One Thursday afternoon the six person team from my office go out for lunch to a well-known organic restaurant in Soho. It is an unexpected treat from John (la grand fromage), to say thank you to everyone for all their hard work over the past couple of months.
It is also the perfect platform for me to develop my fight for higher environmental food standards amongst my co-workers; capitalising on their good mood, expectancy of a free meal and the excited prospect of returning back to the office mildly inebriated.
So, before the menus appear I start my offensive.
*The vegetarian question*
‘Have any of you ever been vegetarian?’ I say.
A hushed awkwardness wafts over the table, mixed with the smells of over-cooked vegetables from afar. No response.
I realise that although I have been musing on this topic for a few minutes now (well, actually two weeks in total), it must seem slightly out of the blue to my colleagues. I quickly follow it up and turn to Neal, my new environmental-sidekick.
‘How long have you been vegetarian Neal?’
He smiles at me. He knows where I am headed with this question. I feel that Neal and I are now the new environmental Batman and Robin: keeping the corridors of our office safe from the environment jokers of the media industry.
‘About five years’ he says.
He goes on: ‘I became a vegetarian when I went travelling for six months in India. Then, because I found it so easy – something which really surprised me - I decided I would keep it going. Now, five years on, I’m more conscious of what I eat than ever before.
John steps in. He is the only member of my team whom has ever shown any real interest in food; having actually chosen the restaurant in the first place.
‘Why are you a vegetarian Sylvia?’
I laugh, most of the time I find this question mind-numbing. I get it a lot from family members and friends, usually followed up by an obligatory, ‘You’re not eating properly’.
‘I pretty much stand-by every reason there is John. I strongly oppose the intensive farming of animals. I believe that the consumption of meat is unsustainable. And I do not condone the way farmers deal with animal welfare, especially on larger farms driven the demand of international and national food manufacturers. It’s also cheaper, and in my case healthier too. Have you ever tried it?’
‘No, I like meat too much’ says John, slightly stunned by the tenacity of my response.
*The organic meat question*
‘That’s how I felt before I gave it up’ says Neal. ‘But I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I would. Do you eat organic meat John?’
At this point John is feeling bullied. He rolls his shoulders, tops his glass with sparkling water and scuffs his shoes under the table. I would have to guess that he regrets the day he decided to take Neal and me out for lunch.
‘Sometimes, but I can’t really taste the difference between organic meat and non-organic meat’.
He goes on: ‘I like my meat to taste nice. So I will often buy high quality meat, but it’s not always organic because I don’t think it tastes any better. I don’t think it’s worth paying the premium.’
I muse on this. John’s choice of meat is based entirely on taste. When he is selecting his (vacuum-packed) dead animal he makes his decision based on the chemical reaction in his belly; taste being the key determinant.
‘I try to base my food choice on the environmental credentials of the meal’ I say. ‘It’s the most important thing to me when I’m choosing a meal. That and cost.’
*The protein question*
Then it comes, the classic vegetarian question. The one Grandma’s around the world are cueing up to ask:
‘How do you get your protein?’
This question comes from Jane, one of the PAs in the office. I am taken aback slightly, as I didn’t realise she was listening in. But I generally like Jane’s inquisitive nature and I try to engage her in conversation whilst she scoffs at the entrees, which have now arrived.
‘I eat a lot of beans and lentils. Lentils can go with anything really. They’re so versatile. I avoid meat-tasting products. You know, the ones that look and taste like meat, because of the packaging they need’.
Gill is unimpressed. She is a fitness-freak and for her vegetarianism equates to a reduction in her protein intake. She is also one of the main culprits in the office, for food waste and microwaveable-meal packaging disposal.
Of course Neal, who has previously criticised the proliferation of microwavable meals in the office, sees this as a great opportunity to get involved.
*The food packaging question*
‘You use a lot of microwavable meals don’t you John? At work, I mean.’
‘It’s easy’ he says with a shrug of the shoulders, looking slightly embarrassed.
‘But surely it doesn’t taste that nice?’ Neal retorts.
‘No I guess not. He pauses. But when I’m at work it’s much easier to bung whatever in the microwave.’
Another milestone! John is not unlike other office workers who I have spoken to. When at home John’s food consumption is solely based on taste, but when he’s at work, ease of cooking is regarded more important and the environment is not held in such high regard.
It is as if John is not able to deal with environmental considerations in his meal choice whilst at work.
‘Well John, you’re at work now. We’re sat in a fancy restaurant in Soho, what you going to eat? I say.
‘I think I’m going to go with the Chicken’ John replies.
‘Oh, me too’ laughs Jane.
*Week four: no questions answered*
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