A veggie view of the World Tour
By Geoff Baker
It was dead good, this world touring with Paul McCartney. It didn’t half improve your loose of languages.
Six months into the tour and I was getting quite the linguist. I could say “salade verte, sil vous plait”. I could say “salad vert, pour f’vour” (I said I could say it, I never said I could spell it.) I could say “salad vert, danke.”
“Hai! Salad vert”, “I’ll take the green salad, bud” and – in extremely difficult cases where the waiter had not the remotest grasp on what I was struggling to say – “Salad VERTE!!!! Salad bloody vert! Look… you MUST have something on this bleeding” (operative choice of word) “menu that I can eat. Watch my lips… we DON’T eat meat. No, we don’t eat ****ing fish either… Jesus Christ, just bring me some bread”.
The sad truth is that throughout Europe, the U.S.A. and from what we’ve glimpses of the Far East, they do not have the slightest care for vegetarians. If you want to wat out, then you’ve more chance of loosing weight that on any Hays or Cambridge diet. Unless you’re a big fan of bread rolls.
In fact, so far behind the British veggie is the carnivorous foreigner that sometimes you feel not unlike some early Christian missionary did on first being introduced to a cannibal, horrified at the bloody excesses of what chefs around the world mistakenly believe makes for an appetising menu.
I knew it was going to be tough from the first meal that we then-strangers, now-friends had in Oslo. There we were – Emma Sutton (wardrobe), Colin Mutton (tour financial controller) and moi (publicity terrorist) – sitting in the restaurant of the Grand Hotel and getting dead hungry.
Grandly, the waitress handed us and the 10 or so other Macca tourers present the menu. There. Under specialties of the house, it boasted braised reindeer.
“Well I’m not ****ing eating THAT”, said Emma, “I’ll have a salad vert”.
So began our green(s) tour of the world during which I’ve eaten more leaves than anything that was ever kept out in the yard in a hutch.
I’m not complaining, you inderstand. Correction; I am complaining. I’m complaining that the most of the rest of the world – and, hey, Britian, you ain’t that bloody perfect, just less bad than the rest – when it’s dining out gives not the slightest thought to those who don’t eat animals.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t treat you like some festering leaper when you say “no meat”. Still, better a leaper than a butcher, I guess.
The joke is that many of these countries we’ve visited are beside themselves with all manner of sophistication, except what they put in their gobs. Take Zurich : you might think that with the Swiss history of reluctance to get involved in any form of global conflict, there’d be veggie restaurants all over.
Forget it. In Zurich, the old black Levi’s came off for once as me and Emma got togged up to dine out at what the concierge insisted was the finest restaurant in the town. “They,” he lied, “will most definitely do vegetarian dishes, sir”.
Half-way through the first bottle of Tattinger, with Emma leanly heavily on vague memories of A-level French to translate, it dawned on us that unless we wanted to eat goose liver, sliced salmon, snails, frogs’ limbs and the like, we were definitely going to starve.
“We are vegetarian”, I pronounced to the head waiter. “We cannot eat this”.
“Ah, sir, I understand – here, look, there is fish,” he said.
We then got into one of those “look, pal, tell me the word in the sentence that you didn’t understand” conversations that so embarrass other diners and don’t half sour the taste of good Tattinger.
Eventually, presumably alerted by the yells of “No, not caviar either!! No, no chicken” that were coming from our table, the chef came out. Patiently I explained how I’d be his best mate in Heaven if he could take a selection of vegetables and do something exciting with them….
This was a mistake. The word “exciting”, as visitors to Switzerland will be well aware, does not figure in the Swiss language and after much waiting we were presented with the top chef in Zurich’s impression of cordon vert food - a plate containing broccoli, tomatoes, sliced potato, green beans and a couple of radishes.
Mrs. McCartney’s cookbook, where are you in our hour of need?
But if the Swiss were just vegetarianally dumb, or playing at it, their ignorance was bliss compared to the insolence of Madrid. By the time the tour reached there, Fiona Hurry (the efficient half of the publicity duo) had converted to the veggie way.
The girls had got to a bit of a desperate state in Spain, on account of every roadside tapas bar seething with salmonella that grew on the seafood paellas that the Spanish oddly believe will improve if left out in the baking sun.
An Italian meal, that’s what they need, the accountant and terrorist decided. Even veggies can’t go wrong going Italian.
We booked the best, again.
On arrival, we told the maitre’d we were veggies and suddenly he announced that the entire restaurant was full.
“What about those 24 empty tables?”, we huffed and promptly requisitioned one.
