What I learned in my month as a vegetarian

As a certified omnivore, Ella Walker ditched meat for a month to see what would happen...
What I learned in my month as a vegetarian
Ella Walker who went Vegetarian for a month.

A BIG part of my job is eating stuff. I write about food for a living, so cutting out food groups isn’t generally an option for me.

However, I have a conundrum, because the world of food writing is intrinsically bound up in the ethical questions of what we eat, why we eat it, how food ends up on our plates, and the impact it has on the planet.

Veganism and vegetarianism are undoubtedly on the rise — according to a study last year of just over 1,000 Irish consumers carried out for Bord Bia, 2% said they followed a “mainly vegetarian diet”.

Plant-based diets are becoming increasingly popular, and easier to stick to with supermarkets and restaurants certainly cottoning on.

Arguably, I’m a ‘flexitarian’, meaning I don’t eat meat every day (mainly for environmental reasons), and dinner at my house can end up being pescatarian, veggie, vegan or carnivorous, purely depending what’s in the fridge.

Over Christmas though, my four-year-old niece was found in the kitchen stroking a raw duck that was being prepped to go in the oven. She asked if we could please put it back in its feathers now, and let it go back outside.

It gave me a nudge to really consider going vegetarian, even if only for a month. Here’s what I discovered...

Doing a shop is way cheaper

We’re all aware meat is pricey, especially if you buy free-range or organic — even supermarket value meat costs you — but it’s incredible just how much cheaper a basket is once I leave out my usual packet of mince (€4), sausages (€3), and salmon fillets (€5).

Add that up over a month and I save a fortune by swapping in pulses and veggies instead, and the same goes for eating out — the veggie options are usually considerably more purse-friendly.

You’ll miss some things...

In my case, it’s not bacon sandwiches, it’s salmon. I absolutely love salmon; preferably pan-fried fillets of it, doused in butter and squeezed over with lemon.

So when Tuesday night comes along (Tuesday, not Friday, is fish night in our house), I feel quite bereft. And family roast dinners become trickier (I load up on potatoes and Yorkshires to fill the gap).

...but not others

An aubergine lasagane is arguably better than a beef one; a mushroom pie doesn’t need chicken if you can pad it out with broccoli and leeks; fry-ups are just fine without bacon and black pudding. I could go on...

Aubergines are your friend

And mushrooms, courgettes, butternut squash, sweet potatoes — anything with heft, that can also be stuffed.

And this is personal taste thing, but no matter how many sesame seeds and breadcrumbs are plastered on a slab of tofu, it’s still tofu; soft, slimy, tasteless tofu. I’ll go without, thanks. Give me all the aubergine instead.

Pasta becomes even more of a staple

If in doubt (or if the fridge is looking sad and empty), meatballs or sausage and mash are our back-up suppers.

Remove meat from the equation though and a girl can’t live on mash alone (although it does constitute an entire meal when topped with fried onions, sweetcorn, cheddar and cashew nuts, right?).

A tangle of tomato pasta becomes the new go-to at the end of a long day instead. Spaghetti, garlic, olive oil, a bag of plum tomatoes squished in the pan and a handful of basil — it takes seven minutes total, so sausages are out from now on.

You’re better off ordering multiple side dishes rather than a main

Vegetarian mains in pubs and restaurants are largely unimaginative. The cliche is true, you’re either looking at risotto or a goat’s cheese tart.

A selection of vegetable sides ordered as a main though, that can make for an envy-inducing meal. Give me slaw, fries, creamed spinach, mac and cheese and any kind of dressed salad and I’m set.

Just be prepared to spend your meal intercepting other people’s hands as they reach for your plates — be clear: you are not sharing.

People grill you mercilessly on your eating habits

And worry endlessly over what you’re going to eat when you go out to dinner...

I realise I behave like this towards my own veggie/vegan friends (because what is life without chicken?!), so quickly decide to shut up in future, because it is utterly inane.

Order what you want, stop feeling by turns bad and indignant, and concentrate on your own food.

Indian and Italian cuisine will become your cuisines of choice

Having said that, thoughtful friends will suggest going for Indian. Crispy, deep-fried onion bhajis, unctuous dahls, spinach in all the ways, herb crusted naans, spiced potato and chutneys galore — who even needs meat when you’ve got all this?

Alternatively, go out for pizza, because a margherita beats a meat feast hands down every time, regardless of your dietary requirements.

It’s not as hard as you might imagine

But if you are a full-time meat-eater, you do have to really consider what to have for dinner. It’s a challenge at first (I end up cooking a lot of easy bowl food, like stir-fries, veggie risottos, soup, etc), but after a week or so, being inventive becomes easier (and once you start griddling vegetables and drenching them in olive oil, it becomes really hard to stop).

Once you’ve got the meal planning nailed, you’ll find you skip the chilled meat aisle on autopilot.

You feel good

About yourself (I certainly felt lighter physically — even if it was just a placebo effect); about sparing the animals (my niece would be proud), and about the environment (although my avocado intake did increase over the month, and those green beauties require a whole lot of water).

My meat-free days are definitely going to increase in number.

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