Five months ago I became a vegetarian. I can hear your applause from here. Thank you. No worries, I did it for humanity, for the planet. It’s been a nightmare.
Becoming vegetarian in France is harder than announcing you’re gay I’ve discovered. If I had become gay here in Paris, I would have heard genuine rapturous ‘real-life’ applause. “Bravo old chap, chapeau” they would say. Offers of marriage would have been legion, metro stations named after me. Ooh la la, they would continue, Dominic has become gay, ooh la la. However, I didn’t tell people I had become gay, I said I was a vegetarian. That’s a whole different thing here. That’s a little like telling people that your second favourite past time involves hamsters and lubricants. That’s what I really did when I announced I was a vegetarian, I admitted that I felched with small furry rodents.
This was a monstrous surprise to me. I was well aware that if it moves, the French will eat it. The once famous but now almost extinct Ortolan Bunting – cooked whole and eaten in one crunchy gooey mouthful – nearly extinct don’t forget. If you wish to eat a calf’s head, eyeballs and cute little squidgy nose and all, well they have just the dish for you – Tete de Veau. So their penchant for protein is like my need for air.
But with this comes a violence of language that I have rarely endured before. “What fly bit you?” said one, “Are you ill, is it cancer?” enquired another. “There are no moral or ethical justifications, go home strange English man” say the rest. I kid you not. I have received abuse on an unimaginable scale. And to make it even more weird, I have two friends who have quietly admitted to me that they are also vegetarian. But not for ethical reasons, merely because they don’t like meat. They say, “I honestly don’t care if a baby cow has a bolt fired through its brain, I don’t give a merde.” So even the vegetarians don’t give a shit about the planet. There was a report earlier this year that 30% of all birds in France have disappeared this past fifteen years, but question the French on this, and they just tuck in a napkin, lick their lips and request another plucked passerine for breakfast, pass the sauce please.
And just this week, Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg, was either ignored or mocked by an assembly of French ministers as she spoke of the perils to come. And those were just the ones who could be bothered to attend. Most boycotted the whole event on idealogical grounds.
A few years back, I was living in some far away land, and one evening, the local man that I lived with reminisced, that back in the 1970’s, he and his friends would drive in their 4 x 4’s up into the mountains, pitch their tents by the rich glacial streams, and spend the weekend hunting antelope. “Wonderful days,” he said, “the best of days”. He was almost in tears recounting this to me. And then, with this kind of crushed nostalgic, whimsical look on his face, he said, “You can’t do that anymore, sadly, they’re all dead now”. “No shit Sherlock” I replied, “You and your buddies bloody shot them all”. He looked stunned by my synopsis. He took an actual step back. Somehow he could not make the connection between his actions and the eventual despoiling of his local flora and fauna. And that, as far as I have worked out, is how the French think.
So, now when people say, “Hey Dominic, I hear you have some exciting news, do tell”, I tell them I’ve become a lesbian. “Ooh la la” they gush.
It seems to work.
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