It all started with the David Attenborough docufilm A Life On Our Planet…
Every Sunday evening we sit down as a family for what we call a living room picnic, which basically involves a pick and mix help yourself table buffet for Sunday night tea in front of the telly. It’s great because everyone gets to pick what they want to eat, I love it because I can get away with putting out lots of things that need eating up, and we watch something together as a family that is educational, interesting and a little bit thought provoking.
I am a strong believer in kids knowing where their food comes from. It’s important they realise that it doesn’t just rock up at Tesco’s; that there’s a whole process before it ends up on the supermarket shelves. At 12 and 10 they both obviously know that beef comes from a cow, pork from a pig etc. but I think even as adults it’s easy to brush aside what this actually means for the animals and it’s far nicer to block out thoughts of how the animals are treated, what their living conditions are like, how they are killed. Let’s face it, no one really wants to be thinking about that kind of stuff when they’re tucking into their Sunday roast.
So picture the scene… we’re sat there, plates piled high with various bits and bobs, including highly processed sandwich chicken, and what should come on the screen but the scene of utter devastation that is a modern day chicken factory. It’s about as far removed from Chicken Run as you can possibly get, jeez those plasticine chickens had it good compared to these poor featherless birds. It’s horrible. And it was this that did it for my daughter.
Turning Vegetarian Together
There were tears. But after having a bit of a cry, she made her announcement, “I’m turning vegetarian. I really love animals… I just wish they didn’t taste so nice.” And then there were more tears, as the combination of what she’d just seen versus the realisation that she couldn’t bear the accompanying guilt of eating her beloved chicken nuggets any more kicked in. So that’s when I made the decision that if she was going to do this, she’d need some support and so I told her that I would go veggie with her.
I’d been a veggie for about a year or so when I was a teenager – yep I was that stereotypical 90s teenage girl who turned veggie, adopted a humpback whale, and bought the WWF sticker album (the animal one, not the wrestling!) – and so I knew I had it in me to go meat free. To be honest I will often pick a vegetarian meal when we go out for dinner, so I didn’t think this would be too hard on me. Although I do like my fish and seafood so when she later announced that “fish lives matter too” and that she wouldn’t be eating that either, I must admit I did take a big gulp and wonder what the hell we were going to eat!
But what about the men folk of the family, what did they make of all this?
Well, my husband loves his meat so he wasn’t willing to completely give it up, despite being shocked by some of the statistics he’d seen in the documentary –
- 70% of the birds on this planet are domestic birds, most of which are chickens.
- 90% of large fish have been wiped out of our oceans due to mass fishing.
- 1/2 of the fertile land on Earth is used for farming.
- Since the 1950s animal populations have more than halved.
- 60% of the animals on Earth are raised for us to eat.
- 15 billion trees are cut down every year for human use.
However, he did decide to stop eating beef, as cattle farming has such a big impact on the environment – think it was seeing the orangutans lose their homes that did it for him. And my son….. oh my goodness he literally couldn’t have given two hoots. He loves his meat and there was no way he was willing to give it up, which meant as the main, actually who am I kidding, the only cook in the house I was going to have to get a little bit sneaky!
Planning To Go Veggie
Now in reality you’d think the switch from meat eater to vegetarian would be relatively straightforward. I mean things have changed since I was a teenage veggie, products have changed (for the better!) and the variety of what’s out there is much more substantial. Without doubt vegetarians are much better catered for these days. However, when you’ve got a daughter who doesn’t like cheese, beans, and mushrooms to name but a few significant vegetarian ingredients it is definitely more of a challenge.
I knew that if we were going to do this properly it would take some planning and that we couldn’t rush straight into it. We spoke about it together and decided that we’d need a couple of days to get ourselves prepared – namely for me to make sure the house was stocked with the right ingredients – and that while we were doing so it was perfectly fine to eat meat that we already had in the house. After all it would be just as criminal to waste meat, because then an animal would have died for absolutely no reason at all. To make it a little easier I made sure the meals we had during these couple of days were as meat free as I could make them – I fished out the leftover roast chicken from the paella so that us girls had a veggie version and then we had meat free omelette and salad on the other day, so it worked out fine.
Upon the vegetarian revelation I knew that I’d need to do a lot more cooking from scratch and so I immediately ordered a couple of vegetarian cookbooks that had been recommended to me by some of my lovely followers on my Facebook page. One of the most important things to me was to make sure we didn’t miss out on any nutrients by omitting meat from our diets. Plus we had also fallen into a bit of a trap of having the same meals week in week out so I saw this as a good opportunity to shake things up a bit. I spent ages going through my new cookbooks, meticulously sticking coloured post it notes on the pages that I thought might be goers and then spent time working out a weekly meal plan for us all before tackling an online food delivery.
