Like & Share

As a student, I’d picked up Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Eating Animals’, because I’d loved, no, inhaled, all of his previous work. He’s the fiction writer I crave to be. And responsible for the audiobooks I cried and laughed to as a student – they kept me company during my many National Express coach trips between Leeds and Nottingham. He could’ve written about dust, or maths, or anything else that I’m not really enamoured with, and I still would’ve loyally, greedily, grabbed a copy, for the way he crafts a sentence alone.

So there I was, very firmly a meat-eater my entire life, reading about what happens to animals before they land on my plate. The book is Foer’s quest to discover what meat is, where it comes from and how it’s produced – alongside many other questions around the economic, social and environmental impact of eating it.

I couldn’t finish it. I couldn’t get through my own guilt – in that the book had convinced me to change my wicked meat-eating ways, but only for brief intervals, until I was too jealous of a friend’s steak, ran out of creative meals without chicken, or just came back to the thought, ‘Does it really matter what I, as one person, eats?’

But in the years since (about 8 of them), I’ve remained haunted by a few choice lines, something like, how can our main excuse for killing animals just be, ‘because they taste good’. I’ve also found, tried and even cooked a delicious and varied array of vegetarian dishes, which leads me to question, ‘Why am I still eating meat?’

For most of the controversial things in life, I believe you should have a stance, should be educated and informed on what it means for you and the wider world. I’ve let my mind lightly skim over this subject for a while, contenting myself with mild irritation at anyone who will eat meat, but not if it’s on bones, and fish, but not if its face is present. All meat and fish has a face. I was smug because I could deal with it – I could admit that an animal had died to feed me. But what I wasn’t addressing was whether or not that was necessary.

This is why I eat meat – so many ways to cook and flavour it. Habit. Sentimentality; it’s at the heart of all my favourite meals, and part of the majority of recipes in my locker. Ease; more of a selection on the menu, a non-fussy dinner party guest. Taste – yes sadly I’ll get lumped in with the excuse that gives me chills in ‘Eating Animals.’

I like meat. I like bacon sandwiches drowning in tomato ketchup when I’m hungover, the smell of maple pork sizzling under the grill, pear and ricotta pork sausages from the local butcher, chunks of fried chorizo hot from the pan. Oh God – a chicken tikka masala when you’re tired and hungover. Is anything more satisfying? Perhaps a clean conscience?

I was pretty tipsy when fellow Amble writer Ali challenged me to go Veggie for a month (apparently a week isn’t sufficient). So I said yes. The reality is a cold slap. Is it even possible when I’m intolerant to mushrooms and eggs? Can you really grow to appreciate Quorn? Will my dreams be riddled with just-out-of-reach roast beef dinners? Don’t even get me started on how much I’m going to miss fish. But for you Jonathan Safran Foer, for myself, and for the three people who witnessed me promise (making it really hard to back out), here we go, into the green.

Day 1

Woke up with a hangover and can’t mop it up with a bacon sandwich. A friend offers to pick up breakfast  from McDonalds, thankfully I can eat the pancakes. But when she calls from the drive through to say they’ve stopped serving breakfast and we have to make quick decisions, I panic and mumble that I’ll just have a muffin. I’m not well versed enough in McDonalds meat alternatives. I pick at my baked goods whilst smelling cheeseburgers. Gutted, but also feel a bit superior that I’m not responsible for the death of a cow today. I don’t get any better as the day goes on – returning home around 4pm and eating a bowl of cereal. For dinner we make an old favourite – leek and asparagus soup, with vegetable stock, cream, and lots of black pepper. I eat it off freshly baked bread slathered in butter. I mean, I won’t be losing weight or avoiding a heart attack anytime soon, but I am sticking loyally to the brief.

Day 2

Weekday breakfasts are no trouble – I always have Fruit and Fibre cereal with a banana (I know, I won’t be winning at Instagram anytime soon). But I open the fridge at lunch to find pea and ham soup. It really takes me back to when I first took my vegetarian husband (then boyfriend) to Nottingham to meet my Mum, because it’s what she made, stating, ‘But I cut the ham up really small so I’m sure it’ll be okay.’

Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be getting anywhere with this challenge by employing mum logic, or attempting to fish out the ham chunks. So I settle for a tomato and basil version, and a few thick slabs of bread left over from yesterday. So far my veggie imagination is somewhat lacking but I’m sure i’ll build up to it. Dinner is beetroot burgers in, you guessed it, more bread (disclaimer – this is not a diet blog). They taste okay, and we liven them up with sweet fig glaze, goats cheese and tomatoes.

I lose my entire evening picking grapes. You might wonder if this is some kind of self-inflicted penance for my pervious meat and fish eating years, but we just moved into a house with a vine and thought we could try making wine. It’s hilariously difficult. We go to bed at midnight, only on step 3 of 15 in the guide. You’ll be pleased to know that all that hard labour doesn’t see me craving a juicy steak, just a good night’s sleep and my time back.

Day 3

Lunch with co-creator Dave at Mad Hatters. It’s the first time I’ve eaten out since undertaking the challenge. The sweet potato draws my eye, especially with the pulled pork. My traitor palate imagines. But don’t worry, I do the committed thing and have it with Mediterranean vegetables. I also throw in a hot chocolate. It’s not the first time I’ve supplemented my Veggie choice with a ‘treat’, like if I’m going to deprive myself of one thing, it’s only fair to indulge in another.

