The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as "Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by products of slaughter."
To a dedicated carnivore like myself, this sounds like a tall order... I'm a little ashamed to admit I already have visions of tie-dye clad hippies with bare feet even though I KNOW nothing could be further than the truth. Fact is I find it a bit scary, no more steak, bacon butties or traditional Sunday roast dinners... I'm not sure I could even contemplate that.
Yet I love my veggies, often more so than the meat on my plate. And I often go for the vegetarian option in restaurants – because they make proper meals from veggie ingredients, whereas my imagination and experience doesn't stretch much beyond a mushroom omelette or roasted vegetables. Can I make this clear from the outset, any veggie lifestyle I may consider trying will not exclude eggs and dairy – that's just a step too far. I'm sure that statement alone will infuriate the vegetarian puritans, and the vegans amongst us, but whilst I admire their commitment and dedication, I have no illusions about my own limitations.
Why do people opt for a vegetarian lifestyle? Probably the most common and obvious reason is animal welfare. Animals without choice are bred and slaughtered purely for human consumption. Vegetarian living is more sustainable. According to the Vegetarian Society growing grains etc to feed animals is much less efficient than eating them ourselves, stating that 'The livestock industry uses huge amounts of land, water and fossil fuels, while producing 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and all sorts of other pollution.'
There is no doubt that a balanced vegetarian diet is one of the healthiest diets available. However, the crucial word here is 'balanced' and many inexperienced or new converts to the lifestyle may struggle to get the balance right. Fortunately there is a huge amount of help and guidance available; it’s just a case of finding the time and resources to access it.
And that is often the crux of the matter. Being a 'proper' vegetarian may seem to some people like too much hard work. Just like salt and sugars, there are 'hidden' animal products in so much of our foodstuffs, meaning you have to meticulously check everything you contemplate consuming surely?
So I think I've found something of a compromise. A Flexitarian is described as 'someone who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, with occasional meat consumption.' Again, diehards might consider being a 'part time' vegetarian akin to being 'a little bit pregnant' but surely credit can be given for effort! If a vegetarian diet is so healthy, then flexitarianism can only be an improvement on a predominantly carnivorous diet (with no small contribution of junk and processed foods thrown in)? Because again – without getting political – my reasons are primarily on health grounds.
I have vague recollections of 'Meat Free Mondays' being introduced - I just can't remember where?! But it sounds like a good place to start. Surely as with any lifestyle change success will come from the gradual introduction of that change? Just like a crash diet is doomed to failure, the expectation that you can reject a lifetime’s eating habits overnight is simply not realistic. So if I can introduce two or maybe more meat free days into my week, if I can cut down dramatically on red meat consumption and most importantly, if as I venture forward into this lifestyle I can learn how to create an enjoyable, satisfying vegetarian diet I think I could be more than halfway there!
I will certainly do my best - but please don't ask me to look a bacon sandwich in the eye and say 'never!'
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