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?’
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!