Going vegetarian: why I’m finally giving up meat

Back to weird: going vegetarian

For 16 years, from the age of 16 to 32, I was a vegetarian. That was over 20 years ago – how time flies! In those days the nearest thing to a vegetarian meal you would find in a standard pub or restaurant was a cheese omelette, or something that was accidentally vegetarian, like macaroni cheese. Going vegetarian was still considered a bit weird. I would be grilled by well meaning friends and relatives about why I was a vegetarian and forced to defend my position, when actually I just wanted to get on with my dinner! If you are vegetarian or vegan you will be familiar with the questions and comments, such as ‘So, if we all stopped eating meat, what would become of all those sheep?’

Going vegetarian: photo of me as a 16 year old

My veggie 16 year old self

Vegetarian restaurants existed because us veggies needed to eat out occasionally and have something worth dressing up for. However, you would only find them in cities. I worked in one in London for a while: Food for Health in Blackfriars. We searched for it recently and it is now some kind of office. A vegetarian friend of mine ran a veggie catering business and I often helped him out at events, including Glastonbury Festival one year. Fun times!

A change of heart

So what happened? What made me start eating meat again? Life got in the way. I got married and had three daughters. My then husband ate meat and so did the girls, so I was frequently cooking two meals. With a busy family life and a job, my priorities changed and I started eating fish, then chicken and eventually whatever everyone else was having. I also suffer from IBS and, truth be told, literally couldn’t stomach the largely pulse based meals I used to eat. But I always felt like a vegetarian who ate meat. Strange but true!

The research and benefits

Now that the girls are all off my hands and it is mostly just me and Mr Shoestring, I have decided it is the right time for going vegetarian again. I actually enjoy vegetarian food more than meat and we have always eaten it twice a week or so. It tends to be cheaper too, so useful for those of us on a budget.

Healthier

I think I will be healthier – there is quite a lot of evidence to back up the health benefits of a good vegetarian diet. For several years when I was a veggie, I took part in some research that the Oxford University was running and had to send in  blood tests every now and again for analysis. I just Googled this research and found a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that backs up claims that vegetarians live longer. At my age, that is good news!! Just wish I could persuade Mr S to join me.

Greener

Whilst I was tracking down the research results I came across an interesting article on the University of Oxford website, Veggie based diets could save 8 million lives by 2050 and cut global warming. This is appealing on so many levels. I am a bit of a greenie, as regular readers may have noticed, so if my vegetarian diet produces less CO2 that is a huge bonus. At a time when there is so much pressure on the NHS, a healthier population is also something to aim for.

Kinder

I am an animal lover too. Although animal welfare in farming is much better than it was in the eighties when I was a vegetarian, I have always had an underlying feeling of guilt about eating meat.  In the end, no matter how kind we are to the animals, they are going to die because we choose to eat them. It is a difficult moral argument. I have no intention of trying to push my feelings  onto anyone else – it is a matter of personal choice.

Doing it differently

Going vegetarian: photo of a cheesy quinoa and broccoli bakeGoing vegetarian these days is so much easier than it was when I was 16. As well as being able to find a decent meal in a restaurant, there are so many options for vegetarians and vegans these days when shopping. Even my preferred budget supermarkets have sections selling food free from meat. There are ready made pies, nut roasts and bakes in the freezer section for when you don’t have time to cook, and tins of pulses – no more soaking over night and cooking for hours.

I am not a massive fan of Quorn, but it is handy to have some of this in the freezer to bung into a quick stir fry or Bolognese after work. I had never heard of quinoa until a few years ago but now you can buy it everywhere. It is super nutritious and high in protein, so excellent for a vegetarian diet. I made this quinoa and broccoli casserole for dinner the other night. It was nice but a little on the dry side. If I make it again I will add a layer of white sauce or some tomatoes.

New inspiration

I still have a shelf full of old veggie recipe books, including my fabulous original copies of the original Cranks books, some Rose Elliot classics and the Vegetarian Kitchen by Sarah Brown. I have never stopped using these.  However, I am also enjoying some of the new writing on vegetarian food online, include some great looking recipes on the Vegetarian Society website. If you want to eat more veggie food, there are plenty of ideas in my Favourite Frugal Recipes section.

I am not ready to go vegan, even with its currently popularity. I am also still prepared to occasionally eat fish as this will make it easier if I am going to friends’ houses for dinner. But I am enjoying the challenge of finding and creating new recipes that fit my budget and IBS issues. Going vegetarian is making cooking and shopping interesting again!

