Saturday, December 20, 2014

Veggies vs carnivores

I was in Bakewell’s answer to a health food shop yesterday buying broken mixed nuts, and the assistant said “A lot of people have been after those this week. I wonder why.”
“You’re obviously not a vegetarian,” I said. “Or a cook. They’re for nut roasts.”
“I am a vegetarian. And I cook. But my partner has a nut allergy.”
So that put me in my place. But it made me think about cooking at least two Christmas dinners next Thursday – one for the carnivores (Brian, Gil and me) and one for the veggies (Zoe, Tate and the family member who declines to be named.) Dave won’t be eating anything other than his usual grub (various oddments, and a lot of natural yoghurt.)

If you’re embarking on the Christmas cook and you’re catering for different diets, you might like to read this piece I wrote for The Times so long time ago that my writer’s voice has changed.
Veggie Talk
Did you ever see that episode of The Royle Family, where Anthony brought home his vegetarian girlfriend at Christmas, and Nana asked “Can she eat wafer thin ham?”? In spite of the increase in the number of people saying they are vegetarians, misunderstanding is rife as to what exactly that means.
The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as "Someone who does not eat meat, poultry, game or fish, and who also avoids slaughterhouse products such as gelatine and animal fats. Most vegetarians eat dairy products and free range eggs."
I write this as a carnivore, bred in the bone. I was brought up on a farm where animals were for milking, fleecing or eating. Oh yes, and for stealing eggs from. Mine was a large family, and when we left the farm for life in the suburbs, meat became scarce through lack of funds and therefore all the more prized. My father would carve and serve the Sunday roast and then sit back, grasping the carving knife and fork, and say: “Does anybody feel hard done by?” It was a brave child who asked for more. When the first course was over, he would choose one of us to carry the meat out. To make sure that we didn’t pick at it while out of sight, we had to whistle all the way to the pantry and back. That way my father knew we had not been picking off precious juicy bits and scoffing them.
Much to my father’s bafflement, I married a vegetarian, and we had three children who also chose to be vegetarians, so I have been sharing a kitchen with vegetarians for many years. We don’t have any upsets over ingredients because they know they can trust me not to contaminate their food with meat, fish or animal products.

Here are some tips for mixed catering….
To banish problems from parties it’s best to keep meat, and food containing meat, on separate plates, and to clearly label the vegetarian dishes. And please make sure you know which is which. At a conference once, my husband was assured by hotel staff that a curry was vegetarian, but on taking his first mouthful he discovered he was eating chicken.
Some of my vegetarian friends who have lived with meat-eaters say that sharing a kitchen can be difficult. Hannah says grills in particular are a nightmare: flatmates grill bacon and sausages and leave the grill pan unwashed and “the veggie wanting to cook their own food has to start by cleaning the grill of revolting meat fat.”
She also complained about what happens with shared celebratory meals. The carnivores will cook a large meat dish, and the veggies will cook special vegetarian fodder usually in smaller quantities because there are fewer of them. The carnivores will then say “Ooh, that looks nice. Can I try some?” with the result that there are tiny rations for the veggies, because the sharing cannot be reciprocal. “The carnivores then add insult to injury by whacking all the left-overs on the same plate, so that bacon rolls are nestling up against roast potatoes, which someone had originally been considerate enough to cook in vegetable oil.”
If you are a carnivore you may think that this sensitivity about keeping foods separate is a bit precious. But a person who finds the very idea of eating meat repellent may not want to eat anything touched by it. And someone brought up in a household where meat is not eaten for religious reasons may think of meat as unclean. When a fellow guest at a party dips a sausage in the houmous there may well not be any meat residue left, but it could feel like the equivalent of someone dipping a severed finger in there.
Even some carnivores will have foods they prefer to avoid for serious reasons. Because of concerns about animal welfare, I only buy eggs and meat that are free range. Many people want nothing to do with genetically modified foods.
We each have our own individual sensibilities. When my son was six he found a dead squirrel on the pavement and wanted to take it to school for show and tell. Unfortunately, this was during half term, so my husband wrapped the perfectly intact body in several layers of plastic bags and put it in our freezer to preserve it. A couple of my friends were horrified. Another friend scoffed at their attitude but did complain when her detective husband started to keep bits of evidence in their home freezer.
But back at the table, can I make a plea for veggies to show equal tolerance towards meat-eaters? Even if vegetarians consider themselves to have the moral high ground, they should behave with impeccable politeness. On the rare occasions when I do cook meat for myself at home, it is extremely irritating to hear someone calling from another part of the house: “What’s that disgusting stench of burning flesh?

· begin by sorting out the ground rules as to what is acceptable practice
· store meat covered, and on the bottom shelf of the fridge
· place a large plate under thawing meat to prevent blood dripping into the salad drawer
· reserve a separate chopping board for meat preparation
· always clean the grill after using it
· consider having two frying pans and two sets of utensils and cooking tins
· if you have a double oven, consider cooking meat in only one section
· when frying meat, shield other items from spitting fat
· wash up with more care than usual
When cooking shared food
· substitute vegetable oils, vegetable suet or butter, for lard and dripping
· use vegetable bouillon powder or vegetable stock cubes for flavouring
· check ingredients of prepared food to avoid animal by-products. e.g. many yoghurts and mousses contain gelatine, and bought pastry and biscuits may contain animal fats
At parties
· keep foods containing meat and fish on separate plates from vegetarian food
· label food clearly

© Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2014


Anonymous said...

Totally understand this problem. When I told my gran I didn't eat meat she immediately scrapped the inners from a steak and kidney pie and gave me the pastry shell!

Sue Hepworth said...

That's hilarious!