Once more the menu offered nothing edible. There was penne et baconoli galore, plenty of ravioli stuffed with veal and monstrous varieties of seafood like squid served in it’s own ink (bet they wouldn’t serve a cow in it’s own guts).
“We can’t eat this”, once more came the cry, “Can you make us a pasta dish without meat or fish?”
You’d have thought, by the look on his face, we’d said would he mind if we infected him with anthrax. He left and Colin consumed his eighth packet of breadsticks. He came back. No, the chef couldn’t do that.
Could the chef, we reasoned, take the asparagus out of the tortellini with asparagus and ham, take the penne out of the penne with sweetbreads, take the cream out of the wild duck in cream and raspberry and put ‘em together?
The understanding hit him like a thunderbolt – ah, you vegetarians, you want to be cooked for; and not just treated like s***.
And so the tour went on, with ever town and country completely misunderstanding that loving animals means not carving ‘em up. In Milan we learnt that a cheese roll (sic) is in fact a roll stuffed with ham, on which the tiniest sliver of cheese is added. In Paris, we discovered that the only way to survive was to order cheese from the sweet menu, salade vert (of course) from the entrees, mushrooms from the side-orders and combine them in a huge mound centre-table to make the meal ourselves and in Los Angeles we found out that when you say “has the spinach salad got any meat in is?” and they say no, what they actually mean is “no, give or take half a pound of chopped bacon on top.”
But if the rest of the world was a joke, it didn’t prepare us for the nightmare that is being veggie in Japan. There are something like 25 million people living in Tokyo – I don’t know the exact number but it’s a frig of a lot – and three vegetarian restaurants (one of which shuts at 9.30 pm and another demands last orders by 7.30).
By now, Chris Whitten had been conscripted to our vegetarian seditionary force and it was with him that we spent a good 90 minutes tromping up and down the Roppongi (Tokyo’s menu mile) vainly looking for something foodish that didn’t used to be alive.
And it was here that we discovered Food Fascism – yes of course, said the jaunty Italian restaurateur, we could eat veggie dishes; he had mucho, bene, veggie dishes, BUT only if we ordered at least one meat or fish dish to go with them. F*** it, we said in Italian, and quit.
And quit, or at least throw-up was what I wanted to do another night in Tokyo when sheer disbelief sent me to a traditional Japanese fish-house. The Japanese adore their fish, can’t get enough of it. But they eat it with a relish and method that borders beyond barbarism.
Get this – there is a special fish, a dinky little goldfishy thing, that they breed especially because it is small enough to be swallowed whole and alive. This is not some kinky cult; it’s a big deal down Tokyo way to feel your meal wriggling in your throat, the Japanese say it gives an especial sensation.
Ordering vegetables and sternly warning my Japanese companions that sever violence would probably follow were either of them to start gobbling live guppies, I watched as businessmen plastered out of their skulls on Scotch, ate the traditional way. This involved a fish the size of a 4lb perch being netted out of the shallow moat that fronted the tables. Moments later, the fish appeared on a bed of lettuce, it’s mouth opening and closing and it’s tail wriggling. For all the world, it was alive and intact – EXCEPT that the skin from it’s back had been removed and, I saw in horror, the diners were invited to cut into its raw (and living) flesh and swallow it. Imagine some maniac taking slices of muscle and tendon out of your thigh with a chainsaw while you’re conscious – it’s the same thing.
But there’s a silver lining to all this, and it’s the reason that none of us died of malnutrition months back. The silver lining’s called Debbie and Karen and Karen (Caron?) and Jackie and Michelle – the tour’s guardian angels from our caterers, Eat Your Hearts Out.
Between them, these five ladies kept us not just well-fed – but better-fed than most any vegetarian on this globe.
Armed with Linda’s cookbooks and their own vegetarian passion that good food doesn’t need any sprinkling of death, they changed eating on this tour from a necessity to a delight.
Daily they served up not just good food but great food that, as the anecdotes above bear testimony, was far and above better than many of the dishes prepared in some of the world’s allegedly-finest restaurants.
Preparing, what, 15 main veggie dishes a day, they proved that on this, rock and roll’s first thoroughly vegetarian tour, you could have none of the meat and lose none of the taste. Between them, they took the crankiness out of what I believe in, they’ve converted carnivores and kept even the most blood-desperate meat-eaters among us more than satisfied.
If Macca’s Green Army marched on its stomach, Debs and her girls kept us in step.
It’s just a bloody shame that the rest of the world thinks that’s cranky.