But the food is delicious, and it helps that Dave supports me by eating eggs florentine. I don’t feel it’s lacking anything and the flavours are top notch. The same cannot be said for my dinner, which I throw over to my husband as I struggle to hit a deadline, with the vague instructions, ‘Just no meat or fish.’

He intends to make us veggie sausages in wraps, with avocado, chipotle sauce, peppers, and borlotti beans. Unfortunately our greek yoghurt is off, so there goes the sauce, and the avocados aren’t ripe. The beans and the sausages taste too similar and the whole thing is a bit dry (even when I cover it in satay dip (a last minute gambit). It’s not my husband’s fault, just yet again my complete lack of planning. Meat might have saved the day – pork sausages are juicy and tasty, but ultimately I need to start putting effort into sourcing more exciting recipes. In London tomorrow for the rest of the week… wish me luck…

Day 4

Grabbed a quick lunch from Itsu – they have a large range of veggie hot and cold options which takes some of the sting out of ignoring my usual: a duck pot or chicken teriyaki. I go for veg gyoza with prawn crackers (Day 6 note – this turns out to be quite thick as surprise surprise they contain a small amount of prawn. And I did eat them, every last delicious one. My bad. I realise this on Day 6 after buying some peking duck crackers. It occurs that I should look up the ingredients just in case the flavouring isn’t artificial as I’d assumed. They also contain sodding prawns – I promptly give these away to a colleague. I’m doing my best).

Dinner with a friend is a very bland affair. I pick a Turkish place in the perfect location after a brief scan of the menu. Reading it properly at the restaurant is a real let down. Despite an array of veggie options – they’re all lack lustre and forced, some mix of cheese, tomatoes and pasta. I go for the most creative, haloumi and avocado salad with pomegranate dressing. The salad arrives without the dressing, and when I ask for it a distracted waiter shrugs and pushes olive oil at me. Thank God for the huge volume of cheese, and great conversation, which means what I’m putting in my belly hardly matters.

Weirdly I’m not jealous of the lamb shank my friend orders – a huge slab of meat. It’s only really chicken and fish that I’m missing.

A healthy main means a guilt free dirty dessert is in order, cue baklava and vanilla ice cream. This is thankfully delicious. I’m a sugar addict (cutting that out would be a very traumatic ordeal). I watch the first episode of The Apprentice just before bed – they’re mincing meat into burgers.  A nice, off-putting end to the day.

So far, I’m finding the challenge a bit tough and limited – mostly due to my lack of forward planning. Over the weekend I want to read up on how we farm meat in the UK, hoping it will fuel my resolve.

Day 5

Lunch is a complete disaster for veggie me. I’m still in London. A long time ago, a friend booked us a table at a local Japanese place. At the time I was a full-on meat eater who hasn’t yet agreed to the challenge. Five minutes before the booking I look at the menu and realise there’s only one thing I can eat (all other meat-free, fish-free options are around mushrooms, which I’m intolerant to). I don’t fancy this lone dish at all, but I decide to go for it.

However the waiter informs me that all the veggie options are cooked in a mushroom broth. We then determinedly rake through the menu trying to find me something I can eat. In the end reader (big sigh) I have a small bowl of edamame beans (a side dish) and a seaweed salad (side dish). I was hoping for crispy seaweed but it’s slimy – and though I’m sure a great accompaniment to a main meal, is not at all appetising by itself. What’s worse than my eventual lunch is the sheer awkwardness of it all, me stuttering my explanation, and them fretting to figure something out. I now know how vegan/veggie friends feel when they have no choice but to come along to a birthday meal or dinner party, and shyly announce their dietary requirements. Not nice. Ashamed of being difficult. Embarrassed for my friend who’s picked somewhere nearby to my office, and just wants a chilled catch up lunch.

I am insanely jealous of his chicken katsu curry, but manage to restrain myself from mentioning it. Back at work, my colleague gives me a croissant.

Dinner is entirely different (hurrah!) I plan ahead. I pick an Indian place in Soho which seems to specialise in wonderful-sounding veggie meals. I eat potato cakes with tamarind and yoghurt dressing, a rich paneer curry, a peshwari naan and coconut sorbet. Nothing feels like it’s lacking and I am thoroughly happy, not missing meat or fish one little bit. Yet again, cheese to the rescue.

Day 6

Started another joyous day working in London with a lemon and poppyseed muffin. Lunch was a narrowly-avoided 2nd blunder (my first was Day 3 – eating prawn crackers). I give away my peking duck crackers today, but very reluctantly. It just reminds me of the pea and ham soup at home in the fridge.

On the train back to Chester I eat vegetable gyoza with rice and soy sauce for the second time that week. Even though it’s perfectly fine, it’s just a bit plain. Food without meat and fish is becoming fuel more than anything else. Usually I’m very greedy about food (especially snacking) but my veggie meals just seem like sustenance, albeit filling sustenance. Maybe that’s a good thing? Instead of seeing food as an event, a treat, a reward, currently it’s just what keeps my body going.

