The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


Take the plunge - bite the lentil
by Alice Thomas Ellis

From the Catholic Herald dated Friday 10 June 1994

Some time ago I went to a vegetarian restaurant in Covent Garden and got poisoned. So did my companion. I know that undercooked kidney beans can wreck havoc in the digestive system but we didn't have any of those. We had an assortment of salads, and what makes us really bitter about the whole business is that none of them actually tasted of anything. We had to rely on the appearance of the things to understand what we were ingesting. Yellow little grains - sweet corn; dark red chunks of vegetable matter - beetroot; light red slices of same - tomato; pale opaque lumps - potato; slimy little curlicues - bean shoots.

But apart from the look and texture of various items we might have been eating cardboard boxes.

The menu boasted that there were many different dressings enhancing the various dishes, but the taste buds were defeated and incapable of distinguishing between them. I know too much salt is considered deleterious to the human frame, but its total absence renders lunch unpalatable.

This was annoying enough, but then to feel ill for two days was infuriating. We couldn't understand it since we fondly imagined that salmonella lurked only in ill-prepared and undercooked flesh and eggs, nor did we have cheese to give rise to problems from listeria.

I remembered that botulism can proliferate in bottled plums if the bottler has subjected them to insufficient heat and sterilization, but we didn't have plums. After long and aggrieved discussion we concluded that all the poor vegetables must have been kept under warm water to prevent them from drying up and their vital elements had been squandered. That would explain the lack of flavour, and the poisoning probably arose from the same circumstances.

When all the taste has been bullied out of food it has not even got the vitality to alert the consumer to the fact that it's gone off. But one does not expect to be laid low in a health food restaurant, damn it.

This brings me to one of my quibbles about vegetarianism. I could happily live on asparagus and jersey potatoes - with butter, and oranges and apples and strawberries and so on; but too many vegetarian enthusiasts seem to lack the courage of their convictions. Nuts are delicious all by themselves and deserve better than to be rendered into nut cutlets in order to hoax the diner into the belief that he only has to splash on mint sauce to have something approximate to a lamb chop.

I could happily eat a Sunday lunch of onion sauce, flageolet beans, roast potatoes and garlic salad - and forget about the gigot. The same goes for all the other types of meat and their accompaniments.

As my companion remarked, after trying the quiche, made with a whole meal crust which reminds one of eating flock-filled sleeping bags, she only has to eat something which she is told is good for her to long for something really unwholesome.

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