ARTICHOKE ‘FISH’: You meet again at a restaurant which serves artichoke broiled and seasoned to taste, feel, smell, exactly like fish. She will not be intimate with a meat eater she says, leaving the impression of her lips in orange on the rim of her wine glass. Outside: the sound of car tires slicing through water; the glint of light rearranging itself on the asphalt as the puddles settle. Your salvia glands are in overdrive. She looks, in some green wrap-around complexly secured, her hair piled upward, black eyes without apparent irises, beautiful. Starting this story is simple.
JIM’S SHREDDED ‘CHICKEN’: Paired with vegan mayo, secured between lettuce and wholemeal bread, between Tupperware lid and bottom, within a backpack your arms are slipped through, your arms steering a bike as you ride down a footpath adjacent to a river. In front of you: her. When she turns to talk her words are lost in the wind, her helmet slaps low hanging wattle, sending puffs of yellow pollen to engulf you. You sneeze, she laughs, and this at least, her laugh, cannot be appropriated by the wind. It’s high and clear, like bells ringing. Everything taste like chicken.
100% DAIRY FREE MOZZARELLA STYLE BLOCK: You stay up far into the a.m. watching black and white films on the projector. Fellini, Bergman. You pull homemade pizza out of the oven and eat on the couch, your legs entwined in the bliss of a peaceful month. The doorbell rings.
ROASTED VEGETABLES: Old fashioned greens and potato will have to do. She reminds her mother that fish is not vegetarian. Pink salmon belly glistens from kitchen bench. The pointy grey cat that attempted to flee through the front door before making a go at your Achilles heel on your arrival is pawing a corner of butcher’s paper hanging off the bench, the salmon on top it edging toward the counter. The cat’s devotion to its master narrative is comical, and you laugh. So April, her mother says, pouring you a large glass of white wine so clear it could be water, What do you do with yourself?
‘TUNA’ HORS D’OEUVRES: Amazing, you say, slipping the dry biscuits toped with sauce topped with ‘tuna’ topped with dill—all of it, you have been assured, is vegan. All at once, the ingredients dissipate over your tongue. She narrows her eyes. You repeat what the waiter told you, but she doesn’t relax the grip of her eyelids. In the blackness of her pupils, there’s the room, tiny, inverted: people in long dresses and fashionable mules and dangly earrings that catch and flicker light, teenagers in black carrying trays of hors d’oeuvres, flutes of champagne that are probably technically sparkling wine, old men holding jackets folded over their arms, young men holding jackets just the same, and you, fish-eyed thin into a point in the middle, caught mid chew, cheek bulged. You fix your expression and swallow. You see in her eyes one of the artists—the friend whose work you have come to see—coming toward you, the sound of their clicking heels seems too like it’s been caught and reflected in the ravine of her eyes. It’s only when you turn to greet your friend that her expression snaps to a smile, but your friend saw her before she realised and asks if you’re alright. Later while leaving, you say, What the fuck was that, and she says You shouldn’t trust people so much. Again you say, What the fuck was that, and that night she doesn’t touch you.
MARINATED TOFU: A simple, cheap, wholesome alternative that can be easily marinated and used in your day-to-day cooking, with noodles, rice paper rolls, curry, stir fry. This is not what your neighbour is thinking as he watches you through your kitchen window from his balcony, glancing from the pan to your uncovered chest, her hanging off your neck like a dependant marsupial.
AFTER FLESH BACON BITS: Her head on your lap, her chest is rising in quick compressions, tears streaming sideways elongating her eyeliner, feline. Her hair is splayed and knotted. On the stove strips of processed soy stick forgotten to the pan, blacken, harden, set off the smoke alarm.
MUESLI BARS: Your jaw is not used to chewing and it’s an effort to finish the bar. Both of you are silent, raising, waggling your eyebrows at each other, laughing through mouthfuls. You stand, one elbow leant against an unopened box, she sits on the front stairs, one loop of her overalls undone. You both sit and chew as if it is imperative to your day, and you guess it is: you didn’t have breakfast; she has more shit than you expected. This doesn’t have honey in it does it? No, you assure her, it doesn’t, you checked. She reads the ingredients list anyway. That night you dream a river of honey flows through your house, swallows you and her both as you sleep. Years later archaeologists find and display you in a museum, preserved as if in amber. Female Lovers: Death by Indulgence.
