With National Vegetarian Week upon us, Ellen Desmond gives some tips for anyone interested in quitting carnivorism
This week sees Ireland attempt to give vegetarianism some much needed press time. Being a strict vegetarian in Ireland is sometimes difficult, especially at the beginning, and even more so for a student.
If you’re unprepared you’ll find that avoiding meat won’t automatically fit in with the culture here. It’s almost impossible to find a vegetarian sandwich prepacked in a shop in Ireland and you’ll accompany your friends to the chipper after a night out, crippled by the knowledge that those tempting goods have probably been bathed in animal fats. You’ll, more often than not, find yourself left with an offer of Belvita Breakfast Biscuits or a Dairy Milk.
Not only can it feel like you left with limited options, but for a very long time I felt like being a vegetarian was a major inconvenience to those around me. I was wrong though. Because being a vegetarian is great.
When providing reasons for vegetarianism, everyone has heard the meat is murder argument. It’s common knowledge that the treatment of animals on many farms is far from acceptable. But if we instead look at the positives, eliminating meat products from your diet greatly benefits the environment and can also offer several health benefits.
There are those who claim that meat-heavy diets can cause cancer, heart disease and strokes – and with cholesterol and fats taken into account, there is a truth in this. There’s also the argument that the oats fed to fatten animals being reared for meat is a waste of resources which if saved could help those living in poverty.
In the every day sense, I found that when you start thinking consciously about your food and replacing the mundane meat options you’ve been consuming without a second thought for years, you’ll encounter a whole new type of cuisine. Ironically, prior to becoming a vegetarian, I was a lot more picky and limited in my food options than I am now. All it takes is a bit of preparation. And best of all, vegetarian food is delicious.
Here are some helpful tips on how best to try out vegetarianism.
Start by trying out a Meat Free Monday routine
‘Meat Free Mondays’ was a health fad that caught on a few years ago to help people cut down on meat intake but if you’re thinking of becoming a long term vegetarian, it can be a really good way to start off. You might feel geared to go cold turkey on beef, poultry and everything else you can think of, but sudden changes in diet can often lead to a drop in immune systems or an uneducated management of what you’re consuming. See what vegetarian options you can come up with one day a week and as you feel more confident try it out one meal a day every day.
Don’t fall down the carb trap
Oftentimes, when a person tries out vegetarianism for the first time the only change they make is cutting out the meat but adding no replacement. In other words, instead of eating chicken and pasta they double up on the pasta load, instead of steak and potatoes they stock up on three extra potatoes. You don’t have to do this and there are plenty of meat free options that can go along with the meals you are used to eating. Quorn products are a great meat replacement product if you don’t have to time cook up anything special. There’s also a brand called Linda McCartney which makes delicious vegetarian sausages and lasagne which you can buy in any freezer section of SuperValu, Dunnes or Tesco – which is the same effort as buying meat so no excuses here. This really is the easy route and it’s so very simple. It even tastes better!
Think about protein
Protein is one of the main benefits anti-vegetarians claim we need meat for but this is a myth; there’s nothing good in meat that you can’t find anywhere else. You’re going vegetarian, not vegan, so dairy products are still a staple option for you. Eggs, cheese and natural yoghurts contain plenty of protein. Something to try out is Tofu, which is deliciously with salads, pastas or stir fry. Nuts are also a fantastic source of protein and keeping a bag handy to sprinkle on a salad will have your protein covered in no time. Meat replacement products such as Quorn are also usually strong in this field.
Think about Iron
Iron is a bit tougher to replace than protein but it’s another one to watch out for if you’re taking the vegetarian plunge. Dried Goji berries are often quite high in Iron and are delicious and widely available. Leafy green vegetables are also usually good for Iron content, especially spinach, which is actually delicious if you know what to do with it. Try out a roast vegetable salad with spinach, some hummus and Goji berries. If you’re struggling with this one you can talk to your GP about a good Iron supplement. Or find a good smoothie maker.
Try out a vegetarian restaurant
There are great vegetarian options at almost all good restaurants but sometimes you want to be able to pick from a menu of more than one option. The Quay Co Op in Cork is an outstanding vegetarian restaurant and their shop is also a gem for anyone shopping vegetarian. They also bake the most delicious deserts, some of which are coeliac or vegan friendly, and I can guarantee you’ll like them even more than dairy cakes. Cork’s Café Paradiso is a more expensive alternative but can also be nice for a treat from time to time.
Watch out for the unexpected items
If you’re interested in a diet that is entirely meat free, you might have to consider where you stand on gelatine and foods cooked in animal fats. Jellies, marshmallows and many other sweets contain gelatine, which is an animal product most vegetarians steer away from. Many fast food restaurants use animal fats to cook their food, so even if you think you’re not eating meat, you may not exactly be eating a vegetarian friendly meal. Some unexpected ones that most restaurants don’t even usually spot are Parmesan cheese and most pesto products. In fact, a lot of mainstream restaurants will include these in the meals they offer to vegetarians. Parmesan cheese and pesto often include animal rennet, which is arguably really gross but it’s up to yourself how strictly meat free you are hoping to become.
Shop at a farmer’s market or in the English Market in the city – you’ll be supporting Irish economy and small businesses; you’ll also find better offers and higher quality fruits and veggies than you fill find anywhere else, while feeling incredibly hipster!
Why not give it a go? You can tweet about it using the hashtag #IrishVegWeek