this is not a post to name and shame; it’s a post to share the frustration I feel over people’s ignorance and indifference to the dietary choices of others and their reasons behind it.
Saying sorry that you didn’t notice is not good enough. I couldn’t eat for the rest of the night and I felt sick with guilt. I felt dirty.
Now, I would say I probably only ate a few tiny slivers of pork but then I have no idea what stock was used in the soup. My money would not be on vegetable.
When I went back to work with this tale, one of my colleagues said, “People could sue for that. Imagine if you didn’t eat meat for religious reasons; that situation would be really distressing!”
Oh, unlike how it was for me, you mean?! Because my choice not to eat meat has nothing to do with religion, it couldn’t possibly be incredibly upsetting to find out I’d just eaten pieces of pig? So I’d just think, “Never mind, no god is judging this so all is well…”?
I have very strong and varied reasons behind my vegetarianism and I believe that they are no less important nor less serious than religious reasons and that my choices deserve just as much respect as anyone else’s. It isn’t up to others to decide how much it matters if I eat meat. It’s my decision and I’ve decided it matters a lot.
Of course mistakes happen (though I honestly don’t think this one should have) but the way it was brushed off with such a blasé attitude was incredibly frustrating and upsetting.
Vegetarianism is a rather foreign concept to many Scandinavians (well, to many throughout most of continental Europe, really) so it can be difficult to make people understand.
On the same trip, I was eating lunch with some Scandinavian colleagues and I got the usual, “Do you eat fish?” as well as, “What about chicken? Turkey?” Seriously?
But at least they were asking out of interest, not criticism.
And at least they didn’t feed me secret meat.