Pig Nose

Confession: I Ate Meat

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 restaurant on board 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.

cauliflower-805414_960_720

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 fell 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 get fired but mostly because it is not a post to name and shame, it’s a post about the frustration I feel over people’s ignorance and indifference to the dietary choices of others and their reasons behind it. Saying sorry, 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.

Image courtesy of Rakratchada Torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Rakratchada Torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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? I’d just think, “Oops! Never mind, a god isn’t involved 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. When I was eating lunch with some Scandinavian colleagues, I got the usual, “Do you eat fish?” but also, “What about chicken… Or turkey?” Seriously? But at least they were asking out of interest, not criticism.

And at least they didn’t feed me secret meat.

19 thoughts on “Confession: I Ate Meat

  1. I do feel for you. I know EXACTLY how you feel! I have also had a couple of bad experiences… “meat” in Germany does not include bacon, sausage, ham or beef broth, and I soon learned to reformulate my question from “Does this contain meat?” to “Are there any animal products in this?”! I was once given a susage at a barbecue
    party and assured several times over that it was a vegetarian one especially for me. I suspected there’d been a mistake after one bite, but was reassured again very convincingly… turned out it was “organic” but not vegetarian! I felt like my body had
    been soiled and felt terrible both physically and mentally for over 24 hours. Yes, more respect and understanding from meat-eaters is necessary, but I wonder if I will ever live to see that happen. Trying to explain why I’m veggie only makes people defensive and doesn’t seem to change anything. Frustrating! Hope you don’t have to go through
    a similar situation again.

    1. So glad some people do understand! I didn’t want to come across as melodramatic but the situation genuinely upset me and made me feel so sick. That sausage incident sounds horrendous!

      I always struggle a bit when travelling around Europe as not everyone understands what ‘vegetarian’ really means. I once had a close call with a ‘vegetarian’ bruschetta from a bakery in Croatia. It was topped with cheese and my veggie friend and I were assured it was vegetarian but it had some sneaky tuna under the cheese. Thankfully I noticed before eating any!

      Hope it doesn’t happen to you again either! xx

  2. This is a very interesting thing to read/hear about. I’m so sorry you had such a bad reaction and that you had to go through that. You’re right, it is pretty much unacceptable. Hopefully that restaurant will learn from that.

    I go through similar things on almost a monthly basis with my allergies. Every time I go to a restaurant, I have to make extra extra sure whatever it is I’m eating doesn’t have nuts or eggs in it, as those can be life-threatening to me. It’s happened all too often that I come across contamination in my foods, when the wait staff assured me it wouldn’t happen. It’s so frustrating. I know we’re all human and make mistakes, but still.

    Thanks for sharing this story (again, so sorry it happened to you) and for getting me thinking!

    1. Thanks for reading!

      It must be so frustrating (and sometimes scary) with allergies. My colleague and I did talk about that – how their carelessness could have made someone really ill, or as you say, even put someone in a life-threatening situation. I think in this day and age, if you’re working in the food industry, you need to be educated and aware about different dietary requirements and about what you’re serving.

      I hope you don’t have any more incidents either! xx

  3. Yuck! I’ve been there too. I used to work as a nanny, and I always made it very clear that I would not prepare meat for the children’s dinner. Yes, I’d toss some nuggets in the over, or reheat leftovers, but I was never willing to prepare a raw chicken breast or burger.
    Then after I’d been working a job for about a year, my charge was going through some serious health stuff, her mom decided she needed more meat in her diet and started leaving gross meaty things for me to prepare. When all I had to do was put the pan in the oven I didn’t mind so much, since the poor child couldn’t eat much else, but one night I was left with a fish cutlet. I had never cooked raw fish before in my life and had no idea what to do with it. I baked it until it was brown and subsequently got in trouble for destroying what turned out to be a rather expensive cut of fish (the kid ate maybe two bites). I couldn’t believe how furious the mother was! First of all, I had no idea it cost that much. Second, why would she expect me to know what to do with it? Third, this was completely against my previously stated code of ethics. So obnoxious.

    1. Oh, god – that’s awful! Looking at raw meat makes me feel gross, let alone the thought of preparing it.

      I was a nanny for a while too but luckily they never made me prepare meat. My charge was only a toddler so fish fingers were as meaty as I got. And she didn’t need a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch when I could make avocado and cheese instead!

      But seriously, what on earth were they doing giving their child such an expensive type of fish – and giving it to a vegetarian to prepare?! Surely it would have been wasted on the child no matter how it was served. Obnoxious is the word! Besides, better you served the fish overcooked than undercooked or they could have had a sicker child on their hands!

      Urgh. People…

  4. Oh my goodness – I’m sorry that this happened! And, like you, I’m also sorry that veganism is treated so casually and without respect. I’ve only been vegan for two years, and I’ve actually had many instances like this. Mostly when I was first making the transition and was still ignorant. For example, it was months into my veganism before I discovered that the vegetarian items at my favorite Chinese restaurant were made with chicken broth. I also had to discover over time that a lot of veggie burgers are not vegan. I’ve learned a lot in two years, and I don’t make the same rookie mistakes, but I’ve still had an occasional incidence here and there. I’m amazed that you were able to go 10 years without eating any meat – great job!

