After three weeks of No Meat, I feel like I’ve finally arrived as a vegetarian. Mainly thanks to a catastrophically meat-centric encounter at a restaurant. I’ve heard these sorts of stories many times from my vegetarian friends, about being served chicken or thin slices of ham, but I’ve never experienced vegetarian-does-not-compute dining myself.
Until last night.
I should preface this by saying that the meal was otherwise excellent; the two vegetarian dishes we had were superb. But the bread contained meat.
I’ll say that again. The bread contained meat.
We were enthusiastically tucking into hummus and baba ghanoush with hunks of warm flat bread, until my friend pointed out that this surprisingly delicious bread had a certain je ne sais quoi. Then we did sais quoi: ground lamb.
For the sake of the experiment, I took my hummus neat after that. Not too long after, we found a moth in the pomegranate salad. Suffice to say, we got a free dessert…
Observation #1: Identity Crisis
In other news, I’m having an identity crisis. At the restaurant and when others are cooking, I am forced to identify as a vegetarian. As a life-long (and eager) meat eater, this is very odd, especially as vegetarianism is not a neutrally-charged. In our society, being vegetarian comes along with some level of prejudice and judgement – not least by myself.
I’ve been surprised to notice that I like being a meat eater. It’s part of my identity. I like being a meat eater, not for the nutritional benefits of eating meat, but because I like the idea of being that sort of hearty, eat anything, eat everything, sort of person. Vegetarianism, on the other hand, strikes me as being somewhat frail: it feels like an absence, rather than an abundance.
I know that’s ridiculous, especially considering my previous meat and beans diet, but hey.
On the plus side, as a vegetarian, I can share food more often with my vegetarian house mates. Or with anyone, in fact, because no one wants to eat meat and beans all the time.
Observation #2: The Power of Meat
I now fully appreciate the power of meat. That first week was tough. The Friday, five days in, was terrible. I felt dizzy and had to roam the streets at night looking for vitamin pills.
Now I supplement like a Tour de France dope fiend. I take a full A to Z of vitamin pills, garlic capsules, fish oil, extra vitamin D3, as well as my pea protein, creatine and spirulina milkshake.
This brings me onto a related observation: most vegetarians I know eat meat. That might be a weekly fish supper, or monthly meaty treats. This was a surprise to me, but having lived on a purely lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for 3 weeks, now totally understandable.
It’s hard work making sure you get full nutrition on a No Meat diet. My friends seemed to be most worried about iron deficiency. I’m most worried about wasting away, especially with a half marathon next weekend.
Observation #3: The Laziness of Habit
To be honest, I was expecting to go back to meat after that first week, but for some reason I didn’t. That reason was laziness. I simply couldn’t find time to buy any meat, so just drifted on without.
This laziness shows, not only how much my condition improved after that first Friday, but also the power of inertia. Inertia usually works against us, keeping us wallowing in the rut of habit, lazily taking the same bike route to work every morning, annoying our house mates by leaving the washing up in the sink, or popping in for a swift half that always turns into five or six.
With this No Meat experiment, however, it was surprising how quickly inertia flopped over on to my side. It was an additional effort to buy meat, so I simply didn’t.
I also benefit from the positive nature of my decision. It’s not that I can’t eat meat – no one is stopping me. I simply don’t eat meat – it’s my free choice.
Vanessa M Patrick and Henrick Hagtvedt have researched this very linguistic nuance and found that a refusal that is termed as I don’t… is “more effective for resisting temptation and motivating goal-directed behaviour”.
My own I don’t… was tested when I went for a take-away alone for the first time. I could have chosen anything from the extensive meaty and fishy menu. (The two vegetarians who were staying with me both had fish and chips from next door.) But I didn’t. I didn’t even think about it. I freely chose a vegetable masala. And bloody good it was too.