Today (though I doubt this will last) I’m also not that interested in the surrounding bits that I can eat. I ignore my dark chocolate rice crackers and the bar of rum and raison my husband offers back at the house. We look into veggie options at our local takeaways but nothing takes my fancy. At 8pm I make myself a bowl of Fruit and Fibre with grapes. Perhaps it’s just fast, smoggy London that’s put me off – I never feel quite right until I’m back with the fresh air and my own bed. The hotel life is not for me.

A friend gives me a recipe for a quick dressing that she promises will revive some of the dry veggie meals I’ve been cooking: tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper and water. She also makes me feel better about my prawn crackers slip up, saying that, especially as a vegan, she often unknowingly eats the wrong things by accident, but what’s important to her is it wasn’t conscious. Luckily the point of all this for me isn’t to be a faultless vegetarian for a month, but to experience 31 days trying it out – be that getting it right or making mistakes and messing it up. Chai St – a new place offering Indian vegetarian street food in Chester, cannot open soon enough.

Day 7

Yesterday’s lunch was a real triumph; halloumi and avocado in chunky sourdough break with a fig glaze. I mean, I’m not getting any more creative, but it’s one hell of a tasty sandwich. Then I really let the side down (no, not all the way to meat) by eating and drinking a bizarre array of things between 4pm-11pm which I guess constitute dinner: hot chocolate, gin and tonic, banana bread, mocktail, nutella on toast. It’s not exactly straight out of ‘Bowls of Goodness‘ – a veggie cookbook I happen to own. But it is reflective of the last week – haphazard, chaotic, with food as an afterthought.

So next week i’m planning. I’m talking my trolley down the aisle and putting a bit of elbow grease into this challenge. Two recipes I’ve got lined up are black bean and pumpkin burritos from Mildreds and vegetarian shepherd’s pie – both suggested by Amble’s own Ali Hunter. Meanwhile Day 8 dinner will be Linda McCartney’s mozzarella burgers (with that tahini sauce I want to try out). Apparently these are a top notch meat alternative.

I also sneak a peek at the PETA website. Like, from between my fingers. I’ve been ignoring this side of things for a while, the ‘before my plate’ side. I click on, ‘Animals are not ours to eat’ and feel nervous. I think I’m going to be glad that my stomach has been a meat free zone for the past week. I start with chickens, as pre this challenge I was probably eating chicken nearly every day. It’s a brief and to the point read, and the same kind of thing I remember reading in Foer’s ‘Eating Animals’. It’s not enough. By which I don’t mean that it’s not horrible enough, because it is, it’s just that I need it planted in the real.

I google, ‘Chicken farming in the UK’ and have a read of the BBC article from 2014, ‘Do people know where their chicken comes form?’ Years ago I really liked and trusted BBC news, but after watching the early morning news in my hotel room in London all last week, listening to them whinging on like a low brow celebrity gossip panel about Theresa May’s cough, I’m not really buying it anymore. A sharp reminder of why I don’t watch the news in Chester.

Either way, the article states that free-range accounts for only 5% of chicken production, organic 1%, leaving 94% to be intensively reared birds. Bit grim. I make a habit of buying free-range eggs but am often put off by the higher price tags associated with organic and free range whole chickens and breasts (well then just don’t buy chicken at all Gemma. Okay conscience). Weirdly it’s the sudden image of raw meat (after a few of alive, crowded in chickens) that I can’t stand to look at. It makes me feel very ill.

The article focuses a lot on the price of chicken – that people can’t expect conditions to be lovely for chickens if they’re not prepared to pay a lot more to make it feasible. And as long as they want cheap meat, conditions will be tougher on the birds. Okay that’s enough for today. Consider me all about the broccoli for the foreseeable.

Day 8

You’ll be pleased to know reader, that today I decide to go rogue on breakfast, skip the Fruit and Fibre, and hit up some good ol’ porridge. I know – I got carried away. Lunch is ricotta and spinach pasta with green pesto, peppers and courgette – a lovely winter warmer. Most of my veggie food this week has been cold or make-do, but this is a proper, delicious meal.

Dinner sees me murder the tahini dressing my friend recommended – instead, I make watered down peanut butter (how my husband describes it, followed by, ‘That’s disgusting, I’m not eating that.’) So much for bash it all together, can’t go wrong. Proof that without a recipe to follow to the letter, I can cack just about anything up. Thankfully Linda McCartney’s mozzarella burgers with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, avocado and tomatoes get by okay without it.

I go to bed feeling fine. I wake up in the night feeling horrific.

Is it the reduction in my protein intake, or my over-reliance on bread? Or is it the many train journeys to and from London, trapped in an infection-riddled box, where the first of October’s coughs and colds danced playfully about for two hour stints?

 

Day 9

So Day 9 = half a bowl of carrot and coriander soup and yet another stumble of stupidity – a vegetable curry full of mushrooms (which for anyone just joining us – are my kryptonite). I force my husband to swap meals with me, only to discover a few squirrelled away mushrooms in that one too.

The world wants me dead. And it might just succeed.

At least I didn’t throw in the towel and hit the meat. Tomorrow’s forecast – a heavy shower of tomato soup.

Day 10

So all my grand recipe and cooking from scratch plans go out the window when the illness arrives. This makes me a terrible vegetarian, no doubt fulfilling all the stereotypes – surviving on carbs and bland concoctions based around the contents of the fridge – with hardly a vitamin in sight.

