My tight smiled politeness is completely unconvincing, I wish I could act relaxed and happy while my brain is yelling Noooo! It’s Christmas Day (actually Boxing Day but their Turkey day) at my partners parents and I don’t want to be a problem, I want them to like me, to accept me but there is one big obstacle (actually there are loads, I’m not the mother of their grandchild, I’m not free to marry, I’m not a wonderfully successful academic… But the one I’m talking about now is) I’m vegetarian.
They have 17 for dinner and I am happy to help my partners mother, she’s finding it hard to cope as she gets older. So I dutifully baste the turkey and watch as she opens the tubs of goose fat and says to me do I think goose or beef fat makes the best roast potatoes. I feel awful as I gently remind her I don’t eat meat and she shrugs and says ‘oh but you don’t mind on roast potatoes do you?’ It is then that tight unconvincing smile I hate – mine rises and gets slapped on my face for the duration. I feel the stress across my back as I try my best not to be a pain. I watch as the bacon goes into the spouts and wonder if there is chicken stock in the bread sauce. I glance painfully around to see if there is anything I can eat for my my meal without having to explain myself awkwardly and make my hostess look bad. She pulls out a veggie Waitrose tart and I am so relieved.
The guests arrive and guess what there’s a surprise vegetarian so gallantly I give up my tart. Only to find out later that this veggie is one of those part time ones that yesterday enjoyed turkey. The smile tightens. The food is plated up in the kitchen so I have no escape, if it had been at the table I could have tried to avoid the bacon in the sprouts, chosen the smallest spud and pushed it round the plate. I’m presented with a massive plate of food covered in meaty gravy. My smile is so tight it might snap. No happy go lucky cheerful girl here, my stress shows in my inability to communicate, the kindly gent to my left thinks I’m neurotic as I hardly touch my meal.
I manage to get through with the usual comments about me not eating the delicious meal, I feel ungrateful and feign a headache and too much rich food the day before. I’m not even going to talk about the suet filled Xmas pudding and mince pies. I have tried to search for an analogy to gain your empathy instead of derision, when I was 18 and at uni I decided to make handmade Easter eggs for my family, I had a mould and set to with my new rubber spatula. Every beautifully handmade egg tasted of the new rubber from the spatula. That’s what it’s like eating sprouts, soup roast potatoes etc all tinged with meat fat and juices, but more because if I allowed my self to think about the animal I was eating, how abhorrent it is to consume another being it would be much worse than a rubber twang. So I tighten up as I force myself not to think.
The irony is to come though, I know so many veggies will sympathise with this, the guests leave and the carnage is left, there is nothing for it, the best china has been used, so not allowed in the dishwasher. There are baking tins of meat fat everywhere, the kitchen stinks of dead roasted animal. Obviously as the able bodied female guest my job is to wash up. The tight smile twangs sharply like a violin string, I try not to breathe as I bury my hands into hot water with floating scum and fat of animal and spend an hour scraping off that poor beasts remains.
After we collapse by the telly and I’m under attack, ‘you didn’t eat much’ I smile thinking ‘yes I’m starving pass the chocolates’ and try my best to change the subject. It’s so hard trying to shield people from their thoughtlessness and I really don’t want them to feel bad about my choices, but I would like to have that choice and not have to continually fight for it, defend it and be forced to compromise further than I am happy to go. I would like them to know they were charming thoughtful hosts.
Some tips if you have a veggie for dinner and want to make them comfortable and welcome (which might not always be the case!)
Don’t ask them to baste the turkey.
Roast potatoes with olive oil and butter are the best and everyone can enjoy.
Don’t put bacon and meat stock in everything.
Ask them to dry rather than wash up.