OK, so it’s out: I’m a vegetarian sympathiser. While now ex-vegetarian officially (I crossed back over to the dark side on my move to the land of snails and frogs’ legs in 2008), I still eat vegetarian food about 70% of the time. And with National Vegetarian Week on the horizon (May 21st-27th), it’s probably quite a good time to explain why.
Cook Vegetarian magazine covers some of the reasons why even going vegetarian for some of the time can be good for your health, your wallet, your cooking skills, and the environment (we all know that going veggie full-time isn’t easy, especially on the days where a sausage sandwich with lashings of ketchup and brown sauce would just seem to make the whole world better). I found that as a vegetarian I was far more likely to get (and exceed) my 5 a day. This meant I was fuller for longer, had more energy, and by association, was slimmer – all of which has its own health benefits. The World Health Organisation also recommends that we limit our consumption of meat altogether to 500g a week (which probably amounts to eating meat 2-3 times a week for most people) and cut out processed meat completely. This latter step has clear health, wealth and ethical benefits: by not visiting purveyors of processed meat, such as kebab shops or fast food outlets, you avoid the inevitable intake of saturated fat, save your money, and can sleep at night safe in the knowledge that perhaps one less chicken has suffered its short life in a tiny cage (demand feeds supply, remember).
In addition, with the United Nations estimating that one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases are caused by meat production, we can also consider going veggie as an ecological step. This is also before we even get to the deforestation required to house cattle, and the food and water production required to feed those cattle (which could be spent on improving the prospects of the poor and hungry perhaps). All of these points were ones I appreciated during my time as a vegetarian. Equally, in Britain and the US in particular, there are multiple vegetarian options available when it comes to eating out (The Gate, which will open a new branch in Islington on June 1st, is just one of the many vegetarian restaurants out there) as well as eating in (popular TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall released a book and TV series not too long ago entitled River Cottage Veg Every Day focusing on vegetarian cuisine), proving there’s no shortage of ideas for eating well as a vegetarian (you don’t need to be the pale and pasty vegetarian who only eats omelettes, margarita pizza, chocolate bars and chips).
It’s also worth remembering that many of the great cuisines of the world are heavily vegetable-based: Indian and Thai food has many excellent vegetable curry and dhal recipes, China and Japan are famed for their vegetable stir-fries and bento boxes (yes, even in the land of sushi they don’t eat fish every day!) and Italy’s range of vegetarian pizzas and pastas is frankly breathtaking and enough to rival their meat-laden versions. Many of these countries have very high life expectancies for their populations and it’s perhaps at least partly down to their veggie diets. What’s more, when they do use meat and fish, it’s nothing short of high quality. If it’s good enough for them, then why not for us?
But what about the downsides of vegetarianism? What else prompted my return to meat-eating? As well as my move to France (a.k.a. the land of the carnivore), there were other reasons: firstly, I did just really miss sausage sandwiches :p Secondly, I intensely disliked the awkwardness I felt when needing to inform hosts I was vegetarian, or asking chefs to prepare something different for me (this latter scenario mostly took place in France) – even if most if not all of that awkwardness was something I put on myself rather than being caused by others. It’s also difficult to put up with the jibes of others (yes, first-year flatmates, I am looking at you) without being made to feel that you’re wrong for making those choices. Vegetarian cooking can also be time-consuming, which can be an important concern when there are days at work when you don’t get in until late, but this is still only a secondary concern, as cooking with meat can also take a very long time (dishes like moussaka, fish pie and cannelloni are no quick fix).
But nonetheless, as mentioned at the start, I empathise greatly with the cause of vegetarianism and urge you to try it out, even if only for a few days a week. You’ll broaden your mind and hopefully shrink your waistline as you pile up the savings and do your bit for the environment. Seriously, everyone’s a winner – and I hope my menu below from this week proves it can be delicious too:
Monday: Porcini mushroom risotto
Tuesday: Cherry tomato and mozzarella spaghetti
Wednesday: Broccoli soufflé
Thursday (lunchtime – bank holiday FTW!): Gnocchi with rocket pesto
Thursday (dinner): Ghar ki dhal
Friday: Phat Thai Jay