Some time ago, shortly after moving out of the family home and into a flat of her own, my daughter Ivy invited myself and my husband out for a meal with her and her boyfriend. Tension between Ivy and the rest of the family had been running high in the months leading up to her making the decision to move out. I hated feeling so at odds with my daughter and so powerless to do anything about it. The meal invitation was an ideal opportunity to rebuild relationships and move towards a more harmonious future.
She took us to a very nice country pub with a reputation for good food. She had dined there before with her boyfriend's family and sung high praise for the shallot and goats cheese tartlet - a shining light in an otherwise limited vegetarian menu. On her previous visit, she had been given a mystery sealed envelope containing a voucher for up to 100% off the bill, which she intended to use for our night out.
The pub was lovely. We were seated near to a log fire which was very cosy and shelves of old books added to the charm. I was hungry and ready for my tartlet.
I scanned the menu.
Ivy's expression was one of confusion. They had changed the menu.
I didn't have my reading glasses but I was sure I could find an appetising alternative. With a combination of holding the menu at arm's length to accommodate my focus, trying different angles to get the best light for reading and asking my fellow diners "what does that say?" it became clear that there was actually NOTHING vegetarian that didn't involve pasta (boring), risotto (stodgy and bland) or beetroot (plain gross). I was struggling. I did not want to spoil Ivy's treat for us by suggesting we try a different restaurant (she did have her mystery voucher for this one).
My husband is easy. He eats a mostly vegetarian diet but will happily eat (and enjoy) meat occasionally. It is his firm opinion that this is the healthiest approach to nutrition. He chose traditional pub grub - fish and chips.
Ivy's boyfriend chose lamb and Ivy picked one of the vegetarian dishes. I was starting to feel a bit panicky that I still hadn't a clue what to choose. There was a quiche which I was leaning towards. It contained bacon but it wasn't like eating a rump steak. I convinced myself it was vegetarian with a hint of meat. The pint of ale I was drinking on an empty stomach helped with my delusion.
I announced (with justification) that this was what I wanted but almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I had doubts. If I was going to eat meat anyway, why make my selection based on the dish that seemed 'least meaty'. Why not go for it and chose something unashamedly meaty - something that for all my years as a vegetarian I have harboured cravings for - something that kept jumping out of the menu to tease me. I blurted - NO! I've changed my mind!!
With a deep breath for courage, I ordered the Gloucester Old Spot sausages with creamy mash, seasonal vegetables and onion gravy.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth (again)... I felt guilty.
Despite further fortification with my ale, I was plagued with indecision. It was probably getting pretty boring for the rest of the party by now, so a coin was tossed.
The head of our royal majesty declared that tonight, I would be dining on .... Gloucester Old Spot Sausages. Without the feeling of guilt to dry my saliva, I felt mouthwateringly excited.
I thoroughly enjoyed my meal (which was a far cry from our usual Quorn sausages) and Ivy's mystery voucher entitled her to a 50% reduction in the bill (happy Ivy!)
Last week, during a trip to our local organic farm, I had the pleasure of seeing some beautiful little piglets. Gloucester Old Spot piglets. My thoughts turned to my sausage dinner. I actually felt totally OK about it.
Although these piglets were bred for meat, to satisfy a human demand for pork, it did not feel wrong. The organic free range farming methods ensured that the animals had a good life with no more cruelty than one would expect from the simple fact that there are other animals higher up the food chain.
My daughter Liberty's boyfriend is a committed meat eater. I am proud that he choses to pay a little extra for his meat to buy it from the farm. When he purchased a couple of packets of Gloucester Old Spot sausages, I felt no compunction about cooking them in my kitchen and partaking of a plump banger (or two).
It is not something I will make a regular habit of but it certainly bestowed an air of occasion to our family meal. Perhaps my husband is right. A mostly vegetarian diet with the odd meaty indulgence is the way to go.