‘HALOUMI’: You buy knocked-down ‘haloumi’ from the discount grocer. It looks like melted plastic, tastes aptly so. After the violent expulsion of your stomach contents onto the loungeroom floor you pour sawdust to quell the smell. The bag splits, and before you can stop the flow, the kitchen is covered in sawdust. She likes it so much that after you remove the wet mass you leave the dry wood flakes on the floor and purchase twelve more bags with same day delivery. She pours them with a manic glee around the house. You live like this for weeks, lounging on a towel in your bikini, rubbing sunscreen on your limbs, sipping cocktails you name Sex On A Sawdust Beach. You do not recall why you had sawdust in the first place.
EGG ALTERNATIVE: It has the viscosity of placenta, you think, although of course this is true of real egg—wasn’t placenta just a word used for the casing of human eggs so that people didn’t have to conceive themselves as animals? You revise yourself as partly reptilian. She says: My godfather ate my placenta when I was born, I haven’t seen him in years.
LAB LAMB CHOPS: It’s her birthday. The packaging bandage unwraps and unwraps and unwraps. It’s made from a thick tar-coloured cloth. To measure it she folds in once, twice, three times around the house, continuing until the windows are blacked out and you are stuck inside. Two fists of meat, red and marbled, fall onto the door matt by the back porch. They have been grown in a lab. She passes them to you through the kitchen window, pushing aside the cloth and instructs that you should cook them on high heat, three minutes each side without washing them, letting the dirt and skin cells flaked off from your calloused feet simmer with the rosemary and thyme. They will taste like us, she says. It doesn’t; it tastes like lamb. Later, when the meat has satisfied, she will use the cloth to bind your arms to the bedposts, cover your eyes, mute your mouth. You quiver at her thumb on your nipple, palm on you stomach, cry in relief at her lips on your clit.
CUCUMBER SANDWICHES: You ask her if she wants to go to the rally with you, and she rolls her eyes and says what for. A beat is missed; a thin rage melts through your body. You ask what she means. What’s the point? she says. For fuck sake, you say, What kind of representative are you? For vegans or lesbians do you mean? In the park where the march ends, in the shade of large cockspurs, you eat one of the cucumber sandwiches you prepared at home, offering the rest to your other friends of varying queer-and-vegan-ness. Despite their cold sliminess of the cucumbers and staleness of the bread, they thank you enthusiastically. See, you think, It’s not so hard. Why don’t you tell their story instead? The tree is not a metaphor.
DAHL CURRY: You make yourself dinner and at the table, eat absent-minded while scrolling through statistics on meat vs plant based diets, why almond milk is bad, the amount of produce required to keep animals, the carbon footprint of all the cows on earth. In a pang of injustice, you think how unfair, blaming the cows. During a mouthful of curry, you have a moment of bodily awareness that you are eating from a cuisine belonging to a country whose primary religion historically worships cows. You think maybe you could live in India. Wait, stop. You are not a hippie, what’s wrong with you? You can’t live without your processed faux cheese and ice-cream, your first world comforts. Your phone rings. A photo of her from almost a year ago, sunglasses on head, row of perfect teeth displayed, large brown eyes, cow-like.
OREOS: The original accidental vegan. You eat Oreos standing up barefoot in the yard, looking at the rainbow lorikeets luxuriating in your plum tree. From the back door you hear her: Weak. She is leaning against the doorframe. You’re a weak human being she says. And then she’s gone.
AMERICAN STYLE BURGER SLICES: As you peel each slice from its individual plastic casing, you attempt to calculate your exact complicity in the earth’s destruction. What is the correct ratio of plastic used to meat not eaten (Feet to pound? Kg to yard? Blood let to transparency?) which makes you, statistically, a better person. Is it better to have eaten processed, packaged shipped alternatives or to have raised your own chickens for slaughter? After many hours with a calculator and spreadsheet, you give up.
A CRISPER OF FRESH PRODUCE: She has not got out of bed in days, you go to the supermarket filling the shopping with fresh fruit and vegetables you place in your basket, apologising pre-emptively in a soft voice to the cauliflower, cumbers, apples, for their demise in your crisper. When you stroll past the deli the warmth of the metal rotisserie chicken stand draws you in. You consider it, but don’t buy one. You go to the counter and purchase the food you know you will not eat. In another timeline, you are outside, behind a dumpster, gnawing at the bones of a chicken. In yet another, the shadow of a chicken plucks in vain at feed scattered in the cages of an overcrowded barn. It did not know, in its lifetime, any alternative, and in this revisiting likewise can only haunt this place; the barn is even more crowded than it looks. Ask yourself: is this an ethical story to write?
