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This Vegan Life 3. A Night Out

October 19, 2014

Joe’s friends from way back in college were in London for a few days and had looked him up, wanting to meet. They said they’d been recommended some Chinese place and would that be OK?  Joe had said that would be fine, so tonight they were going out.

” Do they know you’re vegan now?” Susie asked.

Joe shrugged. “I might have mentioned it when I first decided, but not since. I expect they’ve forgotten, if it even registered”

Susie sighed. ” Chinese. Not usually that great for vegans, is it?”

Joe grimaced. “We’ll just have to make the best of it, Suze, like we always do. I can’t refuse to see them, we were good chums.”

“Of course not, I wasn’t suggesting that, It’s just that sometimes I feel I want to withdraw from everyone for a while, go on retreat or something, and forget all the shit that goes on in this world. Eating with non vegans – never a barrel of laughs, is it? ” she smiled wryly at him. ” I’ll take a look at the website of this place, “she said, turning on her laptop.

“Good plan. We’re meeting at eight, so I’ll go and get washed and changed while you do that. Best be prepared for the one or two dishes that might be ok!”

Susie soon found the site and the menu.  Appetisers first – nothing there, it was all prawn, crab, pork, ribs and chicken this or that. Even the crispy seaweed was garnished with fish powder.

Pancake dishes – one lamb, one duck.

Soups – prawn, crab or chicken, some with won ton, some with sweetcorn and – at last – mixed vegetable! Clear soup, it said, with mangetout, bean sprouts, carrots, water chestnuts, baby mushrooms, baby corn, bamboo shoots and chinese leaves.

That would be perfect for a starter. She scrolled down through the seafood specials and main courses – chicken, beef, lamb or king prawn, with various sauces, but there was one, a chop suey sauce that could be done with mushrooms. Possible.

There was a Malaysian satay sauce that was offered with fillet steak (!) , Chinese omelette, fish with tofu, Cantonese duck fillet with ginger and spring onion salad.

It was actually all making her feel quite off eating anything at all, it was a litany of slaughtered creatures and very, very depressing. She wanted to just stay in now and eat toast with marmite, and an apple – a simple, frugal, kind meal. The sheer obscene gluttony of this menu was insane.

Vegetable dishes then – what was there? It was actually not bad, which cheered her – about eight different choices.  Pak Choi with crushed garlic, stir fried mixed vegetables, braised Chinese mushrooms with seasonal greens, braised tofu with mixed vegetables, hot, spicy tofu – and three dishes with oyster sauce which rather spoiled the look of things.

Rice – there was steamed jasmine, or coconut; the others all had egg or something else equally gross in them. She remembered egg fried rice, and how much she’d once liked it. Strange how tastes could change so dramatically – the mere thought of it now was making her feel a bit queasy.

“Any joy?” Joe called, coming back into the kitchen, smelling of shampoo and cologne. Susie showed him. “We can get by”  she said, ” It isn’t so bad. There ought to be enough there. I’m not looking forward to having all sorts of strips and bits of animals on our table though – I expect it will ruin my appetite, to be honest. I don’t feel at all hungry anyway, after looking at this lot – quite depressing, but not so bad as I thought it would be, if I’m honest. Look.” She turned the screen so he could see it.

“It’s better than I feared” Joe agreed, ” but it’s pretty sickening reading, isn’t it? Sorry, Suze. Honestly. Stay home if you like, I’ll go alone, and make some excuse for you, it’s OK, really”

How sweet he was, Susie thought, how considerate of her feelings. She smiled, shook her head, kissed him. “No, I’m coming” she said. ” If you can do it, so can I. I’m just going up to change, then we’d better get going, hadn’t we?”

An hour later they hurried into the restaurant to find that Mike and Linda were already there, seated at the table with a bottle of white wine.  “So lovely to see you again, Joe” Linda said, getting up to embrace him.  “And to meet Susie.”

Mike smiled, shook Joe’s hand warmly, greeted Susie with a kiss on both cheeks, French style, invited them to have some wine.

“These two were college sweethearts” Joe told her. ” Loves’ young dream”. he teased. Mike punched him playfully on the arm. “Quiet, or I’ll tell Susie about Rebecca Andrews” he threatened.

“Oh I know about her” Susie chipped in. “He told me”.

“Impressive, Joe old buddy” Mike remarked – ” No secrets and skeletons,eh? Have some wine and let’s drink to friendship and romance and old times and the future!”

” No wine for us” Joe said. “We’ll have to raise a cup of jasmine tea – when we can order some” He waved at a nearby waiter.

“You don’t drink any more? ” Mike’s eyebrows shot up in amazement.

” We drink”, Joe answered, ” but we’re vegans, so we have to be careful. Most wine isn’t suitable. It’s the isinglass”

“Wow – that’s massive. ” Mike whistled. ” Vegan. Did I know about this? Did you tell me? I mean, this place – is it a bit difficult? We could have chosen somewhere else. I feel pretty bad now. You should have said when I called you. ”

Joe smiled, patted Mike’s arm .”It’s fine, really” he said. ” We’ve checked the menu, it’s grim,but not impossible. There is stuff we can have”.

