I Am a Vegetarian

In the tail-half of 2014, I decided to try about being a vegetarian. In truth I had entertained the idea for a long time, but for whatever reason (an honest love of meat, for example) I hadn’t taken the plunge. Now I am, in fact, a vegetarian, and have not eaten meat since October 2014.

I am not a vegan. I still consume dairy, eggs, and honey, and I still wear wool and such. As a vegetarian, I simply do not eat meat, and try to avoid products made from dead animals, ie. leather. It’s okay though, I’ve never been a big fan of leather.

Food is fairly well-labelled these days with “suitable for vegetarians”. It’s a little annoying that there’s not a single standardised way to label this, so I do have to double-check a lot of things like cheese, but this is honestly not that big of a deal. Some things have a big V, some have a Vegetarian Society logo, some say “Suitable for vegetarians” in tiny writing. Regardless, if it is suitable for vegetarians, it will almost always say – and if it doesn’t, the internet helps. If I’m unsure, I say no.

I come from a family cheese enthusiasts. Cheese is a bit of a minefield for vegetarians thanks to animal rennet. I missed out on a lovely-smelling baked Camembert at Christmas.
I come from a family cheese enthusiasts. Cheese is a bit of a minefield for vegetarians thanks to animal rennet. I missed out on a lovely smelling baked Camembert at Christmas.

The main reasons I have become vegetarian are ethical. I have heard a lot of people say “if you can’t kill an animal, you shouldn’t eat animals.” While I don’t necessarily agree with this sentiment, I realised that I have always struggled with the idea that an animal was killed so that I could enjoy a meal for the five minutes it takes to eat it. I have always hated the idea of killing animals – I step on slugs sometimes and it upsets me – so it always seemed weird to be eating animals. Mostly I just wouldn’t think about it, because when I did, my mind was full of contradiction.

Here’s an incredibly simple video that explains this dilemma:

There are also ecological concerns. Meat production is incredibly resource-heavy, contributes heavily to pollution and deforestation, and as much as hunger is a huge problem in the world already, we’re fast approaching catastrophic food shortages that we are not doing nearly enough to prepare for. Occasionally I’ve mentioned this in casual conversations and people have looked at me like I’m a crazy person.

Now, I realise in media portrayals there’s often an undercurrent of cultural superiority in a lifestyle choice like vegetarianism. The only reason that vegetarianism is even an option for me is because of the widespread availability of all manner of foodstuffs from all over the world. If I were limited to an entirely local, seasonal, whole food style diet, it would be much harder to balance nutritionally, and far more time-consuming to support. While I’m not necessarily on board with the price we pay as a planet for the absurd luxury of consumer choice, it is what it is, and if I’m going to make a choice I’d rather it be this one: that I choose not to eat animals.

I’m not particularly interested in evangelising for vegetarianism, but it seems reasonably obvious to me that the world could do with cutting down on its meat consumption, regardless of how much the inestimably wonderful Nick Offerman enjoys eating steak or bacon.

I thought after I made the switch that I would crave meat, but I am surprised to find for the most part that I don’t. I sometimes have dreams where I eat meat, but mostly it’s about accidentally eating meat and being disappointed that I’ve broken my “vow” as it were. I’ve thought about it for a while, and there’s actually only a handful of things I really do miss.

  • Sushi
  • Bacon
  • Prawns & seafood in general
  • Burgers

The vegetarian food industry has churned a lot of tasty meat-substitute products that are more than good-enough for me. Meat-eaters often get weirdly confused or even upset by the idea that vegetable-produce can be made to replicate the taste and/or texture of a lot of meat, as though it’s cheating and somehow unfair. I think this comes from a certain perception of vegetarians & vegans as being arrogant and judgemental about their diets and the diets of others.

I’ve been asked “Why would a vegetarian want eat veggie chicken pieces? Why would they want it to taste like chicken?” Well, because chicken tastes good. I don’t think there are many people who become vegetarians because they dislike the taste of meat.

I’ve come to realise that in most meat dishes, meat is actually about texture more than it is taste – a lot of the taste actually comes from seasoning and sauces. While there is no real veggie substitute for a chicken wing, I can use a bag of Quorn, or soy & wheat based chicken substitute pieces, and honestly it’s close enough for me. It’s also cheaper than meat. Tofu is its own thing, but the hassle of preparing it is rarely worth the results for me.

The thing that has surprised me the most is how easy the transition has been overall. Sure, in the beginning I had to think a bit more about what food I buy, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily. There are actually plenty of convenience foods I can eat, and enough meat-substitute products that I can keep using what few old staple recipes I had. It’s an opportunity to learn new recipes too. I made home-cooked beans last week. They were pretty good.

Beans, beans, the musical fruit. Baked at home, I am Groot.
Beans, beans, the musical fruit. Baked at home, I am Groot.

I still eat dairy, and thanks to the wonder of protein rich meat-substitutes I still get about as much protein as I used to. The main thing I have to worry about now is iron and a couple of vitamins. Iron deficiency runs in my family, so I need to pay attention to that. I take a multivitamin tablet with iron. It seems to do the job, but then I don’t know what that job really is.

When it comes to others, I’m not judgemental about it. Although this is a conscious choice on my part, I’m not particularly interested in trying to convert people. My convenient and lazy version of vegetarianism is a supported by a lot of the same infrastructure that produces meat. It’s not like I’m growing my own vegetables and only eating local produce.

But since you’re reading this, you should try eating less meat. You might find it’s not as hard as you think.

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