Before I got an allotment, at the weekends I used to do some voluntary work for an outdoor activity organisation which worked with excluded and disadvantaged young people from all social, religious and cultural backgrounds. The organisation would have weekend residential where they would take small groups to a bothy. It’s a great organisation, it gave young people an opportunity to gain skills in outdoor activities: hill-walking, mountain climbing, canoeing, conservation and so forth, as well as develop wider social skills. On this particular weekend, I found myself working with a number of young men who were refugees from countries such as Eritrea, Somalia and Iraq, they also happened to be Muslims.
The main co-ordinator of the group who happened to be from the Antipodean and had brought along some marshmallows. I totally understand the social aspect of sitting around a campfire, wrapped warm in your hat, scarf and gloves, snuggled up next to friends, sipping something hot and burning mashmallows and having a sing a long. But as a vegetarian I know many marshmallows contain gelatine, usually derived from pork or beef. Since becoming aware of this, I have stopped eating them melted in hot chocolate. I am also aware that Muslims do not eat pork and meat that is not halal. It is not just Muslims that do not eat pork, nor do Rastafari’s and practicing Jewish people. I made the co-ordinator aware of this and requested that if he was going to be handing the marshmallows out, that he should inform the participants of its unsuitability for certain diets. He assured me that he would. When we all sat round the fire and things started getting ‘friendly, he did not say a thing. Understandably, he just wanted people to chill, relax, have fun and so did I, but not under pretense. It may have suited his conscious to now knowingly feed Muslims pork, but it did not suit mine. It was wrong. Therefore, I found it my responsibility to make the lads aware of this fact. I remember informing them that I was a vegetarian and 'that these marshmallows were not suitable for my diet as they were made of pork gelatine', so I would not be eating them. I told them that I knew Muslims did not eat pork, so just want to make them aware of this, but the decision was ultimately theirs. The co-ordinator gave me the biggest, meanest looking glare you can imagine which angered me as I realised it was more about his ego and how he wanted to be seen as ‘da cool ... man’. Anyway, these lads thanked me for letting them know. What they did was take pleasure in the joy of sitting around the campfire. They burned the marshmallows on the fire flames, but then passed the marshmallow stick over to a person who would enjoy eating it. They enjoyed the moment and the environment, as did I.
As a vegetarian of sorts, I would appreciate it if people informed me that the soup was made of meat stock; or if a dessert was made with meat gelatine. It gives me the right to choose, the final decision is mine. It also gives me more respect for that person or establishment.
Oh back to the marshmallow, I actually don’t really like them, I just like the idea of them melting in my hot chocolate. So if I did ever come across a vegetarian or vegan friendly version of them, of course I would have to get them and indulge in this notion of heavenly bliss made for wintry evenings.
Recently, I also noted that a book that is on my Christmas wish list Terre a Terre has a vegetarian recipe for marshmallows. I wonder if it will be under the Christmas tree???