    I hope that veganism gains more respect over the next few years. It seems like people are beginning to be more respectful, so we’ll see. :)

    1. Thank you so much for understanding! I think we’ve all made rookie mistakes… although I’ve not eaten meat in ten years, I have had several slip-ups. I was a teenager went I became a vegetarian so not as informed and educated about the subject as I (like to think I) am now! I stopped eating jelly when I went vego as I knew it had gelatine in it but didn’t realise that gelatine sneaked its way into so many other things like yoghurt, biscuits, medicine… all sorts! I felt terrible when I realised but put it down to “learning” and moved on. I guess this time it was different because it wasn’t my own mistake or my own ignorance, just disrespect and indifference of other people. And because meat is gross!

      I think vegetarianism – and perhaps to a lesser extent, veganism – are becoming slightly more mainstream now, at least in places like the UK and US but we still have a long way to go. In some countries and/or cultures it’s just unheard of, so it’s not necessarily a lack of respect but a general ignorance. Small steps but hopefully we’ll get there! :)

  5. Don’t worry – I have been vegetarian my whole life and whilst I am used to letting these things slide (I now live in Spain where Spanish ham is not considered meat, it’s considered it’s own food group) I definitely can recall some over reactions on my part in the past! It totally makes sense when you say that you feel your choice had been taken away from you. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience!

  6. I have been a vegetarian now for about four years. I shall not go into the reasons for my change other than to say it was partly political and partly ethical.

    I am not a vegan and I also try and be somewhat balanced in my strictness to being meat free at all times – for example, I was once at a barbecue and I could handle the fact that a portion of the large grill (which was clean) was to be ‘my’ section even though some meat was being cooked nearby – but not directly next to mine.

    However, after four years of being a vegetarian I had my first case of inadvertently eating meat a few weeks ago.

    This is because I often have soup too, like in this tale. I often have minestrone soup because it can be quite filling – and I have used the same few brands for a number of years that have not had meat in and I have found that many minestrone soups in general have not got it in.

    However, by mistake and in a rush, I once had to buy another tin which I was not used to. Thinking that minestrone is minestrone I foolishly took it for granted that it too would be meat free.

    It did smell a little funny when I had cooked it, but it did not register what it might have been. It was some weird brand of soup so I assumed it was just the nature of the soup as they all have different aromas.

    It was only after eating about half to three quarters of a bowl (when I started to get to the more chunky vegetables and pasta) that I found little slithers, really microscopic, of little red/pink pieces. I hoped it was some kind of chopped vegetable, but something was nagging me that it wasn’t.

    I stopped eating it……and about two or three minutes later I found I had an awful taste in my mouth. It was really strange, I have never had anything like it. That taste, of what turned out to be pork, seemed to linger for hours on my cheeks despite rinsing repeatedly with water and mouthwash!

    I would not say I was disturbed by it, but it was very regrettable and something I have since watched out for. Having once been a meat eater, I am surprised at the sensation it gave in my mouth and my reaction to it, not only of revulsion but of sensation. (It just goes to show it is important to take the time to read the labels correctly).

    In your case, it is not good enough that you were served it and that they claimed not to know (despite making a point of being vegetarian from the outset).

    Somehow, it reminded me a little bit of my dad (also vegetarian) once being served home made meat and potato pie by a relative of ours, of which the meat pieces had been later fished out for him!

    Needless to say, he had to explain why he was not being fussy and that it was not actually vegetarian…..as being vegetarian was more than just “not liking” meat.

    That was back in the late 80s. Many people and places have got much better in understanding vegetarianism in Britain, so thankfully I think your experience in the restaurant is rarer than it once may have been.

    1. Thanks for commenting! And sorry about my delayed response – been away over Christmas! (Thankfully no ‘mishaps’ ;-))

      That sounds horrible – mine was little bits of red/pink things that I hoped were vegetables too. Wish I’d trusted my instincts and stopped eating it. Like you, I think it was definitely a lesson in being more careful with things. I usually am but as I said, it was extreme circumstances and I slipped up. And the staff messed up even more. Hopefully it was a lesson for them too!

      I think vegetarianism is definitely more recognised and understood now but I do still get the occasional “Can’t you just pick the meat out?”! It’s slightly infuriating.

      Thanks for sharing your story! :)

  7. ow, what a nasty experience :-(
    Dining out can still be quite an experiment, and all in all it all comes down to trusting the chefs and waiters, that they respect our wishes. This trust was surely breached here…
    I’ve also had waiters reply ‘but it only contains a little bit of ham’. Right. Like that means the pig is only a little bit dead! :-/

    1. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told to ‘pick the meat out’ because there’s only a little! People can be so ignorant. It’s not a case of not liking meat (which I don’t but that’s not the point), it’s not wanting dead animal in my food!

      It’s nice to have other people understand. :)

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