So…I started writing this post at the beginning of the year and if you manage to get to the end of it (it’s quite a long one!) you’ll realise why I should probably change the title now…
I remember the exact day on which I decided to become a vegetarian. I was 12. We were having lunch at an American restaurant, Dave and Busters, a regular occurrence for our family at the time. Eating trashy fast food seated at diner style benches, slap bang in the middle of a pumping arcade – pretty much a 90’s kids dream. My younger brother and I loved it.
I was biting into my usual from the kids menu – a breaded chicken tendon. I looked down at the tears my teeth had made into the white flesh and suddenly I made the connection. I was eating an animal. And I loved animals. I put it down. I couldn’t eat it anymore. “Mum, I’m going to be a vegetarian.” Now, most parents would probably reply with, “don’t be silly” or “I’m sure it’s just a phase.” But mine didn’t. She seemed happy and agreed we should stop eating meat as a family.
Back then in 1999 (wow, that feels weird) vegetarianism felt like it was somewhat frowned upon. As a 12 year old vegetarian, I was the difficult one at friend’s houses, I was the person who got the most boring meal when eating out, the one who before a BBQ had to trek to the only health food shop in town to buy sausages, just so I could fit in… AND as well as all that I was the girl who got asked about a gazillion times – so why are you a vegetarian?… Is it for ethical reasons or do you just not like the taste? As a 12 year old I didn’t know how to answer this question well enough to justify my reasons and probably replied with, “Umm… I… like… animals”. Hmm… not really fighting the cause there.
It was not until ten years later that I tasted my first piece of meat again. It was on a warm sunny day in Brighton during my third year at university. A group of us headed down to the beach for a BBQ. There had been talk amongst my housemates that I might start to eat meat again and on the way to the beach we’d bought some of my old favourite – Bratwurst. I hadn’t decided if I was going to do it yet. As the BBQ lit up and the sausages started sizzling away I started to feel a little nervous. And then, a few moments later I’d done it, I took my first small bite and it felt very weird. I know it sounds silly, but something happened whilst I was eating that bratwurst – I’d stopped making the connection. I took a few more bites and the ordeal was over. I was a meat eater again.
I carried on eating meat on and off from that point. I wouldn’t have called myself a meat lover, although I have to admit I did enjoy a fair few steaks during this time. During the five years as a born again omnivore I slowly ate less and less meat until earlier this year I declared myself a vegetarian again.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why I started eating meat again. Looking back, one of my main motives for becoming a meat eater again was because people would tell me the lack of energy I felt was probably the lack of iron caused by a vegetarian diet. As an exhausted 3rd year university student who was constantly getting ill, I’d try anything.
So…After 5 years as an omnivore and not feeling miraculously energised, the vegetarian animal lover was starting to resurface. But it wasn’t until I read Jay Rayner’s account of what goes on in Britain’s best abattoir in his book A Hungry Man in a Greedy World, that I made the commitment. I remember the exact moment when I became a vegetarian again. It was June 2014 at the beach in Italy reading that book. I had re-made the connection between the piece of meat on my plate and the living, breathing animal.
Arriving back in the UK, with my renewed appetite for vegetarianism, I quickly realised that actually I didn’t have to change anything in my kitchen. All the meals I cooked were already vegetarian. All I did was add meat to an already vegetarian meal. Meat was an after thought in my head. This was a revelation to me! I began to think why that was the case. Being veggie throughout my teenage years had meant my thought process was already used to a vegetarian diet. Lots of people I know say they would find it extremely difficult to cook and plan meals without meat, but I actually found it a lot harder to cook and plan meals with meat. This made me super excited! If I’d retrained my thought process and palate before, then that meant I could do it again.
Without wanted to write an extremely long blog post (which this is turning into!) and go into too much detail (I’ll save that for another post)… I still wasn’t feeling my best and along with tiredness I also had other symptoms such as an un-diagnosable blood rash, hunger pains straight after I’d eaten and a metallic taste in my mouth. Fed up with doctors telling me I was fine, I started looking for alternatives, which is when my auntie introduced me to the Hemsley+Hemsley cookbook. This book opened my eyes to a different way of eating and led me to my diet choices today. I started to make another connection, it wasn’t just about not eating meat, it was what I was putting into my body that was really important. I started cutting things out of my diet to see if I felt better. First to go was milk, and I felt my aches easing. Then I cut down on gluten, and my bloated stomach went down. I slowly stopped having refined sugar, and I was less tired. The better I ate, the more energised I felt. I began to keep a food diary to record my eating habits and to my surprise I was 80% vegan. For a few months I kept telling people, “I think I’m going to go vegan.” But I didn’t make the commitment and carried on eating cheese and eggs at the weekend – I loved eating eggs!
And then I watched Cowspiracy… The second the film finished I looked over to Murray and declared myself a fully-fledged vegan.
I’m now 4 months into my new vegan lifestyle. Without wanting to sound like the cliched ‘wellness’ blogger, I can honestly say I have never felt, happier, healthier and full of life!