I eat porridge, sleep through lunch, and pull out a Linda McCartney vegetable pie for dinner. I’m only half with it, so instead of brushing on a light coating of milk, I pour some milk over it, and shove it in the oven. Thirty minutes later and not only is it not cooked, the middle is raw and sunken in under a puddle of milk. Weird that. Admittedly I then lose my sh*t. I can’t breathe properly or taste much. Last night was a curry disaster. I’m exhausted and disgusting, and sick of pants food. I strop passed my husband, who’s tucking into aforementioned leftover curry quite happily, abandon the rice, peas and gravy now growing cold, and sulk in the lounge. And my poor Geordie life partner rushes his food, and runs out to the chippy to get me some proper chips and mushy peas.

By the time he comes back, my pie is perfectly done, and after profuse apologies over being such a child (I’d like to lie and say this is a one off), I tuck in. I wish I could say I could taste it. I can’t, just that it’s warm. But reader, I knew it was good. Other than onion, the ingredients of the pie were mostly around soy rather than veg, but I’m sure it was delicious (sort of). I finished the night with a winter spiced tea which (you guessed it) might as well have been hot water.

I also inhaled a lot of Vicks Vapour rub fumes. Yummy.

Day 11

I wake up late and eat cereal. I nap. Around 4pm I have a few cookies. Then joyously my airways clear a little. So much of the enjoyment of food it around the smell and taste, and the mozzarella pizza I have later that night is perfection. Tomorrow I’m creating a list of no-doubt wonderful veggie recipes. The second half of this challenge is going to go very differently, and be a lot more edible. If I’m feeling up to it, I’m also going to treat myself with some reading around what they do to cows.

Day 12

Okay, on the mend. Can’t blame new veggie diet, as is healthy mix of bread and pasta. I’ll probably also get really skinny. Husband says our new way of eating is like trying to paint a picture with a limited range of colours, and whilst you can live your whole life looking at black and white pictures, every now and again he wants some God damn blue. Bless, I think he misses steak, and is experiencing the same rage I did the other night over my veggie pie. Wait until I tell him what they do to the cows.

Anyway, today is porridge, then tomato, sweetcorn and rice soup with garlic crisp breads. Then it’s off to the supermarket to truly become a devout veggie. We seek out the ingredients for 5 recommended recipes. No more carbs! (there’s still a lot of carbs in the recipes). No more cheese! (lots of cheese too).

I even buy Tofu. I ask a young shop assistant where it resides, thinking of it as something malformed and shrunken in a dark cave. He takes me to the place of no meat and points it out, a brick of white. Ugh. But I’m going to eat it! Yes I am!

For dinner, because we’re now tired from seeking out weird and wonderful greens in previously unvisited aisles, we have tomato and mozzarella tortellini, with broccoli and a sage and butternut sauce. But fear not, the pre-packaged road has reached an end. And tomorrow it’s all about pumpkin and black bean burritos (oh hello carbs avec cheese!)

Anyway, cows, focus on the cows…I go to the PETA website, but get drawn in with a video about dead and dying piglets on British pig farms It. Is. Awful. Right at the end, the message, ‘Help them, don’t eat them’. Then I watch the next video about geese. NEVER BUY A GOOSE-DOWN DUVET FROM CHINA.

Perfect bed-time viewing. Sleep well.

Day 13

Today is strawberry porridge, followed by broccoli and stilton soup with granary bread (uber healthy now) and the first of many veggie dishes – pumpkin and black bean burritos, from Mildreds.

We spend about an hour putting the later together, but it’s pretty straight forward, and mostly about boshing things in pans and waiting for them to cook. It feels good to be putting effort into cooking again. By the time the cheese is sizzling and browning away under the grill, we’re starving and more than happy to chow it down with the recommended iceberg lettuce.

I’m glad to have another pork free day today, especially after the video I watched last night. I check out an article on The Independent’s website – ‘The truth behind the pork we eat.’ We farm 10.6 million pigs in the UK each year. That sounds a lot but there are 65.64 million of us, so I’m surprised it isn’t more.

There’s some advice on organic brands behind pigs which experience a higher quality of welfare, but the whole thing just turns my stomach to be honest. Though I learn that the best you can do, if you are going to eat pork, is look for ‘UK Organic’ on the label.

Eating meat is a kind of brainwashing, for me anyway. I learnt to expect it on my plate (beyond that – require it) before I learnt where it came from. Then, when at the age where I could make the link between the food and animal, something clumsy happened, something lazy around the ‘well, everyone is doing it’ mentality. And I just sort of bumbled on, enjoying the taste, seeking it out, numbing that occasional sting of remembrance that the source is a body, and the body died to feed me, with little reason.

With all the colour and chaos of daily life, I just never really stopped to think about it, about how I really felt participating. The truth would no doubt be unpleasant and meat had for too long been something ingrained in me as acceptable. This challenge is itching away at me. I’m nearly at the mid-point and I’m seriously considering becoming pescatarian. I’m sure they do shitty things to the fish too, but one step at a time eh?

I had to select my menu in advance recently for a fancy Christmas dinner reader, and I went veggie all the way. Veal was an option – not something I’ve ever eaten – too far even for me.

