Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Ox Tongue with Salt and Mustard

Back home, it’s difficult enough to explain why I’m a vegetarian.  Even though in Vancouver it sometimes seems more socially acceptable to have a food restraint than to be an old-fashioned omnivore!  Vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, raw… vegetarianism is actually low on the list of limitations. 

I’ve met a few other vegetarians and vegans in South Africa, but many people I’ve met don’t even understand the concept.  They think I must be allergic to meat – why would I choose not to eat it?

South African’s love their braais, which Afrikaans for “BBQ.  Meat, meat, and more meat.

One coworker was trying to convince me that I must try some braaivleis (“grilled meat”) before I leave:

“There’s nothing like a good braai.  Sheep is the best!  It’s so tender.  Or ox tongue.  Yes, ox tongue with a little bit of salt and mustard.  Once you try that, you’ll be back on meat.”

He was so engrossed in his descriptions he didn’t notice I’d gone a slight shade of green.

Today a different coworker saw me eating my salad lunch.  He said, “So you’re 100% vegetarian?  No meat?”

“That’s right,” I said.

“For how long?”

“Seven years.  Since I was a teenager.”


That’s a good question.  The truth is that I went to bed one night and decided, “I’m going to be more careful about what I put in my body.  No more crap.  In fact, I think I’ll be a vegetarian!”

My parents were great about it.  Without any prior warning, I announced, “From now on, I’m a vegetarian.”

Short pause.  Then my mum said, “I think I’ll become a vegetarian too.”

I guess the idea had been in my head for a while.  Once I started cooking a lot and handled raw meat, it made me realize that I was eating an animal.  I knew I could never kill a cow and cut it up (unless there were no other food options available) and it bothered me to pay someone else to do it.

I didn’t tell my coworker all this.  He wanted a short answer and the language difference made me simplify my response.  I said, “Once I started cooking and saw raw meat, it… it made me a lot closer to the animal.”

What a terrible response.  He burst out laughing.  I laughed too.  “Closer to the animal” – could I have sounded any more like a flaky hippy?

Don’t worry fellow vegetarians!  Even though everyone in the office thinks I’m weird for my food choices, it’s easy enough being a vegetarian here.  Many of the cheap restaurants don’t have vegetarian options except ice burg lettuce salads or French fries, but all the mid-range+ restaurants have the usual variety. 

Eating ox tongue is not necessary for survival.


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2 thoughts on “Ox Tongue with Salt and Mustard

  1. I’m loving these comparisons with Vancouver, and the story of how you decided on becoming a vegetarian!

  2. Meat diet = periodontal disease, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, and diverticulitis. None are fun.

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