We are officially in National Vegetarian Week, which is somewhat a coincidence for this article. I am what some might call a Flexitarian, meaning I mostly eat a plant based diet but eat meat when I feel like it. But this week, I am not eating meat at all in support of my fellow vegetarians, one of whom is my husband and one of the main reasons I am doing this (because he asked me to and I have no objection). Other reasons include a burning question I always ask myself? If I am a flexitarian, then why don't I make the last small step to becoming a vegetarian?
This answer to this question involves me being very honest and open about my thoughts on it. So please vegans and vegetarians, bear with me and respect my thoughts and opinions. Mostly, the moralistic vegetarians who have, as I fully respect, very passionate views on the killing of animals for food consumption.
My reasons for eating a mostly plant based diet is mainly for health reasons. I'm not a big meat eater and I don't particularly like certain meat foods like sausages, bacon, chops, things that you know contain bad cuts of meat and things that, if you knew what was in there, you would be disgusted. I remember visiting a bacon factory once and the amount of water that gets pumped into the meat to swell it up and make it go further is ridiculous (ever wonder why your piece of bacon shrivels up so much when you put it on the pan?!). How many times have you hit a piece of gristle when eating a sausage? I started to buy the small Deny sausages because they never had them until I asked myself why was I eating something that contained so much rubbish. I don't even want to hazard a guess how much actual meat is in sausages. This started me off on my journey to reducing the amount of meat that I was eating. And when I did eat meat, I was ensuring I bought the best I could. That coupled with my desire to eat more healthily and consume as many vegetables as possible.
So, I started to make more meals during the week that were meat free (this was even before my husband became vegetarian). I spent so many hours on the internet, gathering my vegetarian recipe folder. I was genuinely astounded at the amount of delicious meals I could make that were meat free, meals that had so much more flavour to them than meat dishes. Long gone are the days that eating veg means a few pieces of boiled broccoli with no added flavour on the side. Vegetarian dishes lend themselves to a lot more flavour than meat dishes. This was a huge step for me and allowed me to give up most meat, particularly red meat, which I just wasn't a lover of anyway, and to which I was very dubious as to the quality of such foods. And as much as I like a juicy steak, I have a weak digestive system which leaves me feeling unwell after a huge meal containing steak. So I mostly avoid it.
The next step in my meat reduction journey was when my husband became vegetarian (his for moral reasons). This allowed me, to my joy, to cook vegetarian meals all week (we mostly eat out on Saturdays and Sundays - I'll come to this). So I started to experiment even more with vegetarian cooking. It is not a myth that eating a plant based diet makes you feel so much better in many ways. A few months into my (mostly) vegetarian diet, I was in a restaurant, and tempted by their daily special of beef and guinness pie topped with mash, I ordered it. As I left the restaurant, I felt so unwell, my food sat in me like a lead balloon and on the way home in the car (I wasn't driving) I couldn't keep my eyes open. I couldn't believe the effect it had on me. It knocked me for six. Since I started on my mostly plant based diet, I don't get that 3pm slump that I used to get and when I eat my meal in the evening, I don't need a 15 minute cat nap, something that I quite often did. I very rarely cook meat at home, in fact it's almost never. However I do still enjoy chicken or fish when I eat out at the weekends.
However, this brings me to the more serious question. Do I feel any moral obligation to go full vegetarian? Whilst I appreciate the meat industry is a foul and dirty business, I can't put my hand on my heart and say that I strongly believe that we should not kill animals to eat them. Having said that, I feel ashamed that that is my answer, so perhaps I don't fully mean it. Again, I'm ashamed to say it, but I turn a blind eye to what goes on in order to get that piece of chicken or fish (what I mostly eat in terms of meat) from the farm to my plate. If someone was to take me and physically show me the killing of an animal and the process thereafter to get meat to the supermarket, and all the disgusting things that they do with animal parts and where they end up, I would probably never eat meat again. So, knowing this, why don't I just give it up entirely? I don't know. I don't like handling raw meat, it feels too close to the reality of what it is, but cook it and put it on my plate and I could eat it. How can these two things go hand in hand? I was recently driving past a field that was full of gorgeous little lambs and I made a cooing noise as I pointed them out to my husband and said 'Ah, look at the little lambs', to which he replied 'They'll be slaughtered next week and on someones plate'. I would be lying if I said this didn't pull at my heartstrings. I'm not sure where that leaves me with my moral obligation to give up meat, because I believe there are so many food products in the world to eat a well balanced nutritional diet without the need to kill animals. Why do we need to do this?
It's not that I'm cheating by eating a vegetarian diet and having that odd piece of meat when I so feel like it. I'm not a vegetarian, I just mostly eat a vegetarian diet. For health reasons. But I do have many moral issues with the meat industry and the killing of animals, especially when there is no need to. We are not reliant on killing animals to survive, this is not survival of the fittest. We do it because we can and we always have done.
I'm so close, closer than most to being vegetarian. But I don't honestly know if I will ever make that final step to becoming one. For health reasons, I don't believe that eating it once a week will do me any harm in the long run. For moral reasons, show me the process of taking a lamb from it's mother and killing it and I'll probably become one tomorrow.