Two days ago I passed a small personal milestone. Perhaps milestone is the wrong word to use as I did not lose 100 lbs of weight, climb a mountain or jump out of an aeroplane.
5 February 2013 was the day that I stopped eating meat.
The strange thing is that it seems longer than a year since I last ate meat. I honestly do not miss meat in the slightest. The only frustrating part of being vegetarian is when you are out with friends and family at a restaurant; you inevitably have one or two dishes to choose from while they have about thirty. And the one dish on offer is always bloody risotto. Grrrrrr!!!
Why, Why, Oh Why?
Whenever someone hears that you are a vegetarian, they always follow it up with the simple question “Why?”. Therefore, I thought I would beat you all to the punch and explain why I decided to try vegetarianism.
I suppose I could be called a non-ethical vegetarian. Like many people, I grew up with a dog in the family and to this day I love animals of all kinds. I could never go and hunt for my food and eat it, but that is what meat eaters really should do.
The problem is that there is no connection from the animal to the food that is put on our plate. I believe if more people made that connection, they would stop eating meat.
But killing animals was not the reason I stopped eating meat. I would love to tell you all it was, but that would be a lie.
My brother, on the other hand, has always been ethical about his food. He became a vegetarian when he was a teenager and then became a vegan. He is very knowledgable on the subject and researches every single thing he eats. He also would not hurt a fly….literally. If he saw your car was about to kill a slug, he would tell you to stop the car so that he could move the slug to safety.
Although I ate meat all my life, I would eat vegan and vegetarian food when I was with my brother and his girlfriend (who is also a vegan). The food was good, which is why I always wanted to give vegetarianism a try.
This time last year, I had been travelling South America by bus for many months. I have rarely been a fussy eater, which turned out to be useful because when you are travelling, you regularly need to eat what is available instead of what you actually want or need. The majority of meals included rice, vegetables and some kind of meat.
Unfortunately, the meat was usually poor quality. It was not uncommon for meat to be undercooked; so trips to the toilet became habitual!
During this time, I began to think more about becoming a vegetarian and spoke to my girlfriend about it a few times. I briefly considered only eating healthy meat, but did not think I would stick to such a diet as there would always be the temptation to just eat any kind of meat.
Nothing came out of it, but a few months later (when we were staying in Paraguay for a month) my girlfriend brought up the issue again and we decided to give it a try. We did not really put much more thought into it. She suggested it and we decided to make the following day our last night of eating meat. I have not eaten meat since.
The first week was not difficult, though we did go to the toilet frequently as our bodies had to adjust to not getting meat into our bodies. Beyond that, I suffered no ill effects.
My girlfriend lasted around two weeks before she started eating seafood and returned to meat another week or so afterwards. When she is with me, she follows a vegetarian diet around 80% of the time because we eat together; however she still eats meat at times.
I told myself that although I was enjoying being a vegetarian, I would start eating meat again if my health was affected. Therefore, around six months after I turned vegetarian, I went to the doctors and had a blood test. The test confirmed that I was fine and that I was eating healthily.
I can never rule out eating meat in the future, but I honestly see no reason why I would want to.
Being a vegetarian is easy at home. It does not matter where you are in the world. All supermarkets sell vegetables, pasta and rice etc.
Eating outside of your home can be a pain. I quickly found this out in South America. Our flights from Paraguay up to Ecuador offered sandwiches, however all options were meat. In my hotel the next morning, I asked for toast and eggs. Without even asking, the eggs came with ham cooked through it. And for the first week or so in Ecuador, I had to make do with rice and eggs because no restaurant accommodated vegetarians.
The fact is: We live in a world of meat-eaters.
Thankfully, things got a little better. We stayed in the beautiful town of Cuenca in the South of Ecuador for a month. Around three doors along was a vegetarian restaurant that sold great veggy burgers. There was also a great little vegetarian restaurant one street along that sold three course meals for just a few dollars.
I was quickly reminded that many people in the world still do not even know what being a vegetarian means. We bought an empanada one night in a small shop that was just across from the vegetarian restaurant we went to every day. I stressed many times that I was vegetarian and they said it was no problem as their empanadas did not contain meat.
I took a little nibble out of the end of it and looked inside…and quickly saw that it was full of meat (ham). I reminded them I was vegetarian and they still kept saying that it did not contain meat. This was not an episode of “Lost of Translation”. Even my Spanish speaking girlfriend was looking at them with a “Are you stupid?” look on her face!
That was not an isolated incident.
Two months later, my girlfriend’s mum was making a soup. She was always looking after me and spoiling me (so I cannot criticise her). She cooked soup for everyone and made sure my soup was vegetarian. What I did not realise at the time that this meant that she cooked the soup for days in meat and simply removed the meat when she served me the soup. As a result, I spent a few days crapping through the eye of a needle (sorry to be crude…but that really is the best way to explain it!).
The day before returning to Scotland from Colombia in July 2013, I experienced another encounter with someone that just did not know was being a vegetarian actually meant.
We had arranged to go for lunch with a family my girlfriend knows. Due to last minute shopping, we had forgotten to advise our host that I was vegetarian (which, granted, was bad form on our part). When we explained to our host that I was vegetarian, she responded that it was not a big deal as you can just eat meat for the day. It took a lot of explaining on my part to convince her that I could not simply eat meat for a day and it came across like I was being awkward for the sake of being awkward.
This was a common occurrence in Colombia, a country in which meat is held in as high regard as other countries such as Argentina. Even in an nice Mexican restaurant that we visited – my veggy fajitas came with meat in them. Arggghhhh!
Back in the UK, it is much easier to find good vegetarian food when you are out. I am still limited to one or two options, but at least there are options for me.
Pros & Cons of Being a Vegetarian
There are many benefits to eating meat. It is a fantastic source of iron and protein. Vegetarians can get these minerals from other sources such as beans, nuts and grains; however it is so much easier to just eat meat.
Health benefits aside, the biggest problem with being a vegetarian comes down to convenience. If you are travelling in some parts of the world, it can be very difficult to eat healthy if you are avoiding meat. This is not really an issue in western societies.
I ate meat for the first thirty three and a half years of my life and I can say honestly that I do not miss meat at all. I never think about it and I do not look on with envy when I see other people eating meat. I am saying this as someone that loved bacon, loved steaks and loved hamburgers. I am saying this as someone who has eaten beef, pork, chicken, crocodile, tuna, swordfish, shark, insects, kangaroo, ostrich, alpaca and guinea pig!
I hope the above statement does not come across like I am trying to persuade others to become vegetarian. Seriously, I am not. My main reason for being a vegetarian is because I feel healthier and I am conscious of the fact that the decisions I make now can affect my quality of life later on. Maybe I will even go one step further in the future and become vegan. Time will tell.
What I do know is that I do not ever become one of those guys who preach to others (well, the odd joke here and there is permitted!). What you do with your life is up to you. For me, in a world where animals are injected with hormones to get bigger and horse is packaged as premium beef, I believe avoiding meat is the best option.
I hope you have enjoyed my look back at a year without meat. Are any of my readers out there also vegetarian?