In the beginning, turning vegetarian is quite a challenge but it quickly gets easier. But the most extraordinary part of my journey to give up meat is how my perspectives changed and what I have learnt.
I’ve been trying to eat less meat for both environmental, food crisis and animal cruelty reasons. The meat industry is a huge contributor to emissions that cause climate change. It is also a cause of deforestation in the endless search for more land to house growing numbers of livestock. There’s also all that extra land needed to grow crops to feed the livestock. The overfishing and destructive practices of commercial fishers are destroying ocean ecosystems and their resilience to climate change. The meat industry is unnecessarily cruel and exploitative from birth to untimely unnatural death. Our population is growing at an unprecedented rate and our planet’s food resources cannot sustain it. But I’m sure you know all that, that’s just the background behind my decision.
I thought it would never ever happen. I was the last person, who would be expected to become veggie. I loved the taste of meat, and my family are basically carnivores. At a restaurant, a few months back, my (now ex) boyfriend (a bona fide meat lover) and I chose a vegetarian option simply because it sounded nice (c’mon who can resist goats cheese and caramelised onion tortellini?). My family questioned us repeatedly with clear shock that ANYONE would voluntarily choose a meal with no meat in it.
When I decided to eat less meat I didn’t think anything would fundamentally change in my life or in my perceptions. Turns out I was very wrong! So here are some things I have learnt from becoming a vegetarian. I have officially been vegetarian for the whole of 2016. If you are taking on the same challenge you might glean some comfort or shared amusement, or if you’re considering it you may gain some understanding of what it’s like. Though of course, the experience is different for everyone.
For me, there have been challenges to overcome. Being a vegetarian is so difficult simply because I am, what some might describe as, ‘fussy’. I see it more as knowing my particular and refined tastes and not straying away from them! It’s fascinating how personally offended and angry people get about my dislike of potatoes and ice cream.
Another personal barrier is that I am distinctly lacking in culinary skills. I do not know how to make exciting mouth watering things. Centring a meal around meat made it easier. But this is where Quorn and Lindsay McCartney comes in. You have to try the Southern Fried Chicken Quorn bites, they are just as good if not better than fried chicken.
I’ve learnt just how infatuated people seem to be with meat. It’s odd! Why is there a necessity to eat meat with every meal? Why is every food advert centred around a steak or joint? The judgement some cast on non-meat eaters is shocking too. Recently, Gordon Ramsay stated he is allergic to vegans. Why do some people share such vitriolic thoughts about someone else’s lifestyle choice that has literally no bearing on their own?
I’ve learnt that most of the incredible flavours you get when eating meat are actually from other things that are not the meat itself. That distinctive chorizo flavour is not from the pork. That marinade on that chicken is amazing, the chicken itself not so much. Most meat on its own is quite dull. Plants are where the taste is at!
Most restaurants and pubs really are very limited on vegetarian options. Surprisingly, Wetherspoons and Harvester seem to have the most options.
Being vegetarian changes you. Well, it’s changed my perspective. I didn’t think anything would fundamentally change about me, I’d still love meat and be comfortable with it. I would still mostly be in that tunnelled vision of not thinking beyond the food on my plate. I would still crave it. But now I cannot contemplate eating meat without the heavy weight of its implications settling on my insides. There’s even a slight disgust there now, which is odd. I have no squeamishness due having a veterinary nurse for a mother and growing up surrounded by dogs giving birth and bloody ox hearts resting in the kitchen sink (they look a bit like brains, in case you were curious).
There are so many positives to being vegetarian. I spend so much less on food, I still get shocked by the totals that come up on the self-checkouts. I’m so much healthier in so many ways. I’ve got stronger self-control. I’m more confident and clear in presenting my own views and not ashamed of who I am.
If you want to lose weight but cannot be bothered with dieting, seriously just become vegetarian. I lost weight before Christmas due to personal stuff going on but I’ve yet to put it back on since turning fully vegetarian in January. I’ve always returned to the same weight in the past. But I still eat loads.
I have learnt you don’t have to be a full-blown vegan or vegetarian to make a difference. Even limiting yourself to Meat Free Mondays will cut out huge amounts of meat over a year which has a positive impact.
I don’t miss meat as much as I thought I would. However, occasionally thinking about the fact I may never eat duck or calamari again is quite upsetting (I said I couldn’t cook not that I didn’t have a sophisticated taste!).
The logic people use to justify eating meat becomes increasingly strange and confounding to me the further I step away from that world. I fully respect the statement “I eat meat because I love the taste” or even “I love animals but I’m happy eating meat”. But arguments like “we’re designed to eat meat so it’s unnatural not to” and “it’s unhealthy” are strange. Big Mac or a Coke anyone?
My biggest issue, however, is that people will decry hunting whilst tucking into a pork chop. It greatly upsets me that people pick and choose the cruelty they are ok with. Locked in a cage all its life: fine. A wild animal has an overt death: awful.
Some of the arguments/logic made by vegans and vegetarians doesn’t quite sit with me comfortably. I think sometimes they can paint anyone who eats meat as evil. Humans and life, in general, are never that black and white. However, in my experience the perception that vegans or vegetarians are preachy and self-righteous is untrue. I’ve never met one like that and I’m surrounded by them at work! If anything, it’s the meat eaters who are self-righteous and on the offensive.
When I first started writing this blog post many months ago I was going to say turning vegetarian is hard. But now I’m there, I feel like it has been remarkably easy. It’s self-perpetuating and your attitudes change alongside your diet. I also feel immensely proud of myself for making a commitment, sticking to it and making a meaningful difference in my own small way.