When I was born in 1987, my mother had already been a vegetarian for quite some time. I can't remember how many years previous she had been, but after seeing a documentary about factory farming, she gave up eating meat, fish and already hated milk anyway.
So when her first-born (that's me) was brought into the world (she loves that phrase), she decided it best to raise me as a vegetarian. I'm fortunate enough to have four younger siblings, and the two girls in my family have remained strict vegetarians their whole lives, compared to my brothers who jumped at the chance to try meat at the first opportunity they were given (when they could start to make decisions for themselves, something I still struggle to do properly).
Growing up, being a vegetarian had it's advantages. The best being that at primary school, if you were a 'veggie', you were allowed to skip the dinner line queue and got first dibs on lunch, back when they tasted great. That meant that no matter how late you were getting to the canteen (I was always there like a shot), you could skip straight to the queue and lap up whatever vegetarian option was being served up way before any of the 'meaties' could say "chicken". VIP school dinners, as it were. Oh, how a psychologist would have a thrilled day with that.
Unfortunately, such privileges were lost once I began secondary school, and as testosterone levels were at an all-time high in an era where it wasn't acceptable for boys to be in touch with their feminine side, it was a struggle to be one of the smallest kids in the class (most likely due to the lack of any protein in my diet). I faced an uphill struggle with even my closest friends, who would come up to me and tease me about being a vegetarian - I remember one boy actually shoving a hamburger into my face and going "ooh, bet you wish you could eat this, don't you?!"
The only problem was, I didn't. I'd accidentally been given fish fingers at primary school and was violently sick immediately after. I'd never purposely tried meat and I definitely had never wanted to. However, as I entered the last year of secondary school, my curiosities had gotten the better of me. I'd established myself as 'the vegetarian', so when I finally revealed I was going to try meat, it was the teenage equivalent of man walking on the moon. Dozens gathered round as I bought a greasy, sloppy sausage roll from the school cafeteria and watched me wince as I bit into it and tried to hide my disgust at how fucking foul it tasted. It was a truly awful, rank experience. Like eating gone-off Quorn, it put me off for a good couple of years further until I finally found my weakness: le Big Mac.
McDonald's is the biggest fast food restaurant for a reason. Their marketing is devilishly brilliant. From an early age, you are suckered in thanks to the promotional toys you get with their Happy Meals, to the 99p Pound Saver menu to the amount of salt and sugar they pour into the food to make someone with a sweet tooth (me) crave it on a regular basis. As a young boy, my mum would take us to McDonald's and ask for a plain bun with a bit of lettuce and relish so we could still have the Happy Meals (she even told me a weird subversive white lie that Ronald McDonald was a vegetarian), but I'd always wanted to try a proper Extra Value Meal. They just looked magical and whatever they put in that special Big Mac sauce has meant that I've secretly been eating them for years now, whilst at the same time waving my vegetarian flag.
Much to the annoyance of anybody who has discovered the truth, I've been a 'fake vegetarian' for a few years now. Over the past few years, I've found myself finding it easier to eat processed meats such as sausages, pizzas and burgers, but for some reason I still can't eat any proper meat. I definitely hate chicken and won't touch fish. This is where I hope to shake up my eating habits and open up an entire new world of food delicacies and try to discover "what I've been missing" for a quarter century of my life. The only problem lies in a mental block I have towards meat that I know is meat. I can hide a meat patty inside a bun and cover it with relish and salad and in turn, mask my guilt. You can't do that with a steak. And I've tried.
There's also another problem; Not only do I need to mentally prepare for it, but I also will need to make sure to stock up on extra Andrex for the bathroom as my previous dalliances with introducing meat to my stomach have not ended up very well (if you catch my drift, no pun intended).
Most people usually go the other way from meat to vegetarianism, and that's cool. I think being a vegetarian is a brilliant lifestyle choice. These days there is so much variety and in some aspects, is more economical. My keenness to try to 'ween' myself into eating decent meat dishes is that I as much as I love living animals, I am apathetic once they're dead. After all, I can't do anything to stop them even if I wish I could (sorry PETA). Even as I write this, and consider the thought of stomaching the challenge of eating a beef stroganoff or a pork belly, I feel repulsed. I'm stuck just living in denial. They need to open up a support group for people like me; "Hi, my name's Ronnie, and I think I'm a vegetarian."
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