Vegetarian intentions: My long and winding road to forsaking meat

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

I recalled an article I wrote which began: “In the all-time rankings of bad jobs to have, that of turkey masturbator must come fairly high.”
I recalled an article I wrote which began: “In the all-time rankings of bad jobs to have, that of turkey masturbator must come fairly high.”

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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