I’m Vegetarian, not awkward

I don’t normally write response pieces to articles in national newspapers, but I felt that this vent had to go somewhere. I recently saw this Guardian piece posted on Facebook, that has since promoted some debate (and ignorant comments too.) As I’ve got older I’ve tried to avoid justifying myself or my decisions and choices to other people, because quite frankly it’s none of their business and I shouldn’t have to offer explanations of things they should just accept. But this article has prompted me to make that justification.

The author discusses accessibility, and how they feel that restaurants do not have to meet people’s needs. Opening with ‘You don’t like the menu, you know what to do.’ This immediately demonises vegetarians and anyone who has a diet that is not seen as ‘normal.’ This includes many of my friends who will get ill if they eat certain ingrediants. It also makes anyone who has specific needs feel difficult or that they have a problem, including those with disabilities or any access requirements. The truth is that anyone who holds views other than a need to be inclusive are the problem.

I’ve grown up as a vegetarian, and whilst I have never eaten meat or have any desire to, I have been met with some hostility, confusion and often bafflement around my diet choices. I found this most extreme, age 14 when I became vegan for a short time and my friends on a summer camp decided to hide my vegan chocolate I’d brought away with me.

Like the article, people’s reactions to me choosing not to eat a steak or have a bacon sandwich for breakfast, have made me feel awkward, as if I’m a problem or making a fuss. I’ve felt different most of my life, being a clumsy, slightly hippy, vegetarian certainly made me stand out at school. People’s amazement when I say I’m veggie is quite something. So you’ve never eaten meat? Not even a burger? What DO you eat? so you survive on vegetables then? As if they think vegetarians are some weird breed of rabbit, munching on lettuce all day. Just for the record – we don’t. And even if we did, why does it concern you so much?

Being able to go out for a meal and find at least one decent veggie option on a menu is a rarity, but it shouldn’t be such luxury. Vegetarians have as much right to choice as the next person. It is also significantly cheeper to buy veggie food than meat, so there shouldn’t be a financial implication. Menus that are clearly labelled also help, so you aren’t looked at as if you’re an alien from another planet when asking for alternatives. ‘How dare you ask for meat-free options?’ I imagine them thinking, as my request appears to be seen as awkward or a hindrance to their day. People who eat meat can and do eat vegetarian food, you only need to be at the back of the buffet queue to realise that the limited veggie options tend to go first, often leaving me and other vegetarians who can’t get to the front quick enough with little to eat.

People’s reaction towards me being veggie has made me come to the decision to avoid mentioning it to people unless I really have to. I was far more vocal about the reasons behind my vegetarianism when I was younger, but as the years have gone by and the teasing continued, I’ve become less talkative about why.

The article goes deeper into accessibility and what this means, saying that a peanut allergy affects 1% of the population and therefore they shouldn’t provide nut free deserts because they are a small part of the population. Is this saying that because minority groups – are well minorities,  we shouldn’t cater for them? Would it be okay to offer this same treatment to someone in a wheelchair? To say, well not many physically disabled people come here, so I’m not going to provide an accessible toilet? I think not.

The author mentions people ‘whinging’ about loud music, small print, lighting to name a few. A number of things that can affect people with hidden disabilities, and shouldn’t be snubbed at as if they are a small child having a tantrum.

I recently had a run in with a man on a spiral staircase.

“You’re meant to walk on the left” he said. As he came down the same side of the stairs as I was going up them.

‘But there’s no handrail on that side, and if I let go I’ll fall over” I shouted back.

I have Dyspraxia, affecting spacial awareness, so I will literally fall over if I don’t hold onto something  while I’m going up and down stairs. Spiral staircases are also a nightmare for dyspraxics. I shouldn’t have to explain or justify myself to a rude, ignorant man or anyone – there should be accessible facilities in place.

If we add all of the so called ‘minority’ groups together, they would make up the majority. A majority that have as much right for their needs to be met as everyone else. To be able to go out, feel comfortable and not feel awkward.

The article concludes ‘a restaurant does not have to give a damn about you and your needs’ Well I say that they do.

Its not hard to offer reasonable adjustments, accommodations or to provide alternatives on a menu, and we shouldn’t have to constantly explain ourselves to other people.

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