Vegetarianism: my account

Posted on: September 28, 2016

Today marks 1 year of being vegetarian. "What's the plan now?" I've asked myself for, well, about 11 months. A year of not eating meat was never a goal from the outset; I rather unceremoniously slid into it after watching the eye-opening Cowspiracy documentary. I was raised and have always been surrounded by meat-eaters, and up until a little over a year ago, I hadn't even entertained an alternative lifestyle.

That's the key point for me. Being vegetarian is a lifestyle change. (NB: this post isn't about veganism, which I respect as being wholeheartedly more of a commitment than vegetarianism. More on that later.)

I certainly did not realise how ingrained the notion of consuming meat, fish (and dairy, etc.) was to me. It was just the norm; it's what humans ate. I was perfectly content going about my life unaware really of the hypocrisy of considering myself an "animal lover" whilst simultaneously eating them. A year of avoiding meat and fish has been eye-opening to what we put into our bodies without a second thought.

An observation that has intrigued me especially earlier on in the year gone, is the notion that vegetarians (and particularly vegans) will go out of their way to convert you to their way of thinking. Chewing your ear off of the sins of eating meat. My experiences have been on the contrary; it is meat eaters who have vehemently attempted to make me see the error of my ways and to come back to the light, as it were.

Being vegetarian has opened my eyes to a world of food I never really gave much thought to. A plethora of herbs and spices, vegetables, beans, seeds, pulses, nuts. This is good stuff for humans and good stuff for the planet. And it tastes great. And for the most part it's not expensive. I wasn't overweight or unhealthy a year ago as a meat eater, so it's hard to draw any comparisons between then and now. But I'm confident that this past year's eating experiment has changed me, physically and mentally, for the better. I'm fortunate dieting is not something I've ever felt the need to take up, but I would recommend a vegetarian diet to anyone wanting to lose weight. You have to try much harder to be an unhealthy vegetarian than you do consuming meat.

Peering in from the outside, I've grown to hate a lot about the meat industry. I hate the lie we're fed daily through advertising at every turn. I hate that meat is so cheap and so frivolously served up for every meal. I hate that capitalism means no one wants to see or change the irrefutable unsustainability of our food habits. Not to mention the disastrous effect it has on our world. This is the crux of Cowspiracy; we simply cannot sustain our habits we've grown so accustomed to.

But there's no denying to myself, I miss meat. I've heard some accounts from past-meat eaters that the desire to eat meat diminishes over time. Not so with me. I only have to in the vicinity of meat and I get cravings. Missing out at restaurants is a big one. We're not talking fighting off a heroin addiction, it's easy enough to breeze past the multitudes of meat options and take your pick from the smaller selection available. But I can't help that feeling of missing out. Especially as someone who takes joy in the many pleasures of eating.

Home cooking is much less of a hardship. Meals take a little more forethought and generally a tad longer to execute, but weekly food shops are, not considerably, but noticeably cheaper. And there's no temptation at home. Sure there's less quick and dirty meals at your disposal, but it's easy to make the argument this is a good thing in the long run. I still miss cooking a roast, or frying up a full English after a night on the sauce, but any cravings pass once hunger is at bay (it's the devil).

I suppose I've gotten used to being very easy-going with food as an adult. I enjoy eating food and it's easy to graciously accept anything put in front of you. I like most foods, I'm open to trying new things, and have no known allergies. Being vegetarian changes that. It cuts out a lot. You have to start planning trips and activities around your new lifestyle. This is not fun. Part of who I am is being easy-going, spontaneous and my adaptability to change.

And so, it's after 365 days off the stuff, I've pretty much decided cold, hard vegetarianism is not for me. Ultimately I'm not strong enough nor dedicated to the cause to fight this. If I was, I'd honestly have no excuse not to go the whole hog and become vegan. Vegetarian, whilst enlightening and valuable for numerous reasons, has been a half measure to truly sustainable eating which I ultimately don't see myself committing to for the rest of my life.

Maybe the futility has dawned on me over time. We're not going to figure out how to sustainably provide for the World's growing population by individual minorities ceasing to consume meat and fish. Being vegetarian/vegan is a statement, yes, but ultimately it's a collective responsibility to simply eat less that's going to make the greater difference. And one day, with more accessible and attractive alternatives, perhaps humanity can stop altogether. Emptying the oceans, destroying our natural habitat and continuing the often cruel breeding-to-eat cycle can't be our legacy on this planet.

The V word is a dirty word, still. And frequently spoke of in a derisory sense. People do not like to have their rights taken away. This is fair enough. But I don't believe total abstinence is the way forward. Sell the idea of smart and responsible consumption of these foods instead. This year has changed my perspective for good. I feel like I get it now; I am committed to eating more sustainably. But I will still enjoy the veritable array of food we're lucky enough to enjoy. And it will taste all the better now.

Eating meat and fish was once considered a luxury. But we now live in a world where struggling families are encouraged (through pricing and advertising) to eat budget, poor-quality meat over fresh, healthier, plant-based produce.

Being vegetarian is a social, nutritional and ethical journey I would encourage everyone to go on.

Full disclosure; there have been a few exceptions/discoveries over the year:

  • Sweets - I have a bit of a penchant for the things. Occasionally I will still indulge in some of that gelatin fun. Also: the odd marshmallow
  • Prawn crackers - yeh, I know I shouldn't, but I've definitely nabbed a few of these during a chinese takeaway
  • Beer/wine - earlier on I had no idea so much was unsuitable for veggies, due to the production processes. But this stuff is hard to avoid, especially when inebriated
  • Cheese - as above