Lucy Mangan

"I'm a filthy hippie wannabe"

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How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? I like to imagine that you are all reading that sentence while halfway through a giant bar of Dairy Milk/ second bottle of Chateau de Pour Me Another/bout of sex with a regrettable partner, or whatever other vice you foolishly swore off less than a month ago because I have signally failed at mine.

I designated 2012 as the year I would become vegetarian. This was always a bad idea because a) I hate fruit and vegetables and b) I hate vegetarians.

I hate vegetarians en masse, I mean. I hate the idea of them, the image of them. Of course, it is a mainstream lifestyle choice these days, but my prejudices have not kept pace with reality. I still see them as filthy hippies, palely loitering round an otherwise rambunctious dinner table, nibbling nut cutlets and sucking the joy out of a convivial gathering as normal, healthy folk suck down the warm, meaty marrow from a dish of osso bucco.

I’m wrong, I know. But don’t pretend you don’t feel it too. A bit. Individually, of course, vegetarians are fine. I have several veggie friends and they hold down proper jobs, pay taxes, wash and everything. They’re almost like people, but skinnier.

But I still don’t want to be known as one – just as I didn’t want to get married because being ‘a wife’ sounded horrendous (I still instantly see myself as an apron-sporting, Valium-popping, Stepford clone) and thought far more than twice about getting pregnant because being ‘a mother’ conjured up exactly the same image, except that the apron and my ankles were bigger and I’d switched from tranquillisers to gin.

Hatred of fruit and veg is an obstacle. You can only replace your meat with cheese for so long

However. These thoughts are irrational and can – while you’re still in your meat-eating phase and therefore have the strength – be overcome. A hatred of fruit and veg is a greater obstacle. You can only replace your meat slabs with lumps of cheese for so long. Eventually, you have to learn to love the legume.

And at least I am not alone. More and more of my (carnivorous) friends are feeling worse and worse about eating meat. We have all first cut down on red meat, then turned to free range, then organic, then hand-reared, daily-massaged stuff from farmers’ markets where stallholders will assure us that the animal in question went willingly to the block in recognition of the long and happy life it had been given – and are now finally facing up to the fact that, whatever way you slice it, it’s still a bit of dead thing on your plate. One friend theorises we have synchronised in this way either because we’ve recently had children (the idea of eating something with a face – a little, tiny baby lamb!) or because, now we are older, it is an intimation of your own mortality. Where once lay a juicy pork chop now lies a reminder that all flesh is grass. This friend frightens me.

I concentrate on the environmental arguments. Even though I try my best not to read them lest I be crushed under the dead weight of hopelessness, they are so prevalent and, in many cases, so obvious that you cannot help but absorb them by a kind of cultural osmosis; the overfishing, the hormones and pesticides required to raise enough meat for (a small portion of) our overpopulated planet which then adulterate the rest of the food chain, the food miles it takes to fatten everything that needs to be fattened and then fly it to wherever it’s most wanted (usually the areas with people least in need of fattening). You don’t have to take in more than the fact that it takes around 1,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of maize and around 15,000 for a kilo of beef or be a mathematician for some little voice in your head to go “You know what? I bet we’re living on borrowed sustainability time already. Maybe it would be better to choose an aubergine-based lifestyle now rather than have it forced irrevocably on us – after the deaths of millions in less fortunate countries to whom we will give no choice at all – later.”

So far I’ve cut out red meat entirely and got to grips with puy lentils. Cooked in stock and splodged with crème fraîche, they’re not so bad. I’m a lacto-ovo-piscine-avine vegetarian who licks a lot of barbecue recipes. But I’m getting there. I’m a filthy hippie wannabe and I’m getting there.

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Main picture credit: Rex Features