To have or not to have

This article originally appeared in the Deccan Herald

“Son, you know I am a strict vegetarian” is my father-in-law’s first remark every time we go to a restaurant. My husband would nod silently and place the order. I have been a witness to this exchange for six years. This ever- present opening gambit never ceased to amaze me and when I finally asked my husband he explained, “Dad is very uncomfortable eating out. Moreoever, he prefers to go to a restaurant that only serves vegetarian food.”

I wonder what it really means to call oneself “strict vegetarian”. Either you are a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian. What does being strict about it means? When I shared this thought with my friend Rita, she proclaimed in her usual authoritative manner, “Some people feel that the egg lies on the middle path. They claim to be vegetarians despite including eggs in their diet.” I pondered on this statement and realised that I belonged to this category. I grew up having boiled eggs for breakfast and yet considered myself a vegetarian – despite my husband’s disbelief. I found myself feebly defending my stand by contending that eggs were a good source of protein. If one is averse to dhaal, where is the protein going to come from, I would argue. When I decided to introduce eggs in my child’s diet, my husband staunchly put his foot down. “I grew up without having eggs and look at me now – am I not healthy?” he claimed. “No eggs in the house” he declared emphatically before I came up with a counter-argument.

When I shared my secret yearnings, with the ever-sympathetic Rita, to introduce the forbidden food to my child, she suggested “Why don’t you send your daughter to my house for breakfast? She can have a boiled egg with my 2-year- old.” While I was toying with the idea, my conscience warned me “You will only stir a hornet’s nest if you attempt to sneakily do this.” I decided to let things well alone.

My cousin, who lives in the US, suggested “Why don’t you go vegan? It enriches your lifestyle! You will get all the protein you need.” I looked at him puzzled as I had no idea what vegan meant. When he explained that vegans are vegetarians whose diet consisted mainly of soya products, I was horrified. How on earth could one subsist entirely on soya? Undeterred by my distasteful look, the voice of experience continued, “You do have some options. You could be a lacto-vegetarian, and take milk and milk products or vegan, and not include anything of animal origin or yet be an ovo-lacto vegetarian by including egg and egg products, and …” “Stop!” I implored. My head had started reeling with all this data. It was then that I decided to settle for good old dhaal.

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