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My Tryst With Food: How a Vegetarian Family Ate Beef in Windies

We grew up a strict vegetarian family, but during our years living abroad, ate non-veg in the funniest of ways.

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Despite growing up in a veg household, we ate non-veg in funny ways in the West Indies. (Photo: iStock)

We are Kannadiga Madhwas – a sect of Brahmans who follow the teachings of Shri Madhavacharya. (Madhwas are not just strict vegetarians – many Madhwas don’t eat onion and garlic on the grounds that these vegetables activate the baser senses.)

So we grew up, pretty much, in a strictly vegetarian household.

In 1967, my father got a great job with UNDP in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. Anna flew there, ahead of Amma and the four kids, to shortlist houses and schools. The rest of us followed 6 months later. My mother travelled overseas halfway across the world, with the four of us – aged between 2 and 8.

We grew up, pretty much, in a strictly vegetarian household. (Photo: iStock)
We grew up, pretty much, in a strictly vegetarian household. (Photo: iStock)

I think my younger sister and I ate vegetarian baby food on one of the three legs of the long journey. The airline had probably not uploaded enough vegetarian meals and so we had puréed peas and apricot jelly/sauce for a meal.

On the day we landed in Port-of-Spain, Anna took the kids out to dinner. To eat burgers. Burgers! Burgers with Caribbean spicy beef patties! Why?

Anna says he realised that non-vegetarian food was the norm in our new country of residence. He explained to us that we would be served non-vegetarian food wherever we went and that we had to learn to eat it.

On the day we landed in Port-of-Spain, Anna took us kids out to eat burgers with Caribbean spicy beef patties! (Photo: iStock)
On the day we landed in Port-of-Spain, Anna took us kids out to eat burgers with Caribbean spicy beef patties! (Photo: iStock)

I remember little of that meal.

How Our Mother Drew a Non-Veg Lakshman Rekha

Anna was right. Other than at other Indian homes, the staple diet was meat/fish with vegetables and roti/bread. While my mother remained a staunch vegetarian, she did not object to us eating meat/fish outside our home. We were only allowed to eat eggs at home. She got a special pan for eggs, learned to cook quiche, bought melamine plates to use for our egg based dishes (we were forbidden from using the traditional stainless steel plates when eating anything with eggs as an ingredient!)

We were forbidden from using the traditional stainless steel plates when eating anything with eggs as an ingredient! (Photo: iStock)
We were forbidden from using the traditional stainless steel plates when eating anything with eggs as an ingredient! (Photo: iStock)

On Saturdays, Anna took us to Maracas Bay to swim – while Amma, more often than not, relaxed at home, free of four active young children. After 3 hours of letting the waves propel us back to shore, when we were hungry, a large shark sandwich and fresh cool green coconut water tasted like the best food in the world.

Every Sunday, Anna insisted we keep an ear cocked to hear the call of the chicken roti hawker-man. The hawker would pass by our home just before Land of the Giants aired on TV. We would each get a paper plate with chicken roti, wrapped in wax paper. This was carried carefully to the cave made by the bent branches of the lemon tree in our garden, and wolfed down.

The plates were thrown in the covered dustbin outside and our hands washed in the sink (again outside) before we were allowed back into the house.

We would eat non-veg outside the house. (Photo: iStock)
We would eat non-veg outside the house. (Photo: iStock)
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To Beef or Not to Beef

Whenever we made our annual trip to India (a benefit of Anna working with the UN), we were warned against telling our relatives that we ate non-vegetarian food. We were frightened with, “If you tell your grandparents that you eat non-vegetarian food, you will have to participate in a purification ceremony that involves drinking cow-piss!”

That sure ensured we kept our mouths shut.

Often, Anna would be asked at gatherings, how he, a Hindu, could eat beef.

Anna’s response?

“The beef is not from Indian cows, so its fine.”

Great logic dad! Great logic.

Anna’s logic for eating beef was: “The beef is not from Indian cows, so its fine!” (Photo: iStock)
Anna’s logic for eating beef was: “The beef is not from Indian cows, so its fine!” (Photo: iStock)

Amma threw away the “egg” pan some years after we all left home.

Anna is still a vegetarian – although he may try non-vegetarian food if we insist.

Even though I have eaten all kinds of creatures that have died to provide me a meal, I still do not like the taste and texture of most non-vegetarian foods.

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(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

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