"Well, sir, the roast beef comes
with vegetables", the girl behind the counter helpfully
I was in a pub in county Carlow,
the meat and potato heart of Ireland, and I had just made the
mistake of trying to order a vegetarian meal.
Although I was
not a strict vegetarian, and would gladly have accepted fish and
chips, they seemed to have run out. The vegetable sandwich on the
menu was totally out of the question: they didn't serve it on
Sundays. And as for the classic Irish vegetarian option, the
vegetarian lasagna, it simply wasn't on the menu at all. It
seemed it was roast beef or nothing.
My friends and I
were on our way back form a wild weekend in Kilkenny, and had
agreed to stop in Carlow for lunch and so I could add another
county to my growing list.
My friends had
been attracted by a pub offering a roast beef supper.
Unfortunately for me, it seemed that roast beef was about the
only thing they offered.
I had only been
a vegetarian for about a year at that point, and had never been
overly strict about it. My concerns stemmed more from land and
water use than any animal rights concerns. I had continued to eat
fish, a necessary concession in a country which usually offered
few vegetarian options. I had also been willing to make
exceptions in my travels for 'cultural reasons', in order to try
a local dish that contained meat or to accept the hospitality of
a home-cooked meal, which at an Irish table was almost certain to
As for potatoes,
I had had more than my share. An Irish pub meal would often come
accompanied with potatoes prepared 3 or 4 different ways. I liked
to joke with my Irish friends that they hadn't learned much from
I had actually
met a surprising number of vegetarians in Ireland. There seemed
to be something of a backlash against the all-consuming meat and
potatoes culture. In Dublin, there were not shortage of
restaurants that offered vegetarian options. However, this
revolution had yet to hit most small-town or country pubs.
And so, on this
occasion, I was tempted to give in, make a 'cultural exception',
and "try the beef", an essential part of Irish culture.
Unfortunately, my friend Pericles was having none of it. He was a
man of ideals, and damned if he wasn't going to make me stick to
mine too. And so, as we sipped our pints, he came up with the odd
compromise of having me order the roast beef lunch, and trade my
beef for his vegetables. It was more of a face-saving gesture
than anything else. No less beef was consumed as a result, but I
didn't have to eat any of it. Well, sort of. While Pericles had
enough meat on his plate to induce an instant heart attack, mine
was piled high with a mountain of vegetables and potatoes, all
lovingly nestled in a sea of gravy and meat juice. I may not have
got the beef, but I must admit, I did enjoy that gravy.