I enjoy reading this old write-up on the Huffington Post site: ‘What a lot of people don’t realize is that over time your body’s unnatural craving for mammal and poultry meat disappears, and a healthy body will get sick from beef, pork or chicken if eaten again after a period of a pescetarian diet. This is because land-animal flesh is filled with toxins, uric acid and fecal bacteria.’

I don’t know if my craving is disappearing or I’m just regularly putting myself off it.

Only time will tell.

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.”
– Paul McCartney

Day 14

Breakfast is a good ol’ cup of tea. Some mornings I get up and I can’t face food until lunch (this is rare) and today is one of them.

But I’m pretty happy when lunch rolls around and we make up some more of last night’s burritos. Despite it taking a while to cook initially, there’s still enough for today and beyond. It’s a cheesy, quick win.

Back to the books for dinner, today it’s Dahl Tadka from Bowls of Goodness. I love this book. I bought it for the cover alone, and typically make the delicious dishes inside avec meat or fish (it’s a veggie book). Again, it’s an easy one but requires about an hour of investment. It’s essentially lentils boiled down, with an amazing chunky paste of garlic, chilli, lime, tons of spices, and coconut oil. In the picture this is beautifully served with red onion and coriander. I decorate mine with poppadoms. Poppadoms make great dinner pringles (a dinner pringle is anything which can be used instead of a fork or spoon to eat with. This term originates from the common Pringle). Yes I invented this. You’re welcome.

That night I spend a bit of time with Foer’s book, ‘Eating Animals‘ (you can read about my on again/off again relationship with it here). It’s about ten years since my last read so I can’t quite remember what to expect, but just like at 19, it sucks me right in. I’m soon burning the midnight oil and nodding sagely along to his point that most of our justifications for eating meat, mean we should really be eating dogs.

He’s not seriously suggesting this, merely trying to get us to address the meat issue from a different perspective. Pigs are as intelligent as dogs. And thousands of dogs are put down every year because they’re unwanted or too aggressive. That’s a huge amount of wasted meat (in some countries they have no issue eating them), but we’re not rushing to chow down on man’s best friend. Why? Maybe because we name them, and decide they’re part of the family. Pigs are affectionate and playful too.

It really makes you paws for thought (sorry).

Day 15

It’s Fruit & Fibre for me again today. I’m only going to miss bacon breakfast sandwiches when I’m really hungover, otherwise I can just about get by without them. I don’t like to start the day eating fatty food, because I know I’m going scoff down a wealth of it from early evening onwards (we have a sweet drawer). So come sun up, I like to pretend.

We drive out of Chester for a friends birthday lunch, and spot an upturned badger by the side of the road. Yay or nay on eating roadkill is maybe for a different blog. If you want to feel a bit sick and/or get a recipe for badger, read this.

Thankfully lunch isn’t quite as grim (but it’s not a mile off). The menu is extensive, but I’m still extremely limited on what I can eat. It’s cheese to the rescue again for the starter – gooey baked camembert. But the main, a veggie burger, is a beige mistake. The ‘burger’ is mostly potato, so that’s potato, surrounded by bread, served with a side of potato (chips). I manage about half. But it’s so stodgy and unappetising, clogging together in my mouth as one bland thing. Even the tomato relish can’t save it. However, I’m not jealous of the plates around me: steak pie, half a roast chicken, thai duck curry. I’m pretty set on this fish eating thing. I really think I’d be happy giving meat the shove. Then I can slightly appease the ‘bad animal-eater’ niggle in my brain, and still enjoy my food.

Nia (read about her Vegan experience here) struggles too – she’s informed that Vegan meals have to be ordered in advance (news to us), and makes do with a veggie option instead. I really feel for her. God if I had to go without dairy on top of this….

To cheer myself up I order the rhubarb cheesecake, and sigh after each bite. Happiness is restored.

I take Foer to bed (don’t be dirty, I’m married) and read all about bycatch. Not ideal. I forgot he touched on this subject, and I’ve just been making myself feel pretty good with the idea of just eating fish. But now I know that shrimp fishing is killing all the magical seahorse. And the turtles. Turtles are my f’ing spirit animal. Ugh. I’d rather not eat. Food is only so so la la without meat or fish (when it’s missing for every meal) I’m sorry, but that’s my experience of it. At the same time, I hate what that means for animals. I go to sleep furious.

Day 16

Consider me cheered up. Tomorrow night I’m going to a pop-up Vegan night put on by Mr Watson. You can find out a little about the creator here. Even though this means I’ll be eating an increasingly restricted diet, I’m relaxed. I’ll be in the safe, talented hands of Chef and Amble writer Gin. No doubt he will swiftly convince me in three courses that even Vegan is doable and delicious.

Picked up Mr Foer’s book again last night. I should say that his research is entirely US based, but there’s a brief chapter in the British version stating that we’re not much better in the UK. Brill.

I knew we weren’t doing nice things to the chickens. Even before reading this I was finding chicken the easiest meat to ignore. Odd – because it’s what I ate the most off pre October. This new info really helps with the resolve though – it’s about artificial light and diet being used to trick laying chickens into popping out eggs. Essentially starving them in total darkness for a few weeks, followed by bright lights and a high protein diet. Winter meets spring. They do this over and over to maximise egg production. But every year that same chicken will produce a few less eggs regardless, so they kill them after 12 months, as it’s more cost effective to get new chickens. It’s a charming world we live in.

