So, I decided to go vegetarian for a month. No meat or fish, no meat products. No prawns and no parmesan. For someone whose cultural heritage includes terms for cows as a unit of currency, this is a bit of a departure. So why did I do it?
My boyfriend has his own kitchen garden (currently replete with spinach, lettuce, leeks, rocket, and strawberries), and through him I became more interested in sustainability and permaculture. (He started the veggie adventure a week before me but gradually broadened his horizons to include fish and meat people had already cooked for him, so…). I’ve been reading the veggie food posts here with interest, and I also have a lot of vegetarian friends, who are some of the best cooks I know. I will happily go around to their houses and wolf down their delicious baked tofu and salads and home-made pizzas and curries… and both my previous diet and my cooking skills left a lot to be desired in the fruits and vegetables department (cheese, however, I am all over). I suppose I hoped some of their awesome cooking skills would rub off on me through some kind of vegetable osmosis.To my surprise, I didn’t find the month that difficult (apart from trying to buy food for lunch near work, none of which was ever both meat-free and appetising – though it turns out chicken flavour dry noodles are suitable for vegetarians). One week in, I found myself reaching unconsciously for the bacon on my sister’s Caeser salad (bad right hand!). In week two, I had a sudden craving for pastrami that lasted five minutes. But one month in, the only thing I really miss is the local Indian takeaway’s tandoori prawns. I dream about them. I can taste them in my mouth and smell them in my nose. I want them all in my face.
Before this, my thoughts about what I put in my mouth went something like this:
Is it there? Is it edible?
Now, I put a bit more thought into my food. I’m still a devotee of pita bread stuffed with fake cheese, but vegetables take up the room on my plate that was previously devoted to a mindlessly-grabbed and actually not-very-tasty slice of supermarket ham or chicken. I’ve always loved bok choi, but fresh steamed spinach is suddenly unspeakably delicious; chickpea salad is one of my favourite lunches; and tomato and lentil soup is… mmm, where was I?
What I did find unexpectedly difficult was identifying as a vegetarian. At family meals, I’d mutter something about “just… trying this… thing for a while,” shovelling salad and bread on to my plate while my grandmother eyed me suspiciously. At restaurants, I dithered over asking for veggie options (pointlessly, because most restaurants were happy to help me out). But I never said out loud, “I’m a vegetarian,” because, after all, I wasn’t. It was just an experiment.
And now that the experiment is nearly over, what am I? I really don’t object to eating animals and their products for food, so I’m never going to be a strict vegetarian or vegan. I do think that when we consume animals, we have a responsibility to the animals and the environment in general. I’m definitely interested in learning more about how food is produced and consumed. But I’ll be happy to eat meat when I really want it and when it comes from a sustainable, humane, and hopefully local source. I’m not saying I’ll never have a roast chicken again, but I am sure that when I do, it’ll be because I really, really want that chicken. And I’ll check where it’s from and how it was looked after when it was alive, before I eat. And this Sunday, when my self-imposed month of veggie-ism ends, I will be straight on the phone to the takeaway to order my tandoori prawns.
So, what do I call myself now: a quasi-vegetarian? Flexitarian? 85% veggie? Are there more of you out there? What do you call yourselves? And if you’re a guest, how do you describe your food preferences? I’m thinking, “I won’t eat meat unless it looks really really delicious, so none of your gross pork chops, thanks,” won’t go down well at parties.