It usually happens over a packed lunch, when I am out for dinner with new friends or in a lively discussion swapping recipes and culinary tips with fellow foodies. “So why are you a vegetarian? Do you not like eating meat? Do you eat fish?” These are just a few of the curious questions I often get asked once I reveal that I am a veggie – and no, I don’t eat fish 😉
This is when I get a little flustered as I’m not too sure where to begin and while I want to be as honest as I can, part of me is worried about being judged or not being fully understood. But then I let go and realise how silly I am for thinking such things and launch into my well-rehearsed spiel about the many reasons for choosing the life of veg; “reducing my eco-foot print”, “disliking the idea of eating a living creature”, “never really liking the taste of meat”, “feeling better for eating more green” etc….
As a wee girsha at the age of 12 I begged my parents to let me be a vegetarian. This was a little startling for my father seeing as he was large former heavy-weight boxer and athlete, standing at sturdy 5ft 11″, who absolutely LOVED his food and grew up on a farm during World War II. He couldn’t understand why I would want to give up steak, salmon, prawns, ham and BBQ chicken! My mother on the other hand was more concerned that my diet, and therefore my growth, would be restricted, especially at such a vital age of development. A compromise was made to please both parents and child – no meat but continue with eating fish.
I followed a pescetarian lifestyle for the next 4 years. However with little knowledge about food and essential nutrients, meals started to become a little samey, then slowly became boring and it wasn’t long until I noticed that my health was not exactly in tip-top form.
Around the time of the leaving cert and during my time at university I went back to eating meat but I was fussy about what I put on my plate, often choosing steak over chicken nuggets – not exactly student-budget friendly! I mostly ate fish but still I had the occasional burger or chili-fries from Eddie Rockets or tossed a pepperoni pizza amongst the weekly grocery shop. Overall I tried my best to eat as unprocessed as possible when it came to meat. I never really liked fast food chains apart from the sporadic post-drink munchies at 3am on O’Connell Street. Burger King, KFC and McDonald’s never really cut it for me (although I was a sucker for their hot chocolates and the occasional curly fries!).
One day during my uni years I just decided to give up McDonald’s and its competitors for good. I wanted to give up on mass produced, too-perfectly-shaped, precisely-measured, plastic food. Seeing as I didn’t really eat it that often I guessed it would be easy. And it was! That was 10 years ago and I have not looked back!
This new way of thinking about my food and where it comes from was further reinforced when my good friend Jamie showed me a brutal and heart-wrenching video on YouTube. Home opened my eyes and fed me the information I have been searching for since the age of 12. This 1 hour and 30 minute film of aerial footage exposes the breathtaking beauty of our planet and the ugly footprint we are leaving on it for human demand and consumption for food and energy. But not all is lost and there is message of hope in Home; “What’s important is not what’s gone but what remains…we know that the solutions are there today. We all have the power to change.”
It was after watching Home that I made the decision to try vegetarianism. I wanted to play my part in reducing our carbon footprint, revert back to my morals as a 12 year old not to eat living creatures and generally to focus in improving my health. I even gave up Haribo and other gelatin based foods including so many ice-creams, cheesecakes and even yogurts!!
This time I was determined to get it right! I did my research and studied about how and where I could get my daily nutritional requirements (protein, calcium, iron, fatty acids and other essential minerals and vitamins) just from eating from fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses and seeds. Although I was not going vegan I decided to reduce and carefully consider what dairy products I consumed. I never really enjoyed cow’s milk to drink or have it with breakfast cereals so moving to nut-based milks was easy. I first discovered almond milk when living in Canada in 2009 and it was a revelation for me! How exciting when almond and coconut milk became easily available in the local supermarkets here in the UK! Such a light, nutty and refreshing way to reduce dairy consumption! But when it comes to cheese I am a firm believer that nothing compares to the real thing. I just try to make considerate choices on the source, ensure that they are made with vegetarian rennet and with all my willpower I moderate how much I eat!
My diet has slowly evolved since going veggie in 2009, mostly due to my diagnosis of IBS (stress and anxiety related – boo!) in 2012 and my doctor recommending I try a FODMAP diet to help manage my symptoms. After keeping a food diary for over 6 months to check what “triggered” my IBS, I soon discovered that wheat, cereals, bran, too much sugar and one of my all time loves, egg, all make for a very sad tummy. As a veggie I had relied on eggs for the biggest proportion of my iron and protein intake but with a little more effort and study I quickly learned how to adapt my diet and learned how to cook and bake without egg, wheat and reduced sugar. Following blogs and recipes by Deliciously Ella and Naturally Sassy has been just one of the many ways I have learned how to develop my knowledge and skills, especially with eating more raw vegan based meals. My all time favourite cookbook still has to be the Cornucopia cookbook by the best vegetarian and vegan restaurant of all time, Cornucopia in Dublin. The food is hearty, wholesome, satisfying and delicious!
6 years on and I’ve never felt better! I eat so much more healthier, cleaner and smarter than I ever did. I know my food and what I need from it. My skin, hair and eyes are bright, my energy levels are up and I feel happier overall. I’ve also cut out my old reliable diet fizzy drinks and have swapped them for water – and plenty of it!! (wait for my next post on the 1 litre challenge!)
Along this new discovery of how to cook food in new and exciting ways I also managed to get my fiance on board, who never ate anything more than a carrot in terms vegetables until 5 years ago! He now enjoys, and often asks for, vegetarian meals with cauliflower-based veggie pizza being one his favorites!
Over the past year I have also experimented with trying to make my past favorite meat-based meals into gluten free vegetarian, and very often, vegan versions as well as creating new and novel ones along the way. I have so many ideas to share with you for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snacks! I will post these on my blog alongside other recipes I recreate with credit to vegan and veggie bloggers out there. Keep a watchful eye out for my future posts!
In the meantime you may wish to check out my rainbow chili meal along with 14 other fab recipes in the “15 healthy eats: in aid of beat” charity cookbook. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Emma (aka, The Wholesome Bride)