Vegetarianism: What’s It All About?

7 years.

That happens to be how long I was a dedicated vegetarian, resisting the urges to gorge on bacon sandwiches and roast dinners, and instead contenting myself with nut roasts and rather unsatisfying quorn.  The first question that springs to people’s lips is almost inevitably, ‘Why did you become a vegetarian?’ Before I even attempted to answer they usually exclaimed that they could never live without meat. This impassioned declaration was often accompanied by a pained expression and a dismissive shake of the head.

My explanation, that I was 11 years old and at a foreign meat market observing the casual killing of cute fluffy animals was often followed by a shrug, with the obvious inference that I should grow up a bit and accept that it is the way of the world.  From the early teens onwards my prevailing vegetarianism could be attributed to my objection to intensive farming, and the horrifying treatment to which the animals are subjected. Even now, after fully embracing the carnivore within, I try to avoid buying non free range products.

For many, vegetarianism is an unimaginable torture that has to be endured rather than enjoyed. This is generally not the case.  Hand on heart, I can say that if I hadn’t had that first bite of bacon sandwich, (I mean, come on it’s how most vegetarians convert back to the dark side), I probably could have continued indefinitely. Because, I can assure all you zealous carnivores out there that you are not surviving purely on lettuce and tofu. You have can have really tasty, filling, and often healthier meals.  

Studies have shown that vegetarians often have lower incidence of coronary artery disease, hypertension, and obesity and are less susceptible to some forms of cancer.  It is evident that vegetarianism is not an infallible route to physical wellbeing. Indeed, as a friend of mine found to her cost, giving up meat does not entitle you to a pizza a day. This unfortunately will always be an unachievable dream.  An essential component of the vegetarian diet is to ensure the continued intake of the required minerals and vitamins necessary for a healthy and sustainable diet. Protein is the bigg’un that most new converts worry about replacing, as it is easiest to attain through the consumption of meat products. But be not afraid.  Nuts and pulses, cereals and legumes such as peas and beans are more than sufficient to fill the protein gap. Chowing down on a handful of seeds may not appear particularly appetising, but there is now so much out there for the adventurous veggie to discover that hopefully you won’t be left with that option.

Of course, being an adventurous student cook is quite another matter. As someone that can barely wait 10 minutes for my pasta to boil, the idea of cooking fresh and delicious veggie meals did not get me skipping around the kitchen, (skipping may even be impossible in Uni kitchens considering their general tendency to be worryingly sticky. It’s best not to think about it).  Flicking through a veggie cookbook can often be a bewildering experience, especially on a student budget. For example, I doubt many of you would place rainbow chard or pea shoots on the Aldi shopping list. Yet, it is possible and can often be less expensive and easier to prepare than meat dishes. I hasten to add that in terms of meat being expensive I am not including the ridiculously good and often essential post night out Chesters or kebab!

After 7 years I, personally could resist no longer. This dawned on me when I realised I was enviously watching people eating meat, and subconsciously planning the attack. On a less ominous and psychotic note, it was rare for me to be found without a wistful expression on my face, imagining I was the lucky one. To put it simply, it was for the best – to protect the people around me and preserve my sanity. I did manage it though, and believe it or not I was not crying into my falafel thinking of all I was missing out on, so give it a go.

If you decide it’s probably about time to get rid of the booze baby for good, then try a veggie meal every now and again. If the loan isn’t quite stretching to accommodate the chicken on the food shop, then have a bash at something different. After all, where’s the harm in trying?