The Vegetarian Option

There’s a good chance that you’ve already heard of the so-called 30-day challenges. If not, you can get a brief intro to the topic in Matt Cutts’ TED talk. The idea is that you pick a new habit / behavior / some totally crazy thing – and keep doing it for 30 days, so that you have enough time to really try how it works for you. The results you might get can be obviously having a new habit – and interesting experience on top of it.

The first one I went for was “30 days no meat”. The reason was that for some time already, I felt that my eating habits went just terrible (I ate junk, fried, late and too much). Also, I was not able to set a border that would tell what I could still permit myself and what was “too unhealthy” (one small Tripple Whopper will do no harm). “No meat” was a rule simple enough to follow.

I started on November 1st and – to help myself with discipline – I had committed myself to the 30-day challenge publicly – on Facebook.

For many days, nothing interesting happened (apart from a couple of mocking comments from my colleagues – but if they didn’t mock me for visiting a vegetarian restaurant for lunch, surely they would have found something else). But two weeks later, it finally caught me.

In mid-November, I went to a Toastmasters District Conference in Budapest. On Friday night, I was queuing to get a portion of the “Hungarian dinner”, which was an official part of the conference program.

I was (still in the queue) approaching the table with a large pot, from which the cooks were serving Hungarian goulash made according to an original recipe. I just started really enjoying the smell of the meat and spicy sauce – when I remembered that I would not be able to have anything of it. Naturally, as I was a (temporary) vegetarian.

“Certainly they will have a vegetarian option”, I thought – and yes! I saw a lady leaving with a plate with fried cheese and french fries.

Finally, my turn came. “I’m a vegetarian, could I please have the fried cheese?”, I said to the cook. The cook stared back at me as if I had asked him to serve me a plate of Matsutake mushrooms.
“We don’t serve fried cheese. It’s only goulash today, sir.”

“But I’m a vegetarian. Could you please give me the fried cheese as you gave to the lady a few moments ago?”

He gave me a stiff look. “I’m sorry sir. It was the only fried cheese we had. It’s goulash and bread – or if you don’t eat – just the bread, sir.”

The people standing behind me in the queue were getting a bit irritated by the waiting. I’ve seen the cook’s supervisor pass by – and with the last bit of hope I asked her: “Please, could I get any food without meat? Any. Even simple french fries would be okay. Just anything. I mean, apart from the bread.”  The supervisor smiled at me and said that she will ask in the kitchen. Finally!

When she came back, I already knew from her expression. “We’re sorry sir, but it’s been arranged that there is only goulash today. But don’t you even want to try it? It’s delicious!” and nodded at me invitingly.

I said a polite “No thanks”, smiled and took one slice of bread. I walked away without adding a word. But if someone tried to read my face, they could certainly decode that I what I really wanted to say was: “I CAN’T EAT YOUR BLOODY GOULASH, BECAUSE I’M AM A VEGETARIAN!

After I found out that even at the bar across the hall they have baguettes only with either ham or chicken, I was desperate. I was seriously thinking of breaking the challenge – just for this once, under these special circumstances. Everybody would understand that. Right?

Of course. Of course everyone would understand. But also, everyone would see that my word is worth nothing. And worst of all – so would I.

So right in its middle, the 30-day challenge brought its fruit (and vegetables).

I realized, that when it comes to setting goals, external pressure is everything. If you’re too weak to push yourself to your limits – telling the world could do the magic for you.

I also found out, that being a vegetarian in a place, where they serve only meat, sucks. It sucks a lot. I will always carry a portion of tofu with me to help a vegetarian friend in need.

And finally – extreme situations often bring extreme solutions. The vegetarian’s haven, the place that saved me from starving to death was – nothing else than – Burger King.

Long live the veggieburger.

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