10 thoughts on “Going vegetarian: why I’m finally giving up meat

  1. Love this post, Jane! I was a long time vegetarian (most of my life) who suffers from aenemia, so badly that I now have meat when I’m out. Add in a tomato allergy …. and vegetarian food when you’re out gets hard to find. I now also eat fish, at home. Eggs, cheese. Milk. I don’t handle nuts well – so…. It’s a minefield for some of us. But all of your concerns: yes! yes! yes! I still suffer tons of guilt having the odd bit of meat, and dairy, but my body needs them. I have a lot of very simple dhal. It is a pity that you don’t handle pulses too well, I know other people who do not, either.

    • Ooh, lord. Tomatoes though! I once had to cook for a vegan who didn’t eat them and it was hard. We can only do what we can do in the end.

      • I have been veggi for 28years but went vegan 1 year ago and have not had an IBS
        attack since and no more hospital admittances turns out it was the dairy to blame.
        Jessica

        • I can well believe as I am the same. I’m fine if I use lactofree milk however and I am ok with many cheeses, particularly hard cheese. I think many people are intolerant but yours sounds terrible

  2. I agree with you about occasionally eating fish if it makes things easier
    (in Australia it’s almost impossible to eat out in ordinary restaurants
    and pubs if you don’t) – it comes down to what works for you. By the
    way, I just had some routine blood tests done and my iron levels are
    perfect despite not eating meat for over 15 years which surprised me a
    bit.

    • You can get plenty of iron if you eat vegetables, so I’m not surprised. You can be vitamin deficient with any diet, can’t you?

      • I recently read how one’s iron stores are highest in the morning about 7am, so I am making sure that I am up well before then, and I take my iron with a bit of hard cheese for fat, as I remembered that a lot of minerals require fat to be absorbed. It’s going well so far. Tomato allergy is a real bother, I have to be so careful. I often stick with a plain scone at a cafe, & meals out are a major nightmare.

  3. What a great post. Apart from occasional chicken and fish I eat a lot of vegetarian food as I don’t like meat. The last chicken I had was about three weeks ago and its not on the menu this week so to lose it altogether wouldn’t be any great loss.
    I love the idea of ‘accidentally vegi’ dishes! Though many pubs are much better than they used to be at catering for non-meat eaters, it is still not unusual to find ones which offer only pasta based dishes as an alternative…I hate pasta!

  4. I think we must be twins separated at birth!! 😀
    I was a vegetarian from 10-19 – not for any worthy moral reasons – just because I didn’t like the taste of meat! I remember going to the only vegetarian restaurant I knew of and having a nut cutlet, because that was the only vegetarian food I’d ever heard of – and it was like eating bird seed!! 😮
    I only began eating meat sparsely at unit because my accommodation came with an evening meal and if I didn’t eat meat I’d have starved! 🙁
    Then, like you having a family, and living in Cowboy Country (wild west USA where being veggie got you laughed out of town, and not even McDonalds & Burger King had a veggie option!) both got in the way – though quite often I reverted to my teenage life and just had what they had but without the meat – ie vegetables!

    Now with another one off to Uni we’re able to go back to being 99% veggie. DH did a vegan diet about 10 years ago and lost so much weight he is happy to do it again, and those kids who are left at home either eat it or fend for themselves! 😀

    Of this month’s menu plan; 23 days are veggie, 3 are chicken (I have Quorn pieces instead, though I will eat chicken if there’s no other choice) and 4 are fish which I also eat.
    I don’t buy veggie ready meals or pies but Cauldron sausages are lovely, and acceptable to the whole family!

  5. Yes, I was vegetarian from 16 to 32 but started eating small amounts of meat again when I was pregnant with my first child as I was anaemic and didn’t want to take supplements. Nowadays we eat meat on high days and holidays only and only ever buy locally reared and organic meat and as I’ve had an allotment for 17 years it isn’t difficult to produce a vegetarian meal every evening. Also vegetarianism positively encourages you to be experimental with recipes. I am also dabbling with veganism just to further reduce my footprint. My 21-year-old daughter has been vegan for a couple of years now (she’s away at university) but as my milk comes in bottles from the milkman and I make a couple of batches of yogurt every week I am reluctant to switch to supermarket alternatives.

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