When I first got to uni I was so excited by the prospect of cooking for myself. Growing up in a strictly ‘meat and potatoes’ household left me disenchanted with food and I was so ready to experiment with new recipes. But by the end of first year I found myself in a rut, eating sausages or bacon as part of my dinner every day because it was so cheap and easy to incorporate into my meals.
Over that summer I decided I needed to completely rethink my eating habits and cut down on my meat intake. After watching Simon Amstell’s short film Carnage I completely changed my mindset about the problems with eating meat, beef in particular, due to the environmental impact farming livestock has. Before watching the film, I was very dismissive of the idea of going veggie or even trying to eat less meat, but watching the film, knowing a few friends were giving vegetarianism a go, and being sick of eating sausages everyday made me think I should give it a try.
So, I tried flexitarianism. When I began second year of uni I decided to stop cooking meat, stop eating beef, pork and lamb, but carry on buying chicken and duck products when out and about e.g. meal deals and restaurants. I got a few raised eyebrows from friends about the whole still eating chicken thing, but I felt pretty good about what I was doing, and it ended up being much easier than I expected. I was definitely sick of pork by this point and I rarely had the money to buy beef so that didn’t feel like much of a change.
Yet, having vegetarian housemates left me feeling a bit ashamed that I wasn’t fully vegetarian. All of my veggie friends had pretty much gone cold turkey (pardon the pun) straight away and they couldn’t understand why I missed meat so much? So, over the course of the year I tried to cut out meat entirely and stick to a pescetarian diet. In the end I started craving chicken caesar wraps like crazy??? I have a terrible mayonnaise addiction and it turns out that a lot of mayo-ey products have chicken in them too. It’s safe to say it didn’t work out, and only left me feeling worse about my ‘flexitarian’ diet.
Now I’m in third year I’ve decided to give pescatarianism another go and so far, it’s going well for me. But I still think being flexitarian should not be something to be ashamed of. I’m definitely not perfect; at the end of last year I got drunk and bought a battered sausage from a nearby chip shop, ate it, and proceeded to cry about the poor piggies for 2 hours. Going full veggie takes time and drunk me is always going to be a few months behind.
The biggest change I’ve noticed after cutting out meat is how many more vegetables I eat to make up for it. Swapping out chicken for cauliflower or broccoli to make up the bulk of something like a curry still tastes amazing but is much cheaper and helps you get in those nutrients. I’ve started eating courgettes, aubergines – and spinach has become a kitchen staple for me. Another big plus is how much quicker it is to cook your favourite meals, because hey – I can’t get salmonella from a mushroom. I can’t lie though. I am definitely not a whole-foods extraordinaire. Linda McCartney veggie sausages taste too good!! And Sainsbury’s own brand veggie food is beautiful and pretty cheap. It’s amazing how, as more people turn veggie, more veggie substitutes turn up on the shelves!
Going vegetarian straight away can be a lot of pressure and might mean that, if you slip up, you end up giving up entirely. Flexitarianism lets you set your own pace, is low pressure and means you can slowly cut down on meat consumption until it reaches zero. Ignore what other people say, every little helps when it comes to saving the planet, and it’s much better to cut down than to go full out veggie for a week and then promptly give up.
If you need inspo, Youtube is full of it. I have an intense obsession with vegan cooking videos which has really helped me rely less on dairy products to make food taste good and focus on spices instead. My favourites are Madeleine Olivia, and Rachel Ama. There are also loads of great veggie cookbooks out there and a great vegetarian page on BBC Good Food.
Give it a go and see if you can find some veggie recipes you love!