Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Day 06: Vegetarianism

Meat, to some, is as much a religion as it is sustenance. Whilst I can never claim to have been a vegetarian, I've also never really considered myself as one of the indoctrinated congregation of the church of cooked animals.

I grew up in a house where both my parents were chefs. In fact, my father was a master chef. He was head chef at the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, during the late seventies and early eighties, under the great Anton Mosimann. That was when it became the first hotel restaurant outside France to be awarded 2 Michelin stars. So I guess that made him a Michelin starred chef. His specialities were fish, pastry and presentation. Not many people in the world could make a fish pie taste or look as good as my old man.

At home, my Mum did most of the cooking. She was also a chef (although she prefers the term cook). She worked at a private American school and specialised in kids food. American kids food. No surprise she was (and still is) so popular with my American cousins when they visit.

On occasion my parents, along with work colleagues, would do private catering jobs for rich Jewish families or private high class events in the city. And yes, they brought this level of elite culinary mastery into the home.

But, despite my Caribbean father and Spanish mother having mad skills, there was one thing that above all else was the pinnacle of home eating. Sunday Dinner. Or, to be precise English Sunday Roast.

I suppose after working all week on spectacular international cuisine, there was a desire to eat something normal. Maybe that's what my parents considered a challenge. Whatever the reason it was always a roast on Sunday. It would alternate each week: Beef, lamb, chicken, pork, duck. On special occasions, Turkey. Gravy made properly from the meat juices. All the sides &  trimmings: Roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, sprouts, broccoli, corn-on-the-con, pettis-pois. Always followed by a classic dessert of some kind.

Generally we ate well. We were not left wanting. No complaints (apart from school dinners). But we weren't spoilt either. We weren't over fed. We weren't allowed to waste food. There was (and is) no wealth in our family. Every penny spent was a penny considered carefully. My sister and I were always aware that our parents were doing their best in tough times.

So at no point did the idea of not eating a particular type of food ever enter the equation. In fact, we ate such a wide variety - British, Spanish, Caribbean, Indian, Italian, you name it - that I'm not sure we were even aware of the truth that these were all separate cuisines. To us, this was just normal. If we, the relatively poor, could enjoy such a wide variety, then surely everybody ate like this, right?

So why wouldn't you eat meat if you could get it? But at the same time, what did it matter if you couldn't? All food is good food right? So, like I said at the beginning, I've never considered myself a member of the church of meat per se

So why choose vegetarianism as a challenge?

Because, despite all I've just said, I probably eat meat every day. twice a day, without giving it a moments thought. I am aware that I don't need to - if I don't have meat in a meal, that's ok - but I nearly always do.

So why not see if I can rule it out completely for an extended period? And whilst I'm doing that I can observe any other side effects - blood pressure (I have hypertension), cost, weight... contentedness.

For this challenge, I had the support and co-operation of two of my flatmates. Gavin & Bernice decided to take up the challenge too. That definitely made it easier. My third flatmate- Shane - had no interest in joining us. In fact he threatened to cook bacon sandwiches every day. Thankfully he didn't.

The first day was a fail. I was in the pub that night with a friend and without realising it, I had stuffed my face with pork scratchings. In my mind they were just crisps. This important lesson - think about everything you put in your mouth - served me well. The very next day I nearly ate marshmallows, but stopped to think about it first.

The next few days were a bit tricky. At lunchtime in Soho all you can smell is grilled meat. The temptation faded after a while. The rest of the month was generally smooth sailing.

By the second week I started to find that I was enjoying my food more. Every meal was a delight. It sounds like a weird thing to say, but its true. Things I wouldn't have enjoyed as much before - steamed vegetables, pulses & beans, salads - even breakfast cereal - tasted that much nicer. Perhaps because they were now the centrepiece of the meal rather than being overshadowed by the taste of meats. Whatever the reason, any thoughts I had about being bored with my food were put to bed.

I also found myself feeling less bloated. Even after a big meal. I had been worried that increasing my vegetable intake would mean increasing my time on the porcelain throne, but if anything I had less incidents of upset stomach than normal.

After a month of this I've lost 3 kg in weight and generally felt much better about myself. To round it off I'd probably spent half the amount of money I would normally on shopping. It's cheaper being a vegetarian. By far.

And then, suddenly it was over. May 1st. But actually... after a few days of eating meat again I've decided I'm going to go back to being a veggie for a while. I actually enjoyed it that much! I don't feel as though I've run out of new things to try yet. I'm addicted to Lentils. And I'm enjoying the weight loss.

I don't think I'll be a vegetarian permanently. You can't keep me away from fried chicken for long. And the piece of fish I had for dinner I had a couple days ago was divine. But I can see a future where I only eat meat & fish occasionally.

It will certainly make Sunday roast a special occasion again.