Being a veggie was murder
Thursday 18 December 1997
For the majority of the population, the act of buying a cheeseburger at McDonald's is a relatively mundane procedure. But after a decade of abstinence from meat, making the purchase became a near-pornographic experience.
Standing in the queue warily eyeing up the McDonald's menu board, I was struck by a sensation first experienced around the mid-1980s when stretching for the magazine top shelf in a Manchester corner shop - the rush of adrenalin that heralds the triumph of carnal urge over poxy principle. The simple cheeseburger had been transformed into a smutty mag - a metamorphosis abetted by its being served in a brown paper bag.
Buying the burger represented a volte-face in my teenage relationship with McDonald's - which largely consisted of standing outside its restaurants handing out leaflets graphically depicting a cow upturned in an abattoir, blood gushing from its head, under the slogan: "Would you still eat meat if it looked like this?" Back then vegetarianism took on something of a quasi-religious status. Facts about the meat industry, detailed in the glossy literature issued by animal rights' groups, carried the reverence of absolute truths. My vegetarianism acquired an evangelical zeal after being adopted as a "youth spokesperson" by the Vegetarian Society, precipitating a series of cringing television appearances; the most retrospectively traumatic involved cooking a broccoli dish alongside Cheryl Baker on her Saturday morning kids' show Eggs 'n' Baker (marginally more embarrassing than preparing a veggie burger, of all things, for an ungracious Terry Christian). Compensation did come, however, with the opportunity to interview the Lord High Priest of Vegetarianism, Morrissey (naturally, a "Meat Is Murder" T-shirt was donned for the occasion).
Back to the queue in McDonald's. Edging closer to the front - still no sign of remorse to make a last-minute killjoy appearance. However, a show of remorse would only really be allowed on grounds of nostalgia for an adolescent era, when idealism was the main player. But major changes in principles have taken place since then: idealism has been substituted off, scepticism is the new star striker in town. It took scepticism a while to settle in, but once it found form it was only a matter of time before vegetarianism was hounded off the pitch.
"Can I take your order please?" Only one obstacle now stood between me and my McDonald's: the scare stories. According to such legends, a sudden return to meat-eating prompts a violent bodily reaction: instant vomiting, days of diarrhoea - tales luridly deployed as the final defence to keep the potential defector inside the camp. Those afflicted by such complaints should have possessed the foresight to renounce their vegetarianism at a McDonald's. Picking a lovingly prepared 7oz sirloin steak is just asking for trouble, when opting for a cheeseburger even keeps open the possibility that no meat is going to be ingested. The first bite did rekindle certain memories amongst the taste-buds: not from the distant days of care-free childhood carnivorism, but of a Veggie Whopper last month at a Burger King by King's Cross station. It was something of a disappointment just how close the imitation burger had come to emulating the genuine article. Maybe a tad saltier, a little rougher to chew, but no major reunion with long-lost taste sensations. And no vomiting or diarrhoea.
Considering the sacrifice involved in maintaining principles, they are enticingly cheap to dispose of - 69p in this case. Having decided to make diet and belief congruous once again, there was something deeply satisfying about sacrificing vegetarianism by dining with the devil of days gone-by, Ronald McDonald.
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