I’m just over the half-way point and experiencing a lot of internal dilemmas. I’m also terrified of the impending tofu experience. So I went online to see if there are other meat-eaters who’ve given this month lark a shot.

This guy pretty much had the same experience – living on bad food as a non-meat eater. I don’t think I mentioned (because I tend to put up with it) but I can’t really eat egg either. I usually eat it if I’m at a dinner party etc because I don’t like to be too awkward and it only makes me uncomfortable as opposed to the mushrooms which try to kill me from the inside. A veggie without mushrooms and egg is a tough road, trust me.

Today I have another burrito for lunch. And I’m definitely not tired of it, despite having it for three meals. It’s the perfect meal to eat in the midst of storm Ophelia. The wind is gusting outside and I’m chowing down on cheesy comfort food.

Dinner is courgette and cannellini bean lasagne from Hemsley and Hemsley. Physically we massacred it. Once we’ve made something from a cookbook we make a note about how we found it and anything we’d do differently. This one said, ‘More veg in it and side salad’. So we boshed some sweetcorn and peppers in and then tried to evenly spread the bechamel sauce on that. Did not go well.

Things looked bad. We also put some actual lasagne sheets in and melted mozzarella on top (not in the recipe). As before it turned out beautifully, despite initial mess. But for another dinner we’re relying heavily on cheese.

Maybe vegan is just what I need.

Day 17 & 18

All you need to know about Day 17 is here.

Day 18 starts with apricot wheats – the breakfast of champions. Then for lunch (nutritionists look away now) I had some lemon and raspberry cake, and a mocha at The Baristas in Chester. And for sort of second lunch I had half a left-over slutty brownie from Mr Watson’s Vegan night. And maybe two glasses of wine. Then I went out for the evening, came back, and threw the remnants of the lasagne from Day 16 in the microwave and ate that at 11pm. Keeping it classy Chester.

It’s not good for me, but it’s not meat. You know how a lot of women’s magazines have ‘Day in the life’ features on successful, career women? I might give them a call and use today as an example of what they’d be getting – no doubt they’ll snap me right up.

Despite what I’m currently choosing to whack in my mouth, my veggie spirits are lifted. I’m re-energised and determined to whip up some truly beautiful and tasty meals. Any minute now. I’m also going to allow myself a brief lower carbon footprint celebration. According to this website. ‘A vegetarian’s footprint is about 2/3 of the average Americans.’ Sweet. I lost in a lot of ways today; not anticipating the heavy rain, traffic jams, and vitamin intake’ but I am smashing this footprint stuff (I mean, temporarily and for only 17 days).

Day 19

I have lunch at Cinderbox in Chester – a mozzarella, pesto and tomato panini. Due to my melon breakfast (we were out of milk) I was starving, and only remembered to take a photo when it was nearly over.

Rest assured, it was thoroughly enjoyed. Even if I did really want the bacon, brie and cranberry one.

It’s Wagamamas for dinner, and, full disclosure, I NEARLY just sack it all in and order the chicken katsu curry. For all of my talk about protecting the chickens, and being okay with eating fish, I’ve had one hell of a day and I feel like I deserve it.

Luckily, I question myself. So the chickens deserve to have a crap life and suffer so that I can be cheered up? It didn’t make sense enough for me to do it. Plus they actually now do a veggie version – deep fried courgette and aubergine. Definitely one of my fave meals of this experience – it wasn’t lacking at all. I still got to enjoy my favourite parts – the tasty katsu sauce and japanese pickles. Yet another lesson that this is possible.

The feature picture of this post was my welcome mat – a promotion for their expanded vegan menu. You can read more about that here. I particularly enjoy this comment on the article, ‘Still using the same utensils – as for their meat dishes’. Un-fricking-believable.

For most of the meal we talk about whether or not we need to eat meat. I repeat what I read somewhere about how many other predators have sharp teeth and claws, they’re made for hunting and eating prey – also they can eat raw meat, whereas we could survive without it quite easily and have had to create weapons and machines to make it possible, and cook it (I also read that if we trained ourselves we could eat raw meat too, but I’m not about to try it). My husband eats noodles with prawns and chicken. But my food is great so I don’t care.

Day 20

Yay for mental health day. Today is all about taking a break from the world and unwinding. And I’m going to do this with hot chocolate, vegan brownies (you have to trust me that they’re amazing) and tomato and mascarpone soup (nice enough).

For dinner I make a friend’s recommended recipe for vegetarian shepherd’s pie. It’s lentils, pearl barley, carrots, onions, walnuts, veg stock and gravy coated in mashed potato. The pie is quick to put together and surprisingly meaty. It’s a winner for me, and something I’ll make again even if I do go back to eating meat (which I don’t think I will, probably). I’m thinking back to my interview with Sofi, founder of The Pip Box, and what she told me about so many big, beauty brands not being cruelty free but using lots of tactics to get around telling you (read more here).

Just like animal testing, so much about meat farming is smoke and mirrors. Although I do think we gladly allow it. We prize the taste of meat above all else, and our addiction to our animal-tested face cream, so we’d prefer not to know. It’s accessible online, the truth of it, but ignorance is bliss and all that. Facing the truth means we’d have to make adjustments and adjustments are hard. It’s much easier to stay exactly the same and look away. Especially when that’s what most people are doing. It’s great to be unique, but oh the effort. I’m not lecturing anyone here, I promise. I’m talking about myself.

