My name is Hollie-Anne and I’m a vegetarian. I still find it weird saying that to friends, family or waitresses as she suggests the steak and I nearly gag at the thought of raw meat. But it wasn’t always like this. It was only back in February when I was chomping down on a kebab and garlic sauce after a night out with my fellow students that I considered vegetarianism. In typical student style, we’d all pile into our takeaway outlet of choice and come out with cheeseburgers, fried chicken and UMO (Unidentified Meat Objects) which would usually be warmed up and eaten the next morning for breakfast.
Now, as we approach National Vegetarian Week, I’m personally celebrating being meat free for several months and seeing the effects both on my body and on my mind.
I became vegetarian right slap bang in the middle of the horse meat scandal where I vowed to shun pork crackling on my Sunday lunch, bacon sandwiches on a hangover and Nandos. Oh Nandos. Saying that, I never especially liked or ate much meat. Red meat, for me, was something I ate in burger form when I was feeling especially knackered and felt like I needed some more iron. Pork was a nice Sunday lunch option but never the be all and end all and chicken was something I grilled and cooked three to four nights a week but I was fairly sure I could get over that.
When I made my decision to go veggie, I started researching into the ethics of meat production just to see if it would give me that little extra push to go from someone who doesn’t really like meat and would like to be a bit healthier to someone passionate about being a vegetarian. I researched online, read blogs about people’s veggie lifestyle and looked up recipes that would embrace my hatred for mushrooms. But I worried about my cravings – what if I did really fancy a red thai chicken curry? And how on earth would I give up my beloved chorizo? Chorizo was my world. I added sliced chorizo to cheese on toast at lunch, in a traditional paella, in my infamous chicken and chickpea stew.
The initial panic about how I was going to cope nearly made me not bother but then I turned to Facebook. I wrote a jokey status about how I was going vegetarian but was worried about giving up the aforementioned delicious, life enhancing chorizo but in came my vegan friend Jake and linked me to “Cheatin’, a meat free alternative – Chorizo style”. And I was sold, although not perhaps on the idea of “eating it out of the packet” as a “great way to make friends”, which Jake rather spuriously claims.
So now I had someone with a fountain of knowledge on slightly bizarre meat alternatives and enough friends encouraging me to go for it, it was time to bite the meat free bullet. And it was easy. I’m not going to lie and write here and say how hard it was for me, how I had to resort to watching those slightly harrowing PETA videos just to keep me going and how my boyfriend begged me to cook steak and mash for dinner rather than yet another vegetable chilli, but everything seemed to slip in place quite well. I found Pinterest a great resource for recipes and the subsequent vegetarian and vegan memes I found kept me occupied for hours. Nights out ended with chips and ketchup, the time spent cooking new recipes was a relaxing break from my dissertation and takeaways were a Papa John’s garden party pizza.
However, one gripe I do have is eating out. My boyfriend and I eat out at least once a week and lunch never proves a problem – we’ll go to Pizza Express where they have more than a few amazing vegetarian options and will happily whip me up something vegan if I fancy it. Bravo! Saying that, it’s often the fancier places that just aren’t great when it comes to vegetarian food. Once a month or so, my boyfriend and I will have a date night out where we book a restaurant, order a bottle of champagne and spend more on a meal that we do on a fortnightly shop but I’ll often be stuck with just one option for starter and one option for main.
Thankfully, I love goat’s cheese. But when are restaurants going to realise it’s not the only starter option? And mushrooms. BLOODY HELL, MUSHROOMS! I don’t especially like mushrooms at all. Not all vegetarians want pasta and mushrooms, breaded mushrooms or mushrooms on sodding bruschetta. And this is where I slipped up. My birthday weekend was spent in the luxurious surroundings of the Malmaison hotel and, as I scanned the menu in a slight coconut mojito haze, the satay chicken spoke to me like a vision in the night. Or should that be knife? The only option for my main was, again, some mushroom concoction and the coq au vin with shallots and pancetta just sounded like heaven compared to greasy, rubbery mushrooms. Would the vegetarian god strike me down if, this time, I ate meat? If I did eat meat, would it mean I’d never want to go back to vegetarianism? Could I really block out ideas of battery chickens and foul living conditions as I chomped down on a birthday treat? Turns out I could.
Calmed down by my boyfriend, I ordered the meat options as the ultimate treat and was really tempted to see if meat was all I remembered. Eating meat that night taught me such a lesson – that vegetarianism really is right for me. As I tucked into the meal, no matter how amazingly delicious it tasted, it just didn’t feel right. I can’t describe it but meat just wasn’t what I remembered AT ALL. My boyfriend laughed as I ate bite after bite with a permanent confused look on my face.
After that incident a few weeks ago, I’m back on the vegetarian wagon and couldn’t be happier. I was given the Meat Free Monday book for my birthday which, despite it being rather smug, has the most delicious recipes for those wanting to quit meat all together or for those who just fancy a change once a week.
I feel really proud of what I’ve achieved and I think eating meat a few weeks ago was the affirmation I needed that vegetarianism, and hopefully veganism in 2014, is perfect for me and my lifestyle.
Now, pass me the tofu!
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