“Chris, baked beans on toast is not a vegetarian meal, if it was I would never, ever, eat that!” His voice was cracking with anger.
“Er, I think it is Rob.”
“No, it’s not,” now with a hint of hysteria, “baked beans contain beef stock, it’s a well-known fact”!
Vegetarian meals are often a difficult topic of conversation, debate and borderline lunacy at LandWorks.
Early in 2013 I was invited into our local prison, HMP Channings Wood, to deliver a talk about LandWorks. Or at least what I hoped LandWorks would be (opened mid-2013). My job was to motivate and enthuse potential day release prisoners to sign up with an expression of interest before a more formal interview took place.
The prison had substantially ‘bigged up’ the event and set it up for a Friday afternoon. A time positively designated as association time, when education and workshops shutdown to allow time for… well, actually not much at all.
So, I was potentially the afternoon’s highlight, or at least something to relieve the tedium.
A large crowd had gathered in one of the unused refectory areas.
Maybe it was the surroundings, but food was quickly on the agenda and people wanted to know if I would provide something better than prison fare?
I was feeling quite confident about this. Schumacher college (just down the road) had made a great offer to support a fledgling project… they would supply soup and bread every day to get us going.
“Yes” I replied, “freshly baked bread and soup.”
The crowd muttered and a shout of “What sort of soup?”
“Vegetarian,” I blurted out (Schumacher principles include vegetarianism).
The crowd erupted, there was genuine anger and my support officer looked worried. A plastic plate frisbeed over my head, several people told me to “f*#k-off” and quite a number just left.
Why, oh why, didn’t I just say vegetable soup? I have learned over the years that would have been quite acceptable.
So, you can see, food can be a tricky subject, with its links to identity often buried deep in an individual’s psyche.
It is a great muddle of things, but not entirely unlike a toddler’s behaviour around food, it is something a prisoner can have some power over, some choice. Prison removes most of your ability to choose.
Generally, our lunches these days have a choice of two dishes, one that contains meat and one without.
Provided we do not name one of these dishes as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘veggie’ option, then identities are not directly challenged, and virtually everyone asks, “Can I try a bit of that as well?”
January 28th 2021