The inevitable teenage vegetarian rebellion is upon us. It arrived without warning 10 days ago, when the girl declared she was off meat and that beans and cheese were now her bag. There had been no prior signals, but then sudden, life-changing policy decisions are the prerogative of a 15-year-old. All of a sudden we are living in Amy’s Kitchen.

It could have been much worse. She was not demanding that we follow suit. There are no “Meat Is Murder” signs on her door and she does not fill our mealtimes with lurid descriptions of the slaughter processes at abattoirs, the lives of battery hens or the actual contents of a sausage. But we have been lucky. The girl is doing this for what she calls “health reasons” rather than out of any concern for animal welfare. Also, one of her friends has taken the same step so it is clearly, like, you know, a thing.

It was, I admit, a great relief to know that this was not a moral decision. A truly committed teenage vegetarian could make life uncomfortable for householders not wishing to comply with her new dietary arrangements. Obviously, the first step would be to pressure everyone else to follow her lead. But having failed in that effort, sulks, rows and a refusal to eat with killers are likely escalations. There are few things more self-righteous than a teenager, but one of them is a teenager who believes she is armed with a genuine moral cause. We do recognise the ethical arguments for vegetarianism but they’re complicated. On the one hand, inhumane levels of animal cruelty; on the other, cheeseburgers.

(I would have been surprised had it been a moral decision on her part. I recall a moment in a restaurant when she was little more than four and a limited menu forced me to order lamb. When the food arrived she asked, “Is that baby sheep?” I held my breath as I admitted it was. “Yum,” she replied.) Anyway, given the lack of righteous fervour underpinning her decision, we decided to respect her wishes.

It means a bit more work and a bit more expense but given the opportunities for parental torture available to teenagers, this lifestyle choice is pretty benign.

Indeed, my wife approves of vegetarianism, though at a purely theoretical level, obviously. In fact, she is so theoretically supportive as to be irritated that the girl is only doing this for health reasons.

Shorn of the moral underpinning, she regards the girl’s decision as all a bit of a hassle. But I’d much rather have a tactical vegetarian in the house than a true believer. In any case, I’ve learnt enough to know that a failure to comply on this could tip the girl into high-minded vegetarianism, and no one wants that, do they?

We do wonder about the health argument, which seems to involve eating vast amounts of meat-free ready meals rather than home-cooked delights. But in these early stages at least, we both agree one should not stand between a teenager and her semi-principled need for a Tesco vegetable lasagne.

The restaurant chains have taken it well so far. We were sure profit warnings from Five Guys, McDonald’s and Byron were only a matter of time. I know, technically, that they all have vegetarian options but, let’s be honest, it’s not a core competence. Now we realise that they are viewing her conversion as some view Brexit; they see the validity of the decision but are yet to be convinced it will really last.

But the big discovery of this period is roasted cauliflower. Scroll past the haunches of beef, the half-chickens and the whole sea bream at any decent restaurant or gastropub and you will discover this baby — maybe with a sprinkling of pine nuts, a dab of oil and a smudge of crème fraîche — at £14.95. This is genius. With whole cauliflowers costing about £1, the mark-up on this dish is spectacular. No wonder it is often the only vegetarian meal on the menu. I don’t know who came up with the idea of simply doubling the price of a side order, but Gordon Ramsay has a rival.

Clearly there is cash to be made off lettuce-munchers. But we may need to increase their pocket money.

If you are a subscriber and would like to receive alerts when Robert’s articles are published, just click the button “add to myFT”, which appears at the top of this page beside the author’s name. Not a subscriber? Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley or email him at robert.shrimsley@ft.com

Follow @FTMag on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first. Subscribe to FT Life on YouTube for the latest FT Weekend videos

Letter in response to this column:

Let’s see vegetarians as the norm, not as cranks / From Emma Barnes, Leeds, UK

Get alerts on Life & Arts when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article