THE TIP OF YOUR LOVERS’ FINGER: What exactly do you mean by ‘Meat Alternatives for the Motherland?’ Is it because I’m British? That’s very colonial of you. Am I the meat alternative? Are you suggesting that because I don’t have a penis, I am not meat? Am I not meat enough for you. Do you want me to have a penis? Why? So that you could eat it. Would you love me more if you could eat my penis? She grabs a pairing knife from the kitchen and slices off the top of her left middle finger so it is aligned with the pointer and ring finer. She removes the fingernail, broils the tip in olive oil, seasons it with paprika and sumac, then cuts it into delicate slices she lies over a bed of couscous. The arrangement is like the petals of a begonia. You smile agreeably and remark that it tastes as delicious as a tender lamb, the lab grown lamb, although you can no longer recall if this is true.
A MORALLY EMPTY STOMACH: You are out with friends, non-vegan friends. The restaurant doesn’t serve vegan food—not even vegetarian food that you could have altered. Someone asks where she is and you say: At home, she wasn’t feeling up to it. You catch a conspiratorial glance from one friend to another. We haven’t seen you in ages, your artist friend says. The friend whose birthday it is agrees and apologises for picking a dud restaurant, he would have picked somewhere else if he thought you’d turn up—sorry, that came out wrong, he says. You’ve been busy, he means. You wave him off, tell him you weren’t hungry anyway, your stomach gurgles, and everyone laughs. Ask yourself: at what point did it get like this. When precisely did you start making excuses for her, at the tofu rolls, or the vegan wine? Afterwards, to get home, you walk through a park at night where a woman was murdered two years previous. You are jumpy and speed walk. As you are walking a woman is approaching you, walking just as fast, flicking quick glances behind her like a bird. She doesn’t see you, and your stomach groans so audibly she freezes and looks up then laughs in relief when she sees you. You smile back, continue walking.
HEATED UP CURRY: Home late after walking through a park at night. You expected her to be up. You were prepared for the paranoid questions, the aggressive pacing, loudly rearranging things that did not need to be rearranged. Instead she is asleep. You heat up leftovers to quell your moaning stomach. You realise you could, would, make this decision without her. It would be easy, you realise, the easiest thing in the world. Unknown to you the sun has risen and lightened the room (a new dawn has come).
YOU WON’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT PRAWN: Holy shit I can’t believe this isn’t real. She uncurls the prawn from its glass, dips it in the cocktail sauce, sucks off the sauce in a faux seductive way that nevertheless does the job. At tables around you, people exclaim similarly at the unlikelihood No Animals Were Harmed. She laughs at your clear arousal, tells you a story about falling off the monkey bars as a kid—somehow these things are related. After dinner you hit the club, dance until sunrise, walk home. You don’t remember the last time you did this. She keeps you awake with a riddle. She is fun, charming, magnetic. It is easy to forget.
‘COTTAGE CHEESE’: You come in the door and plonk the groceries at the counter. Where the fuck were you, she asks, sitting on the couch. At a friend’s, you say, and she berates you. This is the most animated you’ve seen her in weeks. Only her jealousy has compelled her out of bed. You turn around and leave. When you come back two days later the faux cottage cheese you bought has been left on the counter smells rancid. The house plants, instead of dying, are overgrown, lush and deep green. You ask her if she’s been watering the plants and she doesn’t look at you and calls you an idiot, Does it look like I’ve moved? Look what you’ve done to me? You tell her to leave. You are too exhausted to write this story.
A SWEET CHERRY TOMATO: It takes many months. Tending, clipping, watering. It’s less the plants’ desire to grow and more your haphazard gardening, but eventually you get the hang of it. Zucchini flowers blossom, pumpkin explodes and almost monopolises the garden, radishes sprout happily, eventually, a small green bulb turns orange, then red. The tomato is your first plant ready. You pick it and bite into its skin, the seeds exploding in sweetness in your mouth. Inside the house too, you have continued to tend to plants, they have overgrown, looping around curtain rails and cascading down fridges, they fill the house and leave the air in a clean wet mist. Ask yourself: What was real? What was dreamt? What was the moral of this story?