Table Manners

Dear Inga la Gringa,

Is it rude to plead vegetarianism when you’re a guest in a New Zealander’s home and he serves up some lamb chops?

Fellow Vegetarian

Dearest Fellow Vegetarian,


This is one of my all-time scariest travelling scenarios. It actually happened to me once in the southern United States. A woman who owned a restaurant pressed her gumbo — which was positively teeming with flesh — on me.

I was terribly hungry and having a hard time finding something on the menu. The woman was one of the nicest, most caring individuals I’ve ever encountered, and she had a devil of a time understanding how I kept myself nourished, lamented that I had no meat on my bones and informed me that if she were my mother, I would never sit in a restaurant staring at a menu like a goddamn nincompoop for twenty minutes. I told her I don’t eat meat, but she walked away from the table, waving her hand in the air, saying, “Child, you just sit tight, I’ll get you something to eat.” I was terrified that she would return with a big plate of catfish or ham or something, but she came back with this steaming bowl of gumbo, saying, “This is my great-grandmom’s special recipe. People come from miles around to eat this gumbo.”

I knew I couldn’t eat that gumbo, but on the other hand, I knew if my Grammy was there with me, she would have smacked me upside the head if I refused to accept the manifest kindness of a sweethearted woman.

I ate all of it.

The woman kept checking in on my progress, and telling me my mother would be so happy to see me eating right so far away from home. I think I should have gotten an Academy Award for my role as a young lady enjoying her food. Of course, I later vomited. My digestive system could not, by any stretch of the imagination, accommodate that gumbo.

Vegetarianism exists at an interesting crossroads. It is either a luxury, a necessity, or part of a religion. No one believes that a United States of American doesn’t eat meat because they can’t get it. I don’t know of any vegetarians who don’t eat meat because it’s economically unviable. Meat is cheap and plentiful in the United States. There are poor people here who exist on 49¢ Whoppers and the like. And few people would believe that someone from the U.S. doesn’t eat meat because of their religion. Like it or not, the United States is globally represented as a Christian country. Christians eat meat.

My vegetarianism is a calibrated reflection of the country I am from. Not only does the United States have an abundance of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Hebrew and secular vegetarian food, but it is one of the biggest reasons why many other countries don’t have enough food at all. Begging off a meal in the name of vegetarianism is akin to flaunting your position as a resident in the wealthiest nation on the planet. It is ostentatious and ungracious. In many countries, meat is a huge expense, and is purchased (or slaughtered) only on special occasions.

So yes, it’s rude to plead vegetarianism.

Vomiting up a meal someone has served you is also the height of rudeness, not to mention sacreligion. But if you — like myself — haven’t eaten meat, fish or poultry in over fifteen years, you’ll find it will tear your insides up and make you extremely flatulent afterwards. And I’m not talking a little “poof” here and there, I’m talking ass burning farts that steam up your entire vicinity and do not stop for at least 24 hours.

While it is also extremely wrong to eat knowing you will puke up the warm, loving food that some wonderful soul has prepared for you, your health and ability to function socially are jeopardized if you somehow manage to keep it down. At least, this way your host doesn’t have to necessarily witness your rudeness, and if he/she were to find out that you barfed, maybe then you would have a chance to sheepishly explain that you didn’t want to offend them, but you haven’t eaten meat in fifteen years and you wanted to try and eat it because it was prepared with such love and caring, but you just couldn’t keep it down, please forgive you. If this were me, I would probably cry a little, and hold my stomach in pain while I said all this.

This could potentially put you in a position to show the host how very much you appreciate them and their food, while at the same time inspiring their pity. I admit this is manipulative behavior, but when you are from the United States, there are prices to pay. I am sorry.

Still, I don’t know how I could pull off eating a whole lamb chop. Gumbo isn’t as bad as a slab of meat that you have to cut with a knife and chew for ten minutes just to get one bite down.

If the vomiting option is, for whatever reason, out, make up some religion that says you and your entire family will die miserable deaths for seven generations if you eat those lamb chops. Don’t say you’re a specific vegetarian religion unless either a) you are, or b) you know enough about it to answer questions about “your” beliefs. Your host might study religions of the world as a hobby.

Perhaps the only other out here is if your New Zealand host happened to be white, very wealthy, and the food was not prepared by either his hands, or those of a family member. In this situation, the host has an abundance of food and is probably somehow exploiting human lives and the earth’s resources. In this situation, I wouldn’t feel too bad about saying I don’t eat meat.

Inga la Gringa
Veggie’s Nightmare

avant garde travel advice

"Vegetarianism exists at an interesting crossroads. It is either a luxury, a necessity, or part of a religion"

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