After dealing with waves of exotic foreigners who don’t eat non-veg food - and for some strange reason refuse to consume even fish - the attendants at the media centre pantry at BaselWorld are always pleased to see me. The first time I went there seeking food there was much confusion, because when I asked what dishes had the most portions of meat in them, they assumed I wanted to avoid those. “That has ham!” screeched one lady as I piled a jumbo sandwich onto my plate. Yes, isn’t that great, I replied, salivating like Pavlov’s dog. “That’s MEAT. Oh, you have?” the lady said, her face lighting up like a hundred suns. It was a special moment.
I have of course read and heard much about how tough Indian vegetarians have it abroad, but experiencing it firsthand is quite another matter. My marketing colleague/roommate is a “pure” veg, doesn’t even eat egg, and carries with him for days at a stretch home-cooked paranthas and achar that stink up the hotel room. He hordes chocolates to munch on when we travel and gazes wistfully at cakes that look delicious but probably have egg in them. I feel for him as I’ve rarely felt before for vegetarians.
On the train from Basel to Zurich yesterday we met a sad-faced man, a Mumbai-based watch retailer. He was carrying a bag full of apple cores and banana skins. “So tough for us folks,” he complained to my colleague, while giving me resentful sideway glances, “it’s like we’re being punished for respecting the sanctity of life.”
It’s tough enough for me to go several days without any wet food, so I can imagine how bad it must be for these people. And my mind boggles when I see Indians who can’t even speak English living in these places for months/years at a stretch. It’s painful to watch these people trying to communicate their food restrictions to uncomprehending staff at supermarkets.
P.S. for Amrita: Been in Switzerland 4 days and haven’t seen a SINGLE cow yet (though I had a superb beef burger last night).
P.P.S. Just so I’m not the only one to be crucified by any vegetarian who reads this, here is a passionate piece on meat-eating by the famous television journalist and non-vegetarian, Shamya Dasgupta.