Vegetarian Nazis

I’m a vegetarian, have always been one and I don’t even like egg. In the sense that I am a vegetarian because we’re Brahmins and my parents raised me on a vegetarian diet and I just can’t bring myself to eating non vegetarian food now. As regards eggs I don’t eat them directly (boiled egg / omlettes and that kind), but am perfectly fine with eating them in baked foods or even putting it in my hair!

Now coming to the more sensitive parts, do I think non vegetarian food smells? Does it make me gag? Well I am extremely sensitive to smells, very strong smells like garlic, onions, some spices used in Indian cooking, deodrants, cleansers, indeed non vegetarian food affect me. I do eat out in hotels that serve both veg and non veg food and I find that in the finished form the food is fine, does not affect me except perhaps for certain ish based dishes. I’m not proud of this, but I can’t bear to even look at butcher shops on the road..hanging carcasses really repulse me. The smell of non veg food cooking also puts me off most of the time.

But the fact is that is my problem. Not the person cooking, eating or selling the food. Its food for the other person, the same way that I relish my potatoes and carrots. Why am I rambling about all of this? This post of Chandni’s and also a heated argument we had at my workplace.

People who have problems with living in Madras and some parts of Bombay find this to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks, finding a house to rent if their non Brahmins (read non vegetarians). I find it absolutely apalling. I mean its not like you as a landlord is sharing space with your tenant. It isnt as though the tenant is going to be rubbing chicken pieces on your wall or cleaning the floors with fish. What is your issue? Does a vegetarian’s presence make your house holy?

I really believed that such thoughts and beliefs were more in the minds of older generations and that the young people are more open minded. Turns out that I was wrong. My colleagues let’s call them G and S are both scouting for houses and happened to chance upon a property (a smallish unit with only 4 individual apartments) which was sounded good for both of them. They even went and took a look at it and they seemed fairly interested in the property. Then G came and suddenly announced that only one of them could buy the property. S is non vegetarian and G is this pure Brahmin who cannot breathe the air polluted by the smell of non vegetarian cooking. Well fine, go ahead and have such opinions, its really your problem, but in a public forum, your workplace at that, you really cannot afford to say things like “I cannot bear the bad smell”, ” Sunday afternoon vandha podum, veetliye iruka mudiyadu” (Sunday afternoons are the worst, I cannot stay at home). The decent thing to do would have been say this politely and back off, giving her the option to take the flat. But no, our man made a couple of noises about the dirty smells and proceeded to call up all his Brahmin friends to figure out whether they were interested in taking these flats. Now mild mannered S backed off, but this really got my goat and I tried arguing with him. I didnt have the support of even a single vegetarian in the group, I mean I was not even denying his right to feel that non veg cooking smells bad, but the least you can do it be a bit subtle about it and try not to hurt the sentiments of people who love to eat non veg food.

I basically gave him the example of agarbattis and me. I just detest the smell of agarbattis. The damn thing gives me a huge headache. But that is a nice smell, how can you not like it he said. Precisely my point dearie. Loads of people don’t think non veg food smells. But you do. Loads of people don’t think agarbatti smell is annoying. But I do. Now I can’t go around saying I won’t come to your house if you have agarbattis on can I? An wrinkle up my nose in disgust and say this is a nasty smell and that I’m repulsed by it? No sireee.

But he seemed rather unmoved and my guess is that not too many people who think that way are going to be moved either by what I have to say. And this will remain what it is, a rant. But the thing is that my guess is that these people don’t even realise that this is bad, uncivil behaviour..as bad as smoking in a crowded AC room, as bad as not offering a pregnant woman a seat in a bus.

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8 Responses

  1. Good lord!!!!

    This saddens me now more than making me angry…

    How much does it take to be a little tolerant towards fellow human beings..

    You know this intolerance stems out of the delusion that loads of people are under that their’s is a superior choice / custom and the smugness that arises because of that..

