No country for vegetarians

2012-03-24 14:05

For some reason people always ask why you’re vegetarian just as they’re about to tuck into their meaty mains.

I tend to skip the bit about the battery farming, debeaking and mutilation of their chicken, and the effect of methane gases and deforestation from animal farming. Even if I dislike you, I won’t easily tell you what I witnessed at fish farms while you’re making little noises of joy at your sushi platter.

My standard line is that it happened in India. Travelling through Tamil Nadu, I saw men selling chickens. Making do without cages, they’d tied half a dozen together by the feet and dumped them on their backs, writhing on the hot road. That night I ordered a curry, took a mouthful and remembered the chickens. I haven’t eaten
meat since.

India is the easiest place in the world to become vegetarian. Between the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains there’s a cosmos of incredible dishes on offer. Back in Joburg, I’ve become the kind of person who’d rather cook at home than be subjected to random restaurant fare.

The other day I actually had to ask a lunch eatery if they could specially make me a vegetarian salad. South Africans love to add meat to everything. Or worse, put things in phyllo baskets.

Yet a road trip through the Free State and Eastern Cape in December last year made me long for that phyllo basket. Don’t get me started on Smithfield, that home away from home for ad execs who are burnt out on cocaine. I ate at its top restaurant, The Famous Pig Out. Some woman drove to Woolworths in Bloemfontein, bought a salad and served it just like that at 10 times the cost.

Perhaps my mistake was wearing a Black Like Me T-shirt, but I felt more than a little unwelcome in Reddersburg, home of the Sarie Marais Hotel. It was in Aliwal North that I finally grew tired of Niknaks and agreed to stop for dinner. The Virtulicious Car Wash offered only shisa nyama, and the exclusive guest farms took meal reservations 24 hours in advance. The Orange Gecko offered a stunning view of the Orange River.

Its speciality was the carnivore pizza: meatballs, salami, sausage, mince, steak strips and barbecue sauce. It was attractive compared to the clientele of drunk farmers’ kids. Then I spotted the Inca Spur. Salad valley! I hadn’t had one since Dallas was on TV. To my dismay, Spur had “upgraded” its menu. They dumped the salad valley and introduced a vegetarian platter with “an oven-baked quiche, filled with a medley of vegetables”. If I had thrown said quiche against a wall it would’ve ricocheted and taken out a five-year-old’s eye.

Reaching Grahamstown, I was starving by the time I sat for a good hotel breakfast.

“No sausage or bacon?” asked the waiter.

“No thanks, I’m vegetarian.”

His bewilderment gave way to sadness.

“Vegetarian? Oh. Okay. Shame.”

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