Uncomfortable about the ethics involved in eating animals and worried about the conditions in which they may have been farmed, I eat a mainly vegetarian diet (plus a small amount of seafood). In 2015 I decided that, instead of berating myself for sometimes eating prawn tempura or sashimi, I would focus on "the fact that 98 per cent of the time I eat a vegetarian diet - which is said to be healthy and environmentally friendly as well as kinder to animals".
I may have settled comfortably into semi-vegetarianism but it's not always straightforward. Here are six issues I've pondered.
1. Labels are complicated
When asked about my dietary requirements, I never admit to being vegetarian because this makes people want to serve you mushrooms, tofu and tempeh.
There's something about the texture and provenance of these food items that makes me feel queasy.
So last month on a couple of international flights, I simply skipped the main meal, and ate vegetables and a bread roll for dinner. And, ahead of a recent lunch at a boarding school, I advised that none of our family members had special dietary requirements and I just ate the salad and pita pocket. Easy!
That approach works for one-off meals but when you have extended periods at menu-less dining establishments, you need a different strategy. In January last year we had a stay of four or five nights at a lodge near Featherston. Since this place works mainly on the principle favoured by mothers everywhere (that is, you'll eat what you're given) remaining silent was not an option so we advised them that I was pescetarian.
My brand of pescetarianism means that I eat a vegetarian diet except maybe I have seafood once or twice a week. However, the chefs at the lodge decided it meant that fish or seafood must be served every night. Some evenings there were two or more separate courses built around seafood. It didn't take long for me to say: "If I never see another scallop again it'll be too soon." On our last night, we asked if we could please have mac-n-cheese in the library. We could!
2. How do pure vegetarians get on in restaurants?
Pumpkin risotto is a favourite of mine and if I see it on a restaurant menu I'll order it. And eat it. And love it. But I'm only 98 per cent vegetarian. I always wonder what pure vegetarians do in such a situation. How do they know there's no chicken stock in the dish? Are they really going to call the chef over and ask for the recipe? That sounds like hard work - not to mention a way to turn an enjoyable evening into a chore.
3. Do you want the "chucken" or the "fush"?
My heart always sinks when I'm at a sit-down dinner function and the choice is between "chucken or fush". Both of those options strike me as wishy-washy dishes someone might imagine a half-hearted vegetarian would choose. (Yes, I know I eat fish but I don't want an unimaginatively cooked slab of it taking up half the plate. I like small flavoursome pieces such as those in ceviche or tucked into a taco.)
And, I've given up asking for the secret vegetarian option because ... mushrooms.
Anyway, if the vegetarian meal was any good it would be listed as a third offering not just whispered as an afterthought for fussy eaters. On these nights I go hungry. Then drive through McDonald's on the way home. And have a Big Mac. (Just kidding. I have fries.)
4. Hold the bacon, please
I usually arrive at weekend showjumping events with an empty stomach. It's 8am, I've been up for three hours and I need breakfast stat. Once, when I was a newbie, I asked for a bacon-and-egg muffin without the bacon. But these are prepared ahead of time and they don't do a meatless option.
Because they can't "hold the bacon", I end up holding the bacon while I eat the rest of it. And then I think about the deceased pig and figure it would be more respectful to eat his or her dead flesh rather than look around for a rubbish bin in which to dispose of it. But I don't eat it because barnyard creatures (along with mushrooms, tofu and tempeh) are on my do-not-consume list.
5. Who wants "meatless meat"?
I've never understood why anyone would want "vegetarian mince", "vegetarian sausages", "meat-free chicken-style burgers" or any other oxymoronic concoction. There are so many tasty and healthy vegetarian meal options, why on earth is there a market for fake meat? It strikes me as illogical. Plus it perpetuates the myth that meat is king.
6. Is veganism the next step?
To become 98 per cent vegan at home, I just have to find a satisfactory vegan substitute for butter, parmesan cheese, calcium-enriched milk and low-fat sour cream. I've been contemplating veganism since our Wairarapa holiday mentioned in point one above. The serenity of the lodge was interrupted just once during our stay - when a film director (who owns a nearby farm which makes its own honey) requested a "vegan barbecue" for twenty people.
Two questions lingered in my mind. Whatever do they serve at vegan barbecues? (Meatless meat, I'm guessing now. Ew.) And, can vegans eat honey? (I wouldn't have thought so. Doesn't that involve exploitation of bees?)