    I might want to gag too if I am in China or something and watch people eat dogs and stuff…but really, I’d move away and avoid looking rather than tell people eating that theyr food smells….

    Its interesting that you say that..I didn’t realise that a non vegetarian might also find herself gagging at exotic foods!

  2. Perfectly said GDS. I am in the exact same situation as you – brought up to be vegetarian and passionately believe in it myself now. But there’s a kahani mein twist – I am married to a person with a totally opposite background (in this respect). :p So we have had countless arguments of this kind at home… I wish I could say I’ve never hurt anyone’s feelings in the process but I know I probably have. Mine have been hurt too.

    Being married to someone who is non vegetarian is a totally different ball game altogether..and I’m sure even if you have it all worked out with the spouse, with the family..gosh it must be difficult and there’s no sugar coating your feelings..

    That being said, we have all learnt a lot from each other in the past 3 years, I think. I now understand gagging over someone’s food or turning up my nose at them is simply not done. (Their food, their choice!) I simply move away whenever possible but sometimes that’s not a choice (when we are at the in-laws’ place for example) – then I make it a point to be polite but firm in my requests. The ma-in-law may want me to help in setting the table, so I have to nicely tell her I don’t feel comfy doing that with the meat items on the menu. The in-laws are slowly learning to respect our choices too – they make it a point not to bring over non-veg food when they visit us – basically they never understood how strongly I felt about this before but I think they do now.

    It ought to flow both ways…and yeah it is really tough reconciling both sides. I am now seeing your comment on my cooking post in a new light..it must be tough satisfying the palette of a person who is used to non vegetatian food with an entirely vegetarian menu!

    My point it – growing up in the sort of environment at home where we were taught (not explicitly but the non-verbal message was pretty clear) that meat was taboo and somehow *wrong*, it’s tough to come out of that mindset in a flash. It takes time, someone with patience to talk about it with (in my case, the husband was VERY patient) and a couple of hard knocks too. 😦

    But I can proudly say I’m NOT the person with the disgusted (and disgusting!) look on my face now! 🙂

    Half the battle is won when you realise you’re not supposed to have the disgusted look on your face I guess. I know from my own experience that its so often involuntary (esp looking at the meat in butcher shops, or some 100 chickens stuffed in a tiny cage awaiting their death), and I’m sure I make a face then..but at least you’re conscious about it and try to do something about not hurting sentiments..

    (Phew, that was a long comment! I have a habit of going on and on when there’s stuff I identify with but hesitate to write about on my blog. Please to excuse!)

    Oh please I’m sure all of us love long comments on our posts! Don’t even bother apologising! And hey if you ever want to write about something that you hesitate to write about in your own blog (I’m guessing your family reads you), you can always do a guest post here! I would love that!

  3. GDS,

    That is sad…I’m the same boat as you, and public rudeness just gets to me. Maybe it is better than public hypocrisy though, whichis what being polite about it in public really is, isn’t it? I don’t know. I am just thinking aloud here…

    I see where your coming from, there is a very thin line between being politically correct and hyprocrital..but where Ive not been called upon to offer an opinion and where my hypocrisy is not going to cause any damage, I’d rather be a hypocrite than rude..

    We used to live next door to folks from S.Kanara – every summer they used to dry their year’s supply of dried fish on their terrace which was on level with our first floor house…we couldn’t keep windows open on that side of the house, the smell was that strong. But apart from grumbling at home, we didn’t say anything to the neighbours…but we did have a house large enough that not using that side of the house was an option. Nowadays, with flats being crammed so close together, people live much more in each others’ faces…and it *can* be very uncomfortable to live in a situation where you know you will be subject to an unpleasant smell every day – in B’s place, I would have chosen to not buy there, explaining privately to anyone who asked that I prefer to live among vegetarians owing to my inability to tolerate the smell of non-veg cooking…

    Oh I’m not taking away the right of a person to live where they want to, its your personal choice. But it really annoys me when they wear it like a badge, “I live only among vegetarians”…oozing superiority. That gets my goat. It really doesnt take much to be polite. And what’s worse they don’t even consider it being rude..they’re perfectly fine doing it..And I’m sure if they are polite, they could even explain the situation to a non vegetarian where you’re sharing a table etc (look at Sraikh’s comment), sensible people will understand for sure.

