Last century, we used to have a lot of conversations about what qualified as a “drink problem” – the range was huge. I interviewed one American public health official and he said: “Anyone who goes out for an evening and has no idea how many drinks he’ll have had by the end of it has a drink problem.” Given that the working definition of an alcoholic in my workplace at the time was “anyone who needs to use their tie as a pulley for their first drink because their hand is shaking too much for the famously unstable shape of a martini glass”, we thought that was hilarious. After more field work, someone came back with “anyone who needs rules around alcohol has a problem with it” – no spirits at home, no drinking on a Sunday night, a rigidly observed yardarm with weekend variations. All that had to go, and then you could be satisfied that you had no problem. These questions were outpaced by the passage of time – now it would be widely agreed that everyone, back then, had a problem.
In place of that, we have a question over what counts as a vegetarian. Fish have always been a grey area, not least because they are grey, but now there’s a space-time component – you can be a vegetarian except on a Friday, or unless you’re at somebody else’s house. You can eschew all meat unless it’s hand-reared, which ultimately means you are veggie everywhere except your own house, the worst of all possible worlds from a manners point of view, but maybe the best from the perspective of animal welfare. You can go white-meat only, which amounts to a vendetta against the chicken, but works for sustainability – or you toggle between real and fake meat, and make quite a detailed account of why the fake meat doesn’t taste the same. All this without anyone calling you ridiculous. I wonder if the trajectory is the same, and the future will just agree that we all had a meat problem.