I’m a vegetarian. Well, I’m actually a pescatarian. Although I grew up enjoying meat, I went off the texture in my early twenties and now I don’t eat any red meat or chicken, only fish.
My shift away from eating meat and chicken has, over the years caused much consternation, especially early on. I grew up in South Africa and we would regularly have a braai (barbecue) with plenty of red meat and occasionally chicken, cooked to sizzling perfection over hot coals. But what do you do with a vegetarian? There are far more non-meat options available these days, but twenty years ago, I seemed like a freak.
I ate a pork sausage last week.
We had a barbecue at work and lunch was provided for all the staff. It was a beautiful spread and those catering for us had gone to a lot of trouble to ensure there was a wide range of food options to choose from in the hope that all dietary needs would be met. We had the obligatory red meat options, chicken, fish, pork, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy free. I had salmon and salad and thought I’d add a vegetarian sausage to the mix on my plate.
Admittedly, the sausage did look a little different and it also tasted a bit meaty but, I just put it down to the way it had been prepared and cooked. Perhaps these were a range of vegetarian sausages that I had never tried before or the cooking staff had put them on the barbecue after they’d cooked the meat, hence the meaty flavour?
A colleague (also a vegetarian) later informed me however, that I had in fact eaten a pork sausage. Somehow, in the frenzy of preparing a host of different food options, someone had put the wrong labels by the food.
My stomach turned when I realised I’d eaten a pork sausage – I felt physically sick at the thought.
The consequences of the labelling mistake were far more serious though for those who should have eaten gluten-free. They’d eaten vegetarian sausages, usually packed with gluten.
Mind you, it’s not the first time I’ve unknowingly eaten meat since becoming a pescatarian. In the early days, I would forget to inform people I was visiting for a meal of my dietary needs – well, sometimes I forgot and sometimes I felt ashamed and embarrassed to tell them and so, I would eat as little of the meat provided, trying desperately not to appear ungrateful.
I’ve become bolder over the years though and it has become easier to prepare meals for the many different dietary needs.
My cousin recently confessed to accidentally giving me beef burger patties on one of my visits to him and his family, many years ago. I can’t recall the incident, but apparently I appeared to enjoy them.
I can’t see myself ever consciously switching back to meat, but my recent run-in with pork has made me realise how we can easily get something we aren’t prepared for.
In the well-known and much-loved film, Forrest Gump, the lead character, (played by Tom Hanks) says
“My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
The quote has become synonymous with life. None of us knows exactly what we’re going to get.
I do though think we can do much to give ourselves the best possible chance in life though. Over the years, I’ve come to believe in a variation of that quote: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, if you ask the right questions and look at the detailed labelling about the variety of options, you can choose exactly what you want’.