When I was growing up, declaring you were a vegetarian immediately marked you as an oddity. You were a social aberration who hugged trees in your free-time, danced in the streets in orange robes while beating a tambourine, and spouted gastronomic heresy like ‘tofu burger’. Dining out was practically impossible. You were lucky if the menu included a side order of damp lettuce leaves drenched with store-bought salad cream.
Of course, declaring you were a vegan was even worse—nobody could quite wrap their minds around the idea that anyone would voluntarily give up dairy and eggs.
Times change. Looking back, it’s interesting to see what a non-event it was when I turned vegetarian and, eventually, a vegan.
To be fair, it had been a very gradual process over many years—a slow drip accretion of books (Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma being the catalyst), influencers (Stella McCartney and Chris Martin), films (Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me), YouTube videos (Esther the Wonder Pig and every Sadhguru clip out there), and yogis (one of whom said very firmly that I would never become truly spiritual if I ate meat).
Eventually, it became too difficult to wilfully ignore all the cues the universe was throwing at me. There was just too much scientific and anecdotal information to say that maybe I should think about a slight adjustment to my lifestyle, if not for my own health, then at least for the sake of all those cute pigs I was now following on Instagram.
And so, two years ago, I started to transition into a vegan, waving adieu to a life where, as a restaurant critic, I ate out all the time. I’ll confess I stressed a little. I am a social eater, so I love to eat out with other people. But even as I took my first tentative steps into this brave new world, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would now end up a gastronomic pariah and spend my days eating alone at home.
After all, in a town where the national dishes are chicken rice, beef rendang, debal curry, chicken adobo, and fish head curry, what was I going to eat?