Sat 07 May 2011
Deciding to become vegetarian is not an easy step. I decided to dip my toe in the water at the start of the year by trying a month of not eating meat, I would highly recommend everyone try this at least once just to see what it might be like. I enjoyed the food I ate that month so much I've decided to keep it up indefinitely.
Why? Personally, I chose vegetarianism after reading Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation", but you may have your own sources of inspiration. It's a great book and I would highly recommend it to veggie/non-veggies alike. It persuaded me to consider the idea of giving up meat and if I'm ever drawn into an ethical argument about meat-eating I have some decent arguments to fall back on.
I would like to be able to say that I'm a vegetarian purely out of ethics but that's simply not the case. In fact being honest I was being entirely ethically consistent with regard to meat-eating, I would have to go vegan and right now I find that a step too far. I'm almost certain that dairy cows and egg producing chickens suffer far more than their meat-producing equivalents purely due to their lifespan(the average meat producing chicken lives around 8 weeks).
My real reason for giving up meat was simply boredom. I was bored of eating the same things at restaurants using the same ingredients for the same dinners. My relationship with food was a sort of thoughtless and comfortable, but not interesting. Like I suspect it is for many. I'm certain we could all make our dishes more interesting but I figured a grand act would push me to try new things and it certainly has. I now cook with ingredients I'd never even heard of. In fact before the switch I would argue I could barely cook at all.
Vegetarianism is simply an inspiring limitation. Oh and also zenhabits has a really sweet list on why you should consider vegetarianism too.
How? The question is, how do you keep yourself motivated in a world of meat-eaters. One fun thing I do, is cook a new dish every week until I have enough dishes that I like that I can keep cooking everyday and not get bored. Each week just find a new dish that you feel like making(curry, pasta-based etc), pick up ingredients from the nicest vegetable shop(having nice vegetables can be key to keeping you motivated) around you and cook. Some things will be great and some will be disasters, but it's all fun. Four months in and I'm already building a great collection of recipes I find tasty. I've even started categorising them: quick-lunches/dinners, hangover breakfasts, dinners my partner will eat, etc.
Effects I'm genuinely surprised how much vegetarianism has affected me. For staters, when people hear about it they become incredibly interested in it. Why do it? How difficult is it? Am I taking supplements etc? It's a great chance to try persuade people to do the same, I usually try by explaining just how easy the whole thing is. Some people have been persuaded to try a vegetarian meal once a week, I figure after that they can make their own enquires into becoming entirely vegetarian.
I'm a much healthier eater that I was before. Vegetarianism is a limitation that increases reflection. As a result you find yourself dwelling on everything you eat. For me, for the first time in my life I have this mental checkbox that says, "Does this contain meat?" that I had to ask every time I wanted to eat something. Very soon after another question appeared, "Is this healthy?" and if it wasn't "Do I really want this?" and in most cases, I really didn't.
Due to the constant questioning of what I was eating and the fact that I've been trying crazy new ingredients I found myself getting much more interested in my snacking options. We all snack and it's something I can't forgo at certain points in the day. As I tended to find myself in alternative food stores perusing random ingredients I tended to pickup weird nuts or some dried fruit I'd never tried. My snacking has gone from chocolate, crisps and jellies(I'm a real sucker for those), to nuts, fruit and cereals. This really was a surprising effect and as I had originally said to calm myself "You may not be able to eat meat but at least you can stick with sugary treats if gets you down!". It's not gotten to the stage where when I eat, say a chocolate bar I find it tastes stale, unpleasant, cheap and for the most part all the same. I genuinely do not miss them.
Difficulties One difficult that will arise is social occasions. Dealing with this is usually a matter of good preparations, but it doesn't hurt to have a few minimal ingredients dishes in case of a worst case scenario. I'd flown home to see my family, who had forgotten I'd told them I wasn't eating meat and had thrown a BBQ as the weather was nice. I went digging and found some potatoes, some vegetables, flour and pitta bread in the back of a cupboard and threw together some awesome veggie burgers(I'll throw up a recipe later). While it didn't stop anyone from eating meat, most said they loved them and would have no problem eating them as a substitute. I highly recommend them with sweet chilli sauce!
There is also the cases where you will just crave meat, that's almost unavoidable. It's a rare occurrence for me, but hangovers are my kryptonite. I crave a fry in the morning but thankfully I haven't given in. Despite the obvious tastiness factor of fried meat, I tried to figure out why a fry in question was such a difficult one for me to cope with forgoing. I thought about it and realised that whenever I was having a fry it was usually with friends, the smell of frying sausages and bacon coaxing us out of our slumber and around a table chatting about the prior nights silliness and wolfing down food. I realised the subtraction of meat from this picture really doesn't change anything at all that matters. The point being that, if you stop to think about what you're craving you may realise that taste isn't everything. Though it also helps that vegetarian fries are awesome.
Tips I found when I first started looking for recipes I was overwhelmed by choice. Eventually I came across BBC's good food site, which is just decided to awesome food, that's rated by users. It has a really good vegetarian sections with some awesome recipes, I'll share the ones that have worked for me at a later stage.
I often find myself with a ton of spare vegetables where recipes have annoyingly required two onions and I can only find a pack of three. If you find yourself with the same problem try a recipe that's very loose with the ingredients. It might be a soup or a pasta dish with a nice sauce, for me because I like to use quinoa and lentils in a lot of my dishes I tried to find something that used both, with a lot of random vegetables. Eventually I came across this recipe, its super healthy and really filling. I'd highly recommend a spicy pasta sauce with it.