By Susanna Jacobs
What is it about me, men and meat? Sometimes, women can have a strange effect on men. Some women make men leave their wives; others make them eat meat. I seem to be one of the latter. I seem to make men eat meat!
This is not an intentional act on my part but over the years I have noticed a pattern emerging amongst supposedly vegetarian male friends of mine; the sudden urge to eat meat. It’s not even that I love meat myself; I much prefer the meatless option when cooking. I got really paranoid for a while, thinking that I unintentionally had the power to turn vegetarian males into ravenous carnivores.
After closer inspection of this phenomenon I came up with some answers as to why this change in eating behavior should suddenly occur. Firstly I discovered that I had been arrogant in assuming that this practice had anything to do with me. Instead, this sudden change of heart (excuse the meaty reference) can be attributed to a number of defining factors.
Picture the scene; it’s an unseasonably hot summer’s day in the midlands of England. You’ve drunk a couple of pints during the afternoon in a beer garden, with the rest of the city; the sun and beer have made you lazy and you really can’t be bothered to think about making anything to eat later. Although you’ve eaten three packets of crisps, your appetite hasn’t been satisfied. Your friend tells you about a barbecue that his neighbor is having later that evening and suddenly your hunger prayers have been answered; the fact that meat tends to be the main ingredient in the average barbecue gives you no cause for concern. After all, someone else is cooking – you don’t have to – its summer, plus you’re feeling that pleasant buzz of a few beers; it’s a recipe for success.
You arrive at the barbecue only to discover (!) that the menu consists solely of meat, meat and a bit of limp salad – looking like it’s been waiting patiently in the fridge for the arrival of the British summer.
You’re hunger is increasing and you know that the salad is going to be no match for it. You look at the barbecue; there is something lying on it that resembles what you remember – from childhood – as being a sausage. But at the same time thinly disguised; it’s black! Curiosity suddenly gets the better of you; memories of picnics and fry-ups you had as a child come flooding back. One little sausage won’t hurt; you think to yourself???
You are completely unaware that, in a moment of meaty madness, you have unintentionally arrived at the top of a slippery slope; one little sausage today? a full English breakfast tomorrow. There’s no turning back! Maybe this behavior is a symptom of S.A.D. The sudden appearance of the sun effecting a radical change in a person’s behavior?
The sun could also be a contributory factor in another potential meat eating scenario. You’ve managed to get a really cheap last minute package holiday bargain, and I mean bargain. You arrive on a Greek Island and are greeted by sun, sand and something marinating and smelling quite tasty. You’re abroad; you’re feeling adventurous; when in Rome?. (unless of course you’re one of those poor unfortunates that wants chips with everything).
You want to try something local but you can only understand the items on the menu that correspond with those in your phrasebook; the main ingredients being lamb or pork. You decide to try out your language skills and ask the waiter what vegetarian dishes the restaurant serves; you’re not quite sure if he’s understood you because the only word you recognize in his response is ‘salad’. It’s hot and you really enjoy salads, but, man can not live by salad alone. Can he? After all, look what happened at the barbecue!
Fortunately the restaurant has gone to the trouble of providing picture menus for just such an occasion. You spot one dish that seems to fit your requirements and it has vegetables on top, plus it looks really tasty. Surely any meat within will be heavily disguised by the chef’s culinary magic.
Little do you realize at this stage that it’s only a small gastronomic step from mince to craving for a more recognizable part of the animal. The combination of a new culture, new language and the sun can have strange effects on a person.
Some scenarios, however, do not easily fit the sun maketh the man a carnivore theory. There are also other forces at work.
We’ve all been there; rushed out to the pub without – perhaps unwisely – previously coating our stomachs’ with something with which to absorb the imminent onslaught of alcohol. At this point, hunger is not even a consideration, you have bigger fish to fry and they are made of lager. A few hours later, when the landlord has politely (!) informed you that the laws of the land forbid him from adding to your already inebriated state, your thoughts suddenly turn to food. Your mouth has been the focus of attention for the entire evening and why would you neglect it now? The realization that you haven’t eaten since lunchtime suddenly serves as ample justification for a visit to your favorite chippy. You look up at the menu in the hope that they are serving the ‘scabby horse’ you’ve heard so much about, but to no avail. The fact that the entire population of the city seems to have chosen your chippy to satisfy their own post-pub cravings, is somewhat annoying but gives you ample time to study the menu in detail. Chips with peas or curry sauce, you just can’t decide, the two options don’t seem very appealing. The alcohol seems to have dulled the part of your brain needed to make decisions. You look at the guy next to you, who seems to have got to the chippy ahead of the mass and is happily tucking in to his prize.
‘What’s that you’ve got there?’
The guy is far too busy eating to be bothered or even able to reply, after all he’s not here to socialize; but it doesn’t matter, the decision has been made, ‘I’ll have one of those!’
What had formerly been considered the Devil’s food has now taken on qualities of ambrosia. Some would argue that this variety of kebab, Donner, is only edible when one is pissed and one should certainly never even try and guess what it contains. I can only assume that, for most people the appeal is in the combination of synthetic sauces under which the Donner meat is served.
Could this scenario be classed as nonconsensual? After all you’re not completely aware of your actions, thus cannot be held responsible for them.
Of course, all the above scenarios are based on the fact that in many circumstances there are still limited options for the vegetarian diner. How much Vegetable Lasagne can a person eat? Many restaurants still advertise this as their ‘vegetarian option’. Am I mistaken in believing that in order for there to be an option it has to be pitted against at least one other option?
And at home; I’m sure the less enlightened still find the ‘we can take out the meat’ of a lovingly prepared Coq au Vin or Goulash, an acceptable dish for their vegetarian guest. Or of course the unintentional faux pas of preparing an exquisite meaty dinner for 12 guests, one of them being your friend’s new girlfriend, and he’s neglected to tell you she’s a vegetarian?. ‘Oh, are you? Pete never said! I can make you an omelette’.
Even in the supermarkets and specialist health shops, vegetarian alternatives such as Quorn and tofu, are so ridiculously expensive that for some vegetarians they can only be eaten as a treat!
I do not claim that all vegetarians are open to this kind of change of direction. In the 21st century the sensible option would be not to eat meat given some of the discoveries of the late 20th century.
Is meat the enemy? It seems to slip in when you least expect it! It spots it’s pray and attacks when they are at their most vulnerable, unable to defend. Or perhaps this is just the food chain’s ironic idea of a joke; turning the culinary tables.
© Susanna J Jacobs 2002
Susanna Jacobs is a writer of both reviews and general observational pieces. Her particular area of interest is cinema, in which she has a Masters. She currently lives and works in Barcelona, Spain.