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Thinking of becoming vegetarian? It’s easier than you might think

May 1, 2016

Thinking of becoming vegetarian, it's easier than you might think

Thinking of becoming vegetarian? Legend is a pig with a message to protect his kind

All work and no play

It’s been a while since I sat down to update the blog, there’s been so much going on. After several years of coordinating the Community Gardens Ireland the new year seemed the right time to start afresh and help it to become an organisation worthy of it’s name. As a result some serious amount of work has been going on behind the scenes and we’ve applied for three funding streams to help us move forward. While we wait to hear if we’ve been successful, I’ve made a few subtle life changes at home too, namely looking after myself and switching to a vegetarian diet.

When we have families and/or animals to look after, mortgages, rent or loans, minding ourselves and our stress levels can be the last thing we think about but if we’re not fit and healthy how can we find the energy to help others and save the planet too? The following describes a few of the simple lifestyle changes we’ve made and if you’re thinking of making some subtle changes yourself, there’s a delicious vegan lasagna recipe at the end of this post that has to be tasted to be believed.

Thinking of becoming vegetarian? It's easier than you might think.Cycling

The fresh resolve began by pulling the mountain bike out of hibernation and cycling around our hilly lanes with my neighbour. Not only is this helping with general fitness, my head is in a better space as it enjoys the exhilaration of zooming down the hills and over the tracks as we pedal through the forests. The reward of having made it back up to the top of the hill without getting off the bike is worth all the effort, despite the exhaustion.

Carlow is often overlooked as a destination in Ireland, yet it’s landscape is beautiful with it’s hills and mountains, gorse and streams. It’s difficult not to smile broadly as we cycle past the small fields full of grazing ewes and their cute little lambs, travelling at various speeds as we avoid the various dogs that run out snapping at our ankles as we ride past them on the circular routes that are framed by magnificent views.

Thinking of becoming vegetarian, it's easier than you might think

Becoming Vegetarian

Around the same time that the bike shed door opened, so too came the shift in diet and the decision to stop eating meat. Following a winter of flu type viruses, I’ve been struggling with motivation to lose the weight that too many healthy but oversized dinners has contributed towards. However, along with the exercise, came a renewed desire to rediscover the slimmer me that’s hiding within but more importantly, a desire to bring my body back to full health.

The reasons I stopped eating meat are many and not easy to condense into a few words but it’s been over five weeks since I did so and surprisingly it’s been one of the easiest lifestyle changes I’ve ever made. I haven’t missed the flavour of meat at all, far from it.

If you’ve read any of my stories about our lives with the pigs the decision might not come as a massive surprise. For years I’ve been a conscious meat-eater, feeling that if we eat meat we should be prepared to get close to it and appreciate it in its live form running around a field and not simply encased in plastic ready for the oven.

Becoming vegetarian, easier than you might thinkRearing our own pigs really brought home that the animals we were consuming almost daily are living breathing creatures of the planet too and not just a commodity to be torn out of a pack and emptied into a pan because we’re too busy or can’t be bothered to look for alternatives.

In an age when so many other options are available, why are we eating more meat than ever? Inhumane factory farming is escalating, our health is suffering and respect for ourselves and our planet diminish as we tighten the blinkers and keep shoving the meat into our mouths because it’s easy.

Plant based meals are generally quick to prepare, there’s no danger of not eating our 5-a-day as plates are piled with all manner of vegetables, pulses and nuts, but the best feeling of all is that I no longer carry around the guilt that another being has had to die to feed me. As a conscious meat-eater I hadn’t realised I was carrying this burden around until it disappeared.

Thinking of becoming vegetarian, it's easier than you might thinkOur teenagers are still eating meat but have mostly been willing to taste our vegetable based alternatives. Mr G has embraced the vegetarian diet too but occasionally indulges in meat, maybe just a once a week if he particularly fancies something. At the back of my mind I wonder how I’ll fare with barbeques and