” I cater for special diets” Linda remarked. ” I run my own business, so I know about vegan eating. I have to source vegan wines sometimes. If you ever want to have a party and need a caterer, I have some contacts”

Susie smiled at her. “I might very well take you up on that for the next significant birthday or anniversary – wow my friends and family with some fab vegan fare! ”

The waiter returned with the tea then, asked if they were ready to order yet. ” Give us another 5 minutes please” Joe said.

” Lets all order the same” Mike decided. “Simplify things.  If  we get everything on this menu that is ok for vegans and share, I expect that will be enough food, won’t it?”

Susie felt like she had been given the most amazing present, and smiled broadly at Mike. What a dear!  “Are you sure? ” she asked. “it would be brilliant. I might actually enjoy my food then! Sorry,, but I must admit that I was dreading sitting here with bits of dead animals on plates on the table. Really. Joe even offered to let me stay at home, if I’d rather. It does get hard sometimes. Enduring the Sundays we visit Joe’s parents takes quite a toll, I can tell you”.

” It’s fine” Mike reassured her. ” I eat too much meat anyway, it will be good for me, body and soul, to eat just vegetables this evening. I should cut down on the animal products, I know it. Linda’s always telling me stuff about clogged arteries and so on. I think she might even be vegan if I would agree. Not sure about that, though. Seems like rather a big thing, especially with all the business dinners and so on. It would be awkward. I know that’s very feeble – pathetic even – but there it is. Sorry. But tonight – we eat vegan,  so let’s raise our glasses and cups to friendship!”

“To friendship!” they chorused, chinking glasses and cups together and smiling broadly. What a lovely couple they were, Susie thought. Did she have any non vegan friends this nice? She couldn’t think of any. Such people were rare. Most people just wanted vegans to shut up, didn’t they, stop pushing their beliefs on them or something. Mike and Linda were a breath of fresh air. She was so glad she’d come.

They ordered  four clear mixed vegetable soups, 2 chop suey mushroom, 2 pak choi with garlic, 2 braised tofu with mixed vegetables, 2 hot and spicy tofu, and 2 jasmine and 2 coconut rice.

“That ought to be heaps” Mike said. “And it’s my treat, ok? ”

“This place got good reviews” Susie said. “That ought to mean good quality. And I can’t stress enough how fabulous it is to be with people who understand that our vegan ethic is hugely important to us and are respectful of it. You have made my evening. Truly. I was quite dreading it, as I said”.

” I like vegan food” Linda said. ” I haven’t really looked much into the ethics though. Probably I should. I fear it’s awful” She sipped her wine thoughtfully. ” This wine, for instance. What IS isinglass, actually?”

“It’s something from the dried swim bladder of fish” Mike said. “A collagen used for the clarification process. Unless wine and beer is labelled vegan, you can’t be sure what they used and isinglass in the traditional thing”

Linda pulled a face. “That’s actually quite gross” she said. “I guess it’s a waste product from fishing. I always wonder, you know, how people think up these things. I mean, it hardly seems intuitive, does it, using dried swim bladders to clarify alcohol. It sounds like some bad joke really. But it isn’t”

“Animals seem to be used for just about everything” Susie said. “Everywhere you look really. They just seem to be seen as some sort of thing that you just use for whatever you like. From way back. And challenging all that and trying to change it is huge.”

” I never thought about it much” Linda admitted “You don’t mostly – you just accept what your parents taught you, don’t you? You don’t think about it unless you meet someone or read something that challenges you. I respect people’s food choices, and cater for all sorts of diets in my business, and  I suppose I’ve just thought of veganism as a sort of diet. But it’s not, is it? It’s way more”.

Susie nodded. “It is a whole way of life that challenges every single assumption human beings make about other animals. People don’t much like it, we find. Some get very prickly.”

“It must make travelling hard” Mike said. ” I doubt I could cope. Malaysia for instance – I was there a while ago. They seem to eat everything and anything that moves. In some places you don’t really know exactly what you’re eating. Having some ethic about your food would make being abroad pretty tricky.”

“We take food with us everywhere” Joe said. ” Just in case. Sandwich lunches are the hardest – there’s scarcely anything! Honestly, it’s chronic, isn’t it Suze – everything slathered in mayo for a start!”

“Yes, and most places still don’t offer soya milk either, so a simple cup of tea or coffee can be tricky, I’ve learned to like black tea – as long as it’s not too strong. Depends where you are, but a lot of places at least do have one choice of green or herbal now. That helps. ”

“Got to be dedicated then. ” Mike said.

” Definitely, but we are, because of what we know. We find it frustrating but not difficult. The worst bit is other people, really – the bacon jokes and all the stupid remarks about vegetables feeling pain – we get a lot of dumb stuff said to us, I’m afraid”. Susie told them.

Mike nodded. ” I can see that could be tough. But how long have you been doing this?”

“It’s about 5 years now. We both wish we’d done it sooner, don’t we Joe? But every vegan we know says that. We just regret so much what we’ve been a part of for so long.”

Huge plates of steaming food arrived then and the conversation changed to Linda’s job, her twin sister and her nephews, Mike’s hobby, which was building model railways in his attic, house prices in London, the unseasonal weather, traffic and the state of the economy. It was one of the most pleasant evenings Susie had had in a very long time. It had been really pleasant to talk about being vegan with two people who were prepared to listen and not get all defensive and silly about it. She didn’t mind non vegans like that- they gave her hope. It was the other kind, Joe’s family’s kind, who depressed her utterly.

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