One in three people has reduced meat consumption in the past year, according to the British Social Attitudes survey. Reading that, I recalled an article I wrote for The Independent on Sunday in December 1994, which began: “In the all-time rankings of bad jobs to have, that of turkey masturbator must come fairly high.”
The piece concerned a campaign against the practice whereby a male turkey is manually stimulated to obtain his semen for breeding. After publication, I received a message from Britain’s most famous vegetarian: Paul McCartney. Would I like to write something about my own vegetarianism for his fanclub magazine? I had to admit that, in spite of turkey masturbation, I was not a vegetarian, but it was agreed I would write about how I was thinking of becoming one.
I am still thinking about it. The arguments on health grounds are getting stronger, but I resist them out of superstition. (The excessively “clean eater” is inviting a piano to fall on her head, I think.) I do find the humanitarian and environmental arguments highly persuasive, but while they dictate the direction of travel, it’s smaller things that nudge me forwards.
Twenty years ago I read an article by Craig Brown in which he described consuming a full English breakfast as being “like eating a carpet”. The sheer rightness of this prompted me to begin asking, when breakfasting in hotels, “You don’t have a kipper, do you?” which has the added benefit of making me feel like a rather epicurean character. I still eat bacon, but less of it after spending a week in France, eating oeufs au plat every morning. This came with a sliver of ham and two or even three fried eggs. So now there are more eggs than bacon rashers on my plate, an inversion of the formula I had thought set in stone.
I’ve also veered away from pâté ever since the proprietor of the deli where I used to by my lunch diagnosed my tastes. “You like soft things, don’t you?” she said, after years of serving me liver pâté sandwiches. It seemed a damning verdict, especially since I was being advised, for unmentionable reasons, to eat more roughage; so I began to buy paper cupfuls of three-bean salad. A few years later that shop closed, but it occurred to me that the nearby kebab shop was open at lunchtimes, and that you don’t have to be drunk to eat a kebab as long as it’s a vegetarian kebab. I now frequently have hummus and salad in pitta, although I don’t think the kebab man approves. He always has to ask his colleague the price, and he never calls me “boss”, whereas any bloke who walks in and asks for a large doner is rewarded with a “Coming up, boss”.
I speculate, Sir Paul, that I will be vegetarian within a decade – which is a fat lot of good, I know, to the animals I will eat in the meantime.
Andrew Martin’s latest novel is 'The Yellow Diamond', published by Faber
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