Confession time. I used to think I needed meat. I thought digging into a juicy cut of something that was once alive was a fundamental part of my personality. It defined me in some incremental way. And yet, just a few weeks ago, it all snapped into place. There was no trickle effect here; my mind flooded with an immediate realization. I no longer wanted to eat meat. I simply woke up one morning—in more ways than one, you might say—and haven’t wrapped my lips around a single burger since. Here’s why.
Meat and animals = the same thing
Wandering aimlessly down the aisles at my local supermarket, I’d paw at the various packages of faceless meat products. Faceless being the operative word. Never having to see the animal I was about to eat was a huge part of how I maintained my lifestyle. I was squeamish about eating meat off the bone because it was ‘too real’ or, to put it frankly, “too close to being an animal” for my liking. Perhaps I should have known even then; I was a closet veggie through and through. (Thinking of giving up meat? Here are the easiest ways to going vegetarian.)
Despite adoring the flavor of the stuff, the idea of eating animals had always made me especially queasy. This realization came a to fruition just over a month ago. My partner was describing in graphic detail a meal he’d recently eaten. At the heart of his quippy anecdote was the fact that the pork belly on his plate had been joined to a few extra ribs; he’d gotten more meat for his money and was utterly thrilled. Instead of partaking in his glee, I felt a confusing sense of unease.
Are we destroying the planet?
It hardly takes a genius to answer that question. Yes. Yes, we are. Climate change is happening, one horrendous hurricane at a time (seriously, it’s one of the worst hurricane seasons ever). There was a point when I simply had no clue of the extent to which the meat industry was contributing to the problem. I wasn’t alone in that ignorance either. Yet, while considering a change of diet, I really started to look into the facts of the matter.
The figures were worse than I’d expected. Livestock and their byproducts are responsible for 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report by Worldwatch Institute. Or, to rephrase that, the industry alone produces an unfathomable 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide every single year. What’s more, the UN has stated that a shift to a vegan diet could stop global poverty, hunger, and the impact of climate change. The facts are right there.
Decision time: Bye, bye meat
You could call my decision to go meat-free a snap one. It happened in an instant. I can’t proclaim to have spent months mulling over the idea—turning it around in my mind until I had my definitive answer. That’s not how it happened. It was hardly even a conscious choice. At least, it didn’t feel like one.
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I was sitting in the shared work space I use, listening to some soft background music as I typed away. And yet, the same notion kept coming to me. That thought in the depths of my mind kept niggling and nagging away. I no longer wanted to be a “meat-eater.” There. I said it.
But what will people think?
Now, I wish I could say that I’m the kind of person who didn’t give a flying monkey’s what people thought. Sadly, I’m not that girl. Telling people about my choice wasn’t about them; it was an affirmation to myself. I’d expected indifference. After all, it wasn’t a major change; not really. What I got instead was one of two strikingly opposing opinions.
“But we’re supposed to eat meat!” my friend spluttered over her freshly poured glass of prosecco. She was two in and ready to tell me what she really thought. Her opinion was clear-cut—meat was a part of our natural diet. We needed it. And I was, as she so bluntly put it, stupid to think otherwise.
She and her opinion were in the minority, though, as I soon found. What I mainly got from many of my family and friends was nothing short of sheer support. Another friend of mine, Becky, went one step further. She wanted to come along for the ride with me; go meat-free too. We even set-up an Instagram account to document the journey.
Spoiler: Vegetables are cheap
In my disdain of eating things that were once alive and my fear for the earth, I’d missed one major bonus here. Vegetables, legumes, and grains are cheap. Seriously. Or, to put things a little more accurately, meat is unbelievably expensive. The first few times I headed to the store to pick up some foodie treats, I was amazed at how little cash with which I had to part.
I used to buy a few cuts of meat per week; some chicken breasts, pork chops, mince meat, perhaps a steak. That part of the shop will cost £25 to £30 alone (that’s about $32 to $40). Cutting that chunk of the cash out is a huge deal. Even with buying twice as many non-meat items, which I soon found I had to, I’m now left with far more money on leaving the store. (Here are more tips on how to eat healthy on a super tight budget.)
Learning to cook (all over again)
I’ve never been the world’s greatest cook. Not by a stretch. My mom is a wonderful cook (her curries are out of this world) and yet, those genes don’t seem to be in my makeup. Or perhaps, I never tried hard enough. Either way over the years, I’ve mastered a few simple dishes to get me through. There was just one problem; they all consisted of animal products and little else.
My new vegetarian diet didn’t quite account for chili con carne or spag-bol, so I’d have to try a new approach. In the first few days after my decision, I scoured the web for vegetarian meals with some extra bang and tried them out for myself. While I’m still a novice here, my favorite dish so far has been some spiced chickpea wraps from a recipe from Thug Kitchen. I fully recommend you try it.
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Facing my fear: Avocado
Unpopular opinion here: I don’t see the big deal about avocado. I mean, sure, it looks kind of attractive, if fetishizing fruit is your bag. But, I just can’t comprehend the way that people rave about this stuff. It’s the biggest deal in vegetarian meals since, well, sliced bread. The small green emoji adorns many a comment box. I get the picture. The world is avocado mad—you all have “avocado fever.”
Until very recently, though, I’d never even tried it. To me, it looked chalky and a little weird in texture. But, taking a new veggie stance meant trying new things too. So I did. I tried a very small bite. And, you know what? It tasted just fine. Nothing more. Nothing less. Though admittedly, avocados have many health benefits.
The secret of plant protein
The myth is as simple as it is effective: no meat equals no protein. I’d believed this for as long as I’d been able to understand what protein was and why we need it in our diets. Without this key food group, our bodies would not be able to repair damaged cells or, indeed, create brand new ones. It’s therefore essential to our growth and health.
And yet, meat is not the only food that contains protein in abundance. Quite the contrary. In fact, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, list lentils, chickpeas, bulgur wheat, and spinach (to name but a few) as protein sources (here are some other sources of protein that aren’t meat). So, I started including some or all of the above in my meals. What’s more, I could never have predicted the way this dietary change would affect me physically.
I actually feel stronger than ever
Disclaimer: I’m not a “gym freak.” I go two-to-three times a week, every week. Still, staying healthy and active is a massive part of my lifestyle. I attend the same classes much of the time—Tuesday’s being Body Attack. It’s hard going.
So, on attending my first BA class after completely ditching meat, I was a tad nervous. What if I was suddenly extremely weak? What if I threw up? (It wouldn’t be the first time, but that’s another story for another day.) A few minutes in, though, the change was clear. Whether it was psychosomatic or otherwise, I felt stronger. I went harder, for longer, and enjoyed the class more than ever.
I may not have been imagining this newfound strength. Earlier this year, a study from the American Society for Nutrition found that people’s muscle mass didn’t differ depending on whether they got their protein from red meat or legumes, i.e. veggies were as strong as meat-eaters. Plant power was doing its job.
My meat cravings are disappearing
In short, I feel healthier, happier, and richer. But wait just a minute here, what about my cravings? One of the things that had troubled me the most about cutting out meat was that I’d ultimate start lusting after the stuff—dreaming of juicy pork chops on the regular. And yet, it just hasn’t happened. At least not in any major way. Instead, I’ve been enjoying the realms of being veggie and all the exciting new meals it entails.
I’ll admit that there is one thing I keep wishing I could eat… just one more time. Spicy chicken wings. Those deep-fried chunks of sin are my kryptonite. Luckily, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s merely the crispy, tasty batter that’s got me hooked. And, if that’s the case, it can easily be replaced by a whole host of substitutes. Erm, deep-fried avocado “wings,” please?