Carnivorous chums regularly freak out at the fact it’s been over a year now since a morsel of meat passed my lips. I do still eat fish – though increasingly rarely – but the veggie lifestyle has crept up and stolen the show.
Never a huge meat lover, I did used to inhale the occasional burger with the best of them and the obligatory hangover Big Mac tempted me all too often in those carb-crazed uni days. Post-uni, I shared a party house with my friend Nat and the only meals we ever managed to cook were giant vats of cheddar-topped chilli and spag bol washed down with lashings of cheap wine.
Living on my own in my late twenties I naturally gravitated towards veggie meals more and more until eventually cutting out meat full stop in January 2014. The way I eat now is more enjoyable and sustainable than a brief foray into vegetarianism aged 13 (that classic weapon in the teenage war against public enemy number 1: your own mum) so I thought I would share a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Make a meal of it
For my 33rd birthday, Chaz and said mum (17 years post-ceasefire) took me to Greens restaurant in Didsbury to toast my pleasingly symmetrical age with a veggie feast. In between champagne cocktails we devoured course after course of amazingly fresh, surprisingly simple food that would delight the most steadfast of steak-lovers.
The main thing I took away from the day was a newfound appetite to make one humble ingredient centre-stage. My scorched broccoli starter was a treat, as was Chaz’s oriental pancake dish – where mushrooms punched above their rep as an alternative to the traditional duck (not to mention leaving at least one happy mallard free to quack another day). I had a ‘chuck it all in and hope for the best’ sort of attitude before this, but Greens’ considered approach to the humble vegetable made me rethink the way I cook and shun the chop-happy habit in favour of showcasing one thing. Win-win really, because it’s way more economical to save that aubergine for a standalone showstopper than mindlessly throw it into a dish which already has loads of veggies jostling for the top spot.
Come dine with me
The veggie life chose me, but that’s not true of everyone so I expect menus to be jam packed with meat-based mains when I eat out. But over the last year I’ve discovered how badly so many eateries do veggie fayre. It’s a shame. I’m no Nigella, but off the top of my head I can name at least ten easy vegetarian meals that I cook and eat regularly. Yet whenever I dine out, it’s disappointing to see the same old tomato pasta, cheese and onion pie and bland veggie chilli combo.
Now, I do live in a smallish town in East Lancashire so I don’t expect culinary wizardry everywhere I turn, and I know there are plant-based treats galore to be found in lots of cafes, pubs, restaurants and delis in the big city and beyond. It just feels a bit like your average eaterie treats the veggie option as an afterthought (at best – one so-called gastropub had nothing more than a cheese sandwich on offer one Sunday afternoon, not quite the dish to set a weary walker’s world on fire), many can’t even tell you which puddings are veggie-friendly so there’s a certain ignorance even among trained chefs.
Eating out is still one of my main joys in life (and the impetus to get me through many a rainy run or windy walk), I just scour menus in advance now to make sure there’s something decent to be had for the hungry herbivore. Not a massive hardship for a greedy menu fiend like me. There are of course plenty of great exceptions to this rule round our way (shout out to the great waiter at Northcote who brought me a separate veggie menu on a girls’ lunch out and didn’t make me feel like a social outcast in the slightest).
A lot of the time, though, cooking at home wins. As long as the wine is flowing and the attire is cosy.
Can’t say I ever really thought about my protein intake as a moderate meat-eater, but eating veggie most of the time means I’m glued to the macro pie chart on MyFitnessPal.
I’ve read a lot of interesting stuff about how much protein you actually need and should eat, post like this one by Deliciously Ella have helped me to incorporate things I might not previously have considered to up the intake. These mostly consist of:
- Pulses – love the humble lentil, stews and chillies bursting with beans and I make Deliciously Ella’s hummus week after week, heaping it on virtually every meal for an extra hit of chickpea power
- Protein powders – currently experimenting with hemp and spirulina to give the old smoothies a kick
- Nuts and seeds – any excuse to add almond butter to my porridge is fine by me
- Grains – oats, quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat aren’t the most obvious sources but they hold their own
- Vegetables and fruit – the fact kale and avocado pack a protein punch was just music to my ears
I’m still no expert on this and I’m always trying new things. Any suggestions welcome!
Take the flack
If you’re considering kicking meat to the kerb prepare to get a lot of stick. People seem to be fascinated by it, I laugh it off. I heard a vegan on the radio eloquently and knowledgably defending her decision to raise her toddler on a plant-based diet and she argued the case for infant nutrition way better than any of the meat-pushing mums claiming she was mental. Now I’m not saying I agree with her choice necessarily, but it pays to know your stuff.
You’d be a pretty miserable, malnourished veggie if you didn’t explore all the options out there (as our stepdad John chastised Chaz during HER stroppy teenage veggie phase: “you’re the only vegetarian I know who doesn’t like vegetables”).
I’ve eaten all sorts of things I never thought I’d try or even knew existed over the last year (hello tofu chocolate mousse) in my never-ending quest for plant-based culinary nirvana.
Not to be all X Factor about it, but it’s a fun journey and if you’ve tried Chaz’s version of Naturally Sassy’s peanut butter cheesecake you’ll know the promised land does exist.
All images taken by us or from Pinterest