“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
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 contain meat.
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 the famine.
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.
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