Turning down the green path

By Madeleine Somerville

In January 2005, I made an important transition. I became a label reader, a selective shopper, a picky eater, an inconvenience. I was branded a hippie, a know-it-all, a rabbit and a closet dieter. I became a nuisance to waiters and a host’s worst nightmare. I became a vegetarian.

Upon hearing my announcement, my mother took one look at the elaborate leg of lamb she had been preparing for dinner and wailed: “Where did I go wrong?” My friends laughed until they cried and–through the tears–made bets on how long it would last.

The revelation of one’s vegetarian status is rarely met with accolades or praise, but it is especially despised in Alberta. Birthplace of the “I Love Alberta Beef” bumper sticker, home to ranch lands, rodeos and the Calgary Stampede; this is bona fide cowboy country–a place where, if you’re not riding, lassoing or branding an animal, you’d better be eating one.

Contrary to popular opinion, the most difficult thing about crossing to the green side hasn’t been leaving the meat behind. Nowadays it’s possible to find vegetarian or vegan versions of just about everything. No, the hardest part has been dealing with the reactions of people when they discover that they are standing beside, dining with or dating, one of “those” people.

I get detailed inquiries about my protein intake, whether I am getting enough Vitamin B12, how I will ever manage to stave off osteoporosis without daily glasses of calcium rich milk. When I answer their questions politely, explaining alternative sources of protein and vitamins, how soy milk contains just as much calcium as cows milk and has the added benefit of being fat and cholesterol free, my words are brushed aside. They launch into detailed diatribes about how unhealthy my lifestyle is, how it just isn’t “natural” to not eat meat.

In situations such as this I would, for the most part, stay silent. One of the biggest complaints against vegetarians is that they try to push their lifestyle on everyone around them. They are, to put it in no uncertain terms, a giant pain in the ass. Accordingly, I try not to be an in-your-face herbivore. Yet, every time I am the subject of one of these inquisitions spoken in an outraged and accusatory tone, I am incensed at how I am expected to keep silent about my beliefs.

Take a recent outing to the Lilac festival as an example. It’s presumably meant to be a celebration to mark the onset of summer. I haven’t seen a bigger meat market since the Miss Universe Pageant. It had cow, pig and ostrich burgers, people sitting on the curb sawing at full steaks with plastic knives. Eventually, I spotted a small sign that proclaimed “Yes! We Serve Veggie Dogs!” Overjoyed, I quickly ordered one. As I walked away in search of a seat to relax and enjoy my spoils the woman behind me, meaty hot dog in hand, remarked “Ugh! Do you even know what’s in that?”

I might ask her the same question.

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