How Did We Get On With Vegetarian Meals?
Some of the meals I cooked were a huge success, to the point that a) the boys didn’t even notice it was meat free and b) the plates were virtually licked clean, always a good sign. However, there were also a lot of mealtimes that were absolute torture. Bearing in mind I’d spent a lot of my time making fresh, home cooked meals, that in some instances needed to be tweaked so that they could be a meat version as well as a meat free version, only to have moans of “eurgh I don’t like that” or “yuck what’s that” and to have to watch as food got painfully moved about the plate until it was stone cold, attempted to be hidden under the cutlery (yes that old trick!) and then eventually tipped in the bin. Well, I’m sure you can imagine that it began to wear a bit thin and my motivation levels began to dip somewhat.
I tried to do a balance of making meals from recipe books or that I’d found online (I tended to save these as our treat meals at the weekend for when I had a bit more time) as well as I guess what you’d call convenience meals, the weekday after school dinners, using vegetarian products such as Quorn or meat alternatives. I’ve written another blogpost about the different products we tried out – some were keepers and some most definitely weren’t. It’s worth having a look if you’re thinking of changing to a vegetarian diet, or even if you’re already a veggie, as you may not have tried them yet and in my opinion some definitely aren’t worth spending your money on.
It was really only dinners that were the sticking point, as my daughter has a packed lunch for school and ever a creature of habit she has Marmite sandwiches every day, which of course are fine. And at first it was all a bit of novelty, things seemed to be going well and we were enjoying the new meals and flavours. Things like cauliflower cheese, home made pizzas, pasta dishes, and curries went really well, but trying to replace the meat in a roast was tricky and anything that contained too many vegetables was a huge issue and that’s when the moans and pickiness would occur and when my anger levels would bubble over. My son got very good at recognising when I’d snuck a veggie product into his dinner and it was almost a case of once he knew it was there that was it decision made, he didn’t like it purely because it was ‘vegetarian’.
Where We’re At Now
All along I was quite content to remain vegetarian for as long as my daughter did, so that she had at least one other person in the house who was eating the same meals as her. However, I had said to her that I would probably start introducing a bit of meat back into my diet around about my birthday at the end of November and that I would definitely be having turkey and pigs in blankets on my plate at Christmas. The decision all along was entirely hers and so it was almost 2 months to the day that we’d gone meat free, she decided it was OK to eat meat again.
We have however learnt a few lessons and picked up some good habits along the way that we’ll be keeping. For example, we all prefer the taste of Quorn mince over beef mince… OK that might be going a bit far… most of us prefer the taste of Quorn mince over beef mince and those that don’t do at least like it, so that is a permanent change for us. We are also making a conscious effort to have more vegetarian meals throughout the week. Plus I am making sure that any meat we do buy is ethical, good quality and as local as we can get it. So for example, this year we chosee our turkey from a free range turkey farm that is a walk away from our house – it just feels right knowing the birds have been looked after and that we’re helping a small local business when times have been particularly tough this year.
Realistically, trying to be vegetarian 100% all of the time became too much of a chore for us. I was getting frustrated at meals being thrown back at me and the whole eating out and takeaway thing, certainly in terms of what was available for my daughter was just plain miserable. It was no wonder she caved in to sausages and mash when we were out at a pub as there was literally no vegetarian option available on the kids menu. It was interesting though, because despite feeling OK at having ordered sausages and I think really it was a relief to her to know we weren’t going to judge her if she ate meat, she only had one mouthful of the three sausages on her plate, choosing to eat the mash and peas instead.
Ultimately, one person turning vegetarian isn’t going to change the world, but then again if we all thought like that of course it won’t. Lots of small changes do eventually make big changes after all. We can only control our own actions and for us as a family it feels right to strike the balance between eating more plant based meals, as both an environmental thing as well as a health thing, but also to continue to eat meat and fish too. For me personally, the type of food we were eating as vegetarians was so heavily carb based that actually I felt as though I wasn’t eating as healthily as I was expecting too. It made me feel sluggish and heavy a lot of the time and I did at times feel more tired and lacking in energy, which I am certain is as a result of not getting some of the nutrients I was getting from meat. Meat is generally the main event on the plate right? But for me as a vegetarian it felt as though I was always eating a side dish and it just always ended up feeling as though something was missing.
I’m certain this won’t be the only time my daughter becomes vegetarian, I predict she’ll dabble again in her teens just like I did. I’m hoping that by then her tastebuds will have expanded a little so that we can at least get some beans, mushrooms and onion in there. For now though this is where we’re at and as a parent I feel super proud that she felt passionate enough about something to make a change even though it was a challenge for her.