    But this again comes down to the victim/oppressor battle I think..when I was in school/college (1970s – 90s) meat-eating was always seen as the cool thing to do, and vegetarians were derided. Perhaps this is the time vegetarians feel they have taken enough of this attitude?

    I’m not too sure about this, with respect to Madras at least, vegetarians were always like this! If at all anything, now the tolerance levels are increasing.

    Interestingly, at my kids’ age, here in the US, vegetarianism is seen as the cool thing…we’re in meat-eating heartland in TX, but still it is amazing how accepting the school and other kids are of my kids’ eating preferences.

    That is an interesting point! That’s one thing I’d never be able to do, figure out my true feelings about the “coolness” and “goodness” factor of vegetarianism because I’m one by default, I really don’t know what my choice as such would have been!

    M (master of the rambling pointless comment! sorry – got carried away)

  4. I am a vegetarian too but have no qualms about sharing the dining table with friends who would eat non-veg.

    Same here..

    Does this guy know what a room freshner is???

    (My sis gets a headache from agarbathis too!!)

    Room freshner also gives me a headache and sets me off on a sneezing fit!

  5. its a bit of holier-tha-thou attitude methinks. usually.

    its annoying in whichever form it comes in, i know non-veg people who do that as well.

    Yeah that’s bang on…people think they’ve made a superior choice and are so smug that they don’t even realise that they’re being nasty..or they are purposely nasty..sad state

  6. Well-written GDS,

    I had a vegetarian friend come over for chai, my girls just got back from school and their snack was chicken nugget. I asked my 6 yr old to move from the dining table to the sofa. She said why. I said because N’s mom is sitting here and you are eating chicken. But you never let us eat at the sofa. can you come every day was the answer my 6 yr old have.

    My girls dont eat mutton.. They dont like eating fish as well because *gasp* Mamma you are killing innocent fish. So maybe my kids will grow up to be vegetarians despite both parents being meat loving monsters

    Haha poor fish, but no poor chicken??!! Damn cute. Its great to see two way tolerance (for the lack of a better word)..its so simple to live that way! But for me personally cooked non veg food does not affect me at all, except as I mentioned some kinds of fish preperation.

  7. Oh, I HAD to comment on this one !!!

    This whole renting thing reminded me of what had happened a few years ago when I was in Bangalore. We had built a house on the first floor and wanted to rent out/lease the ground floor. My mom does not eat meat but she doesnt mind us cooking or eating in the house. Both my sister and dad are avid fans of chicken just like me. And when we wanted to rent the house, we had no ‘specifications’ as such about the kind of people/family that we wanted in our house. Imagine our surprise (shock, actually) when our neighbor came home and asked us if we could rent our house only for vegetarians !! Why ?! Because what if they ‘cooked’ and they had to smell it ?! My dad was, thankfully, were sure of what he wanted to tell and I think they got the point. It is OUR bloody house and we will do what we want with it !! GOSH !!

    Ah your neighbours didnt even know you were non vegetarians? That’s funny! You guys bottled up the “bad smells”?!

    I cant stand the smell of barbecue too. Although I’m a non-vegetarian, I cannot stand the smell of beef/chicken on the grill…..and, especially, if it has the barbecue sauce on it, to me it is very hard to breathe. But “I” walk away from it because the problem is ‘me’ and not them, for Gods sake !

    Exactly my point! How difficult is that?

  8. Aggarbattis give me a bad throat and these days I’m very protective of my vocal chords!

    But seriously, the level of intolerance, in every sphere of life, amongst young people is so depressing.

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