Day 21

Melon for breakfast.

For lunch we hunt down Perogi on Brook Street – a relatively new polish dumpling place that’s been on my radar for a while. I don’t usually find myself in this part of town but it’s certainly worth an amble; there’s some cool little vintage shops.

The husband definitely wins on the food front. The delicious sounding soup – much needed to fight off the wintery chill today, contains white mushrooms, as do some of the dumplings, so they’re out for me. The ones I’d normally order are beef and pork – but obviously not this month (or beyond – come on!). I overly ambitiously order 5 potato and cheese, and 5 spinach and garlic. We both drink mango lemonade.

I’m jealous of the soup – I think it’s needed to break up the stodge factor. Although the food is good, and I’m a big fan of eateries that do a small menu and nail it, due to my dietary requirements I’m pretty restricted here. So for me it’s more a place to pick up a filling snack than lunch. But I’m certainly glad we’ve got somewhere quirky within walking distance – and my husband continues to rave about the soup long after we’ve left. It’s alright for some.

Dinner is wonderful, wonderful veggie shepherds pie leftovers. Hopefully I’m being slightly healthier than the first two weeks, and before, as a meat-eater. All my go to take-aways are out the window, after that indian fail. No point in fish and chips either! Veg thai takeaway doesn’t hold much appeal for me. Plus we’re finally getting a few top notch recipes under our belts.

Not long now (I realise I sound like someone stuck underground with limited oxygen). 9 more days. But doing a-ok in the meantime. Relying heavily on peas. Good ol’ peas.

Day 22

Apricot Wheats at the ready.

Lunch – halloumi and avocado sandwiches with extra virgin olive oil from Gustum. We’ve been super reluctant to use this oil as it’s expensive (£19) and not your bog standard cooking variety. But I’m glad we did, it was delicious with the avo – and begging for sourdough to soak it up.

Dinner is a lentil and tomato bake from Hemsley and Hemsley. Takes a long while to put together but it’s sensational. Half way through making we realise 2 eggs are needed (which we have but I can’t really eat). But without them we can’t see how it will actually bake. So we toss them in. Maybe I’m over it.

Spend a bit more time with Foer – he’s debating suffering – how we decide what it is – if animals feel it – if it’s equivalent to what we feel. I guess we tell ourselves that the deaths of the animals are quick and painless, but there’s a fair bit of evidence to suggest otherwise. I also shiver reading about KFC (albeit tales about the American chain).

This article – yeah I realise it’s the Daily Mail, says the KFC birds live together for 35 days before they’re gassed and chopped up into 9 pieces. Christ, they sell 400 pieces of chicken a minute. We must really like chicken here (I mean, once it’s cooked, we obviously don’t give a crap about it when it’s alive).

Apparently there was a BBC1 series about KFC called ‘Billion Dollar Chicken Shop.’ I can’t watch it (no TV licence) but just looking (this happened to me last time) at raw chicken meat makes me feel super sick.

Day 23

Okay, the eggs were a bad idea. Eggs are not my friends. Maybe it’s for the best what with all the fake light crap it takes to make the chickens to produce so many. I hardly sleep. Then I skip breakfast – I need a break from food.

Check out this list of stuff I shouldn’t eat as contains eggs:

  • Bread and cakes
  • Pancakes and Yorkshire puddings
  • Quiches
  • Desserts
  • Sauces and spreads
  • Mayonnaise
  • Ice cream
  • Meat products

Whatever. I eat most of that. It’s worth it guys.

I especially like this one:

  • An alarmingly long list of sweets

Lunch is broccoli and stilton soup – nice and inoffensive. I’m fully recovered now (my intolerance episodes are brief and brutal), so I eat A LOT of bread too.

Dinner is more of that lentil bake from the husband, but not for me, NEVER AGAIN. I make some mash potato, sweetcorn and a Morrison’s goats cheese and onion tart – surprisingly good (it’s frozen and looks like a pop tart with a white blob on before cooking – puffs up as it cooks and very tasty).

Then I really enjoy reading this – ‘The 13 greatest things about being Vegetarian‘.

‘6. It’s so easy to rile people up if you ever wanted to.’

For balance I also read, ‘8 reasons why you shouldn’t be a vegetarian.’

6. You could suffer from lower bone density and osteoporosis.

Definitely going back to the fish.

Day 24

Day 24 is all about the bad day takeaway – where food makes it so much better. The Ruan Orchid (Thai) comes to the rescue with a pineapple curry (requested without mushrooms just in case).

It’s exactly what I need (I always love the food from this place) and there’s plenty of pineapple, grapes and tasty veg in a rich curry sauce. I feel happiness return. I won’t lie to you reader, I nearly went for something with prawns, but my husband talked me out of it, reminding me that I only had a few days left and it would be crap to throw in the towel so late in the game. True. As an added bonus the veggie meals are about £4 cheaper. Saved the challenge and saved money at the same time.

Day 25

On Day 25 I have lentil and tomato soup, and throw in all the leftover veg and sauce from the night before. It works a treat – my soup is truly pimped up.

