Wednesday, 15 June 2005

Vegetarian? What's that about?

I am French and the French can find it difficult to understand the concept of being a vegetarian. A lot of them (or rather us) equate vegetarian with someone who doesn't eat red meat. The problem is it's very difficult to convince people from a country where every region has a number of meat based traditional dishes, such as choucroute in Alsace or foie gras in Dordogne, that there are people who don't eat meat at all; and that it's a choice that they made rather than a strange illness they have.

So this article about 100% vegan sneakers on SimpleBits reminded me of an hilarious incident that happened a few years ago.

My company had decided to have a kick off event in France, in the small resort town of Le Touquet, in Normandy. Normandy is known for D-Day, hearty dishes, full fat cream and butter, camembert cheese, calvados, William the Conqueror and the amazing ability of its inhabitants to ingest vast quantities of alcohol. The people there are extremely welcoming, of the type who enjoy a good meal and a good party immensely and are suspicious of people who don't. Knowing this, we made sure to tell them we had 3 vegetarians in our party. One evening, we are ready to enjoy yet another great meal. We all get our dishes and the vegetarians amongst us as well. I can't remember what the meat eating option was but the vegetarian one was a quiche: the traditional type with cheese and bacon in it. Sensing that something was amiss, one of the guys called the waiter over:

‘Excuse me! Is this the vegetarian meal?’

‘Yes it is,’ answers the waiter.

‘But it's a quiche.’


‘It's got bacon in it.’


‘So it can't be vegetarian.’

‘Yes, it is vegetarian.’

‘But it's got bacon! Bacon is meat. If it's vegetarian, it can't have meat in it so it can't be vegetarian!’

‘Yes, it is vegetarian.’

And so on for a few minutes, until the waiter exclaims:

‘But it's only small pieces of bacon!’

We didn't try to explain the concept behind the word vegan.


Terry Majamaki said...

Very funny. There are plenty of people in this world that think and/or say they are vegetarian since they don't eat any red meat, yet the don't realize that being vegetarian or vegan means no meat at all, none. Their food can't have anything to do with any type of meat, it can never touch meat.

Anonymous said...

Travelling in Southeast Asia with a vegetarian friend we encountered similar problems. The locals couldn't believe that the (to them) fabulously wealthy Europeans wouldn't expect to eat meat with every meal. So even a dish like "stir-fried vegetables" would have some chopped meat added to it before it reached the table.

Anonymous said...

Yep, you do get all kinds of strange looks when you say you don't eat meat! And vegans.. oh la la. A few years ago I lived in France, and I remember once when I tried to order a simple pasta dish. "What do you mean 'is there any egg in the pasta'?", "What do you mean 'no cheese, please'?" and so on. Lo and behold, fifteen minutes later, the waiter comes back with a dish full of shaved cheese on top. "What do you mean 'no cheese'?". He eventually took the dish away, shaking his head, only to come back later with what was obviously the same dish, with the cheese simply roughly scraped off! I don't think he quite wanted to grasp the concept..