There is no such thing as a perfect vegetarian.
Once upon a time I used to eat meat, as a teen I was a fervent veggie but as a uni student peer pressure broke me. Now, it has been been four years since I last ate meat and we’re raising our daughter vegetarian.
Is vegetarianism a rebellious act?
Being a vegetarian during the majority of my teen years was neither a cry for attention nor an act of rebellion. Far from it: my mum was a vegetarian when she was pregnant with me, but went back to eating meat, before giving it up again due to health concerns when I was in my tweens. At around 11 I remember getting out a library book that guided me through all I needed to know about plant proteins and how my choice would help save the planet. I vividly remember discussing the ethical and environmental pros of vegetarianism with the local librarian (who incidentally used to cycle 5+ miles each way to work).
Growing up in a mixed household.
Sometimes when I discuss vegetarianism with the young people I work with, they tell me their parents aren’t willing to “let” them give up meat as it would require more effort to cook two meals. But I often argue it’s not that clear cut; I believe that many meals can have the meat subtly removed or replaced with vegetarian options. You don’t need to spend loads on fake meat either; beans and pulses are cheap as…
Luckily for me, my dad was used to cooking vegetarian options for my mum and, as a Frenchman who prides himself on his culinary skill, they tended to vary beyond beans on toast. Growing up (and even today when we all get together) all meals included a side of chicken or fish for my dad or my brother while we all enjoy the same main course.
The reason I went back to eating meat.
Like many (all?!) students, I arrived at university wanting to make friends and fit in with a crowd I felt comfortable with. My housemates from first year were some of my closest friends throughout the three years and one of the ways we bonded was over food.
I can’t remember exactly when they broke me, definitely within the first term, but after watching them cook a full Sunday roast together I couldn’t help but get involved and dig in. The comfort of a home cooked meal and the pride and camaraderie that came with preparing and eating together was too much of a draw.
It didn’t last too long though: a friend and I went vegan for Lent in third year and I returned to vegetarianism. Over the five years that followed I yoyoed between vegan and meat eater, whether due to a hungover bacon butty or wanting to taste local cuisine when travelling… I couldn’t quite commit. However, since 2015, when I became pregnant, I haven’t eaten meat.
Raising a vegetarian child was the obvious choice for us.
For some reason, back in 2010, the exam board decided to make all 15 year olds analyse a PETA advert as part of their coursework. Surprisingly, it did little to change the minds of the Manchester kids we taught but it did have a lasting impression on my then colleague, now husband. He gave up eating meat and I was able to date him – I jest… but it definitely would make raising a vegetarian daughter harder if he wasn’t on board with it.
On some days it can seem to me like she eats nothing but beige food, followed by her usual spoonful of vitamins that I dole out, just to play it safe. But I know that although sometimes I doubt myself* and worry that she is going down the path of beans on toast vegetarianism, her diet is so much more varied than I give us credit for. Being vegetarian (and me being mostly vegan) means we experiment with our food, we enjoy trying new things together and eating the rainbow.
Meat eaters: some suggestions for you.
As I mentioned, my dad and my brother still eat meat and although I try to respect their choices, I also spend a lot of my time making suggestions about alternatives. So here are some suggestions that have worked for even my dad…!
Try vegetarian alternatives– I’m told a lot of the processed meats (meat- free sausages, meat- free ham, meat- free chicken nuggets…) taste fairly similar to the vegetarian alternatives. My dad even claims the sausages taste better than meat ones he’d been buying.
Cut down and try to buy organic and/or local as much as possible.I believe we need to start looking at meat as a luxury item again, like our ancestors did. If it’s cheap enough to eat every day then something’s not quite right.
Reuse a vegetarian or vegan meal you’ve cooked and enjoyed; we eat vegan chilli once a fortnight and it has not got old yet. If you find something you like, that becomes familiar and easy for you to cook – get it on your meal rotation.
So wherever you are on your veggie journey… Happy National Vegetarian Week!
*Including reading through most of a 100 page NHS guideline documents that I then largely ignore as they told me she needs milk to thrive… She’s the tallest kid her age I know, super strong and super keen on life; I think we’re doing alright.