Our Meat free Lent - Why a self-confessed carnivore did the unspeakable and gave up meat.
I don't know about you, but I hate watching or reading the news. It just leaves me feeling sad, and more often than not, helpless. I rely on my husband to tell me the really big stuff, and the rest; I figure if it's really important it'll make its way onto my Facebook feed. This does however mean I live in a bit of a bubble. I seem to have ended up with Facebook friends that share some major political, ethical, and environmental views. It makes for a nice hostility free social media experience but I often forget that not everyone's bubble is the same as mine.
One of the issues that was often brought to my bubbles' attention was the environmental impact of meat. Yep, that's right, meat. I was a little baffled when first people mentioned this issue to me, and it all sounded a little conspiracy theory esque and a tad over dramatic. I mean come on, we all know that meat is good for you, so how on earth can it be bad for the environment, get a grip people it's not like I'm driving a humvee, it's just a steak.
Unfortunately it turns out the crazy people were actually not so crazy and you can read all about the environmental impacts of meat farming here. To sum up, it's responsible for at least 51% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Once I'd let all of this sink in, I did what I think a lot of us can do quite well, I ignored it. I mean what else was I meant to do? It's meat, it's too delicious. Sorry environment, but have you tasted chorizo? You'd ignore it too.
However that husband of mine who tells me the important stuff, well he also thinks a lot, and cares a lot about stuff that's going on in the world, and has this crazy notion that his actions might actually change something. It's very inconvenient. He started saying outrageous things to me like "I think we should eat less meat" and "I might become a vegetarian." That's right folks he used the V word. Now I am not a fan of the V word. I'm one of those people that when someone tells me they're a vegetarian I politely respond with an "oh that's nice" and in my head I'm thinking "I could NEVER be a vegetarian, why would anyone do that?!" And if you happen to be coming over for dinner then I'm sorry but I have probably thought bad things about you and how difficult you've made my meal planning.
Our lovely vegetarian friends, who come over regularly for food, were treated to a rotation of 3 vegetarian recipes we knew. That's how limited our meat free repertoire was. And goes some way to show you how ludicrous my husband contemplating vegetarianism was. Not to mention the little fact that I don't actually like vegetables. You know your fussy kids who don't eat any vegetables and you reassure yourselves it's just a phase and they'll outgrow it? Yes, I was that kid, but I never outgrew it. Sweetcorn is the only vegetable I like. I don't even like potatoes; chips yes, but boiled, jacket etc. Not a chance. So obviously we needed to stop thinking about the environment and fast because not eating meat was not an option...
Cue lent and our annual discussion of whether we're going to give anything up. We usually conclude its pointless to give anything up. We've given up things like chocolate before, but found we usually end up over indulging in something similar to chocolate and end up eating more than we would usually, purely because we are missing the real thing so much. So when the idea of giving up meat was suggested my interest was piqued. The usual pitfalls of lent didn't apply as we'd be replacing it with healthy vegetables. The only real objection was could it be done? 40 days without meat? I wasn't convinced we could do it but I felt it was definitely worth a try. If for no other reason than getting my husband to stop using the V word once and for all.
After some discussion and realising some important birthdays and other events were during lent we decided we would only do meat free in the home. I wasnt prepared to use the V word as a guest in anyone else's house and if we were actually having a rare meal out, there was no way I was exchanging real money for the poor excuse for food listed under "vegetarian options." And given that about 95% of our meals contained meat this seemed like enough of a challenge to be getting on with. Not to mention that our 3 children are all fussy vegetable loathing children and meal time meltdowns were already at an all time high. So yes, I was on board but I was feeling very apprehensive.
Obviously lent ended some time ago now, so it's clear that we survived, and annoyingly enough I think it's fair to say we actually thrived. I'm not sure what I thought the end result would be, I think I hoped we'd find a few successful veggie recipes so we could mix things up a bit and eat a bit less meat in future, but instead we've ended up going almost completely meat free. I'm still reluctant to go full vegetarian and sneak meat into the meal plan from time to time, but my husband is now calling himself a vegetarian and keeps saying dreadful things to me like "I'm thinking about going vegan." My plan to quiet his conscience failed miserably and I find myself somewhat on board with the whole idea. Believe me no one is as mortified by all this as me ;)
I've written this blog post as a response to feedback and comments I've had on us making this big change and I want to finish by giving you all some tips for how we survived. What worked and what didn't. Hopefully it will encourage you. Even if your social media isn't telling you about these important issues, I hope you pause to think about how much meat you are eating and how you too can help the environment by eating less meat. Let's face it, you can't hate vegetables more than I do, so if I can do it, anyone can.
My first stop for recipes was www.bbcgoodfood.com. I had used this website a lot in the past and it didn't disappoint for vegetarian recipes. Some of our favourites were; Cheesy leek and spinach pasta, Indian butternut squash curry, and Baked asparagus risotto (this recipe is an oven bake risotto, so much easier, and you could easily mix up what veg you use and still get a really delicious dinner, its a firm favourite in our house).
Secondly, a friend bought us this recipe book, The very Veggie Family cookbook. It was a game changer, and I'm pretty sure it is responsible for us wanting to continue with meat free. As a self confessed fuss pot a good recipe book for me is one where I like the sound of about 20% of the recipes and on making some I still like about 10%. In this book 90% sounds great to me and I've yet to make a recipe from it that I haven't loved. There are also loads of tips about how to still get a balanced diet without meat and how to get kids eating better. It has actually helped reduce mealtime meltdowns. Buy it, buy it, buy it.
As for meat substitutes, we actually stopped eating mince beef years ago and had been using a vegetarian alternative for a while. Mostly due to cost but also for our tight budget we really weren't getting very tasty mince and since we tend to cover it in a sauce like bolognese or chilli we didn't really notice when we made the switch. We tried Quorn mince, but, in my opinion, it was basically sawdust.. But Tesco do a delicious soya alternative, and in a sauce you really won't notice. Even the kids didn't notice, and they know when we just change brands! I tried to avoid meat substitutes for lent as I really wanted to branch out and try new recipes, we did try Quorn pieces which were ok but didn't always work in chicken recipes, and we tried "facon" (fake bacon) it added some protein to the meal for the kids but it's an insult to bacon in my opinion. Considering the amazing recipes we managed to discover we didn't feel the need for substitutes at all, and still rarely use them.
Since finishing lent and deciding to continue on this journey we have signed up for Riverford fruit and veg boxes. I shopped around but struggled to find a comparable, 100% organic, box that was well priced to compete with supermarkets. Plus they let you know what will be in your box a week before it is delivered, which hardly anywhere does. This has made the process so much easier and means I can plan lots of delicious veggie recipes based on what is being delivered. Saves me having to get too creative. And means we are now eating seasonably a lot more too, another issue i've often considered important but too difficult to think about. I would definitely recommend them, we are really enjoying having the deliveries.
There are so many issues in this world that we can feel strongly about, but it can leave us feeling overwhelmed and helpless. However, it doesn't have to be like that. You don't need to go all out like we did, just being aware of the issues and making a conscious decision to eat less meat is a great first step. So many people have said to us "they couldn't do that" but i'd like to think I've shown that it is possible, and with the right vegetables in your diet you can be even healthier than ever.
If you want to know anything else about our meat free lent that I haven't covered here, please feel free to ask in the comments. If you decide to make a change or have done already i'd love to hear how you've got on, and what does and doesn't work for you.
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