I have dinner at Storyhouse with co-creator Dave. Thankfully their small menu has a wealth of vegan and veggie options – and they all sound delicious. I opt for these wonderful, egg shaped moroccan things – with plenty of seeds, grains, spices and butternut squash. They come with a beautiful beetroot sauce, and we order chargrilled broccoli. One of the best mains of my experience.

The poached pear for dessert doesn’t hurt either.

The third and final course of the evening is a fabulous Amble Team Meeting.

Today, this vegetarian lark is a breeze.

Day 26

I’m continuing to put a lot of time into puddings, especially when I’m out and not loving my veggie main.

Day 27 is tinned leek and potato soup (hey, big spender), and dinner at The Ship Inn, Handbridge. We start with shared camembert – gooey, with crisp breads and a fruity chutney.

What I order next sounds so promising, a beetroot and apricot shortcrust pie. It’s sadly only okay. I’m still struggling with eating veg that comes with veg, and I was hoping for really strong, yummy flavours. It was also quite dry, in hindsight I should’ve asked for some gravy, because the ketchup I boshed on didn’t help.

Also, I’m really, really craving fish!

Dessert was honeycomb and salted caramel ice cream. Hells yeah.

Day 27

On Day 27 I do this to my soup:

And why wouldn’t you, when you’re out of bread? The evening meal is a beige buffet and many G&T’s as we prep for Chester’s Day of the Dead event – carb loading and trying to stay awake until the start time (10:45pm).

I’m a good girl. I ignore the pepperoni pizza. Pizza is another tough one for me in this veggie world, as a lot of them contain mushrooms, so I go for a tried and tested, yet ultimately uninspired margarita.

I  also start watching ‘What the Health,’ which seems to want to dispel a few food myths and dig into the advice of the seemingly reliable health advocates. It’s all about America, but interesting nonetheless – and ends up promoting going vegan, and essentially saying that you can’t trust meat, fish and dairy, due to the volume of carcinogens (‘a substance capable of causing caner in living tissue.’), hormones and antibiotics pumped into the animals. Hmm.

In Foer’s ‘Eating Animals’ he talks about how the advisory panels for KFC, the ones responsible for animal welfare, are made up predominately of people with a conflict of interest, and those whose primary goal is to keep costs down and make money, for example the owners of the factory farms. So KFC can say they have these panels, and hope they get away with looking great, and no one digs deeper.

The health organisations in this documentary were exposed in a similar way – a lot of their sponsors (where their money comes from) were big meat and dairy companies – food which they then heavily suggested you eat on the website as part of a healthy diet. There were a lot of ‘facts’ bouncing around – it’s always hard to tell what the truth is. It’s certainly hard to believe an organisation, which is receiving money from somewhere, which then relies on their product being perceived as good for us.

The End of the Road

The last few days have been a blur of getting yet another cold (can I blame my veggie diet?), rushing to a music gig in Manchester, and now frantically packing for two weeks away in America.

I’ve stayed true to the path guys. There’s been more bloody boring pizza (we bought way to much for the pre Day of the Dead party).

More vegan brownies. Sorry waistline:

A medley, winter warmer soup with tomatoes, courgettes, shallots, butternut squash, carrots, red onion, veg stock and broccoli, soaked up with bread:

More veg heavy dinners, like this improvised curry with basmati rice and tikka masala patak paste, served with greek yoghurt and cucumber (actually loved it):

A halloumi and aubergine burger from Gorilla, Manchester – not bad but a bit too salty – and I got bored of the lack of variety of flavour:

This delightful brioche and mocha brunch, from Takk cafe, Manchester:

And a lush soup, Pea and Minty with Doritos:

So what have I learnt?

Being a vegetarian in today’s day and age isn’t hard. But it is important to:

  • Gather a list of go to restaurants near you; the ones that nail the veggie burger, and do wonderful things with a stew, your go-to champions for veggie concoctions.
  • Make peace with the fact that if you’re invited to somewhere off-list, you may have to eat that lone, lacklustre veggie offering, and suffer a beige death.
  • Hit the cookbooks and put the time in; trying out and exploring recipes so you’re not reaching for the bread and cheese every night.
  • A lot of my favourite meals aren’t up there due to the meat or fish, but the flavour, the sauce. I’d now happily eat a veg curry (of any variety) without feeling like there aren’t any treats, or it’s going to be nowhere near as good.
  • My awareness of veg is super limited. I need to familiarise myself with the less common and get tasting.

I’ve also learnt that it’s tough when you can’t eat eggs or mushrooms on top – I had to be especially careful when eating out and messed up once or twice, ending up lovely and sick.

I don’t like what we do to the animals we eat. I never have, only now, having forced myself to read up and face the facts, it’s harder than ever for me to look away and pick up the rib rack. I am going back to fish – but where I can, I’ll see what veggie and vegan options are on offer and eat those instead – especially the veggie katsu curry at Wagamamas – a thing of beauty. It’s changed my perception of veggie food – there are so many tasty ways around dairy and meat (thank you Undercover Baker and Mr Watson).

I don’t know if my almost consistent cold is due to me being run down and busy, my more limited diet, or a bit of both, but I’m going to tuck into salmon with wild abandon and see where it gets me.

Don’t get me wrong – the stuff I’ve read about mercury in the fish, what we’re doing to the oceans, and by-catch consequences, don’t make me feel like a winner, but for me, I need more from my diet, and it’s a step in the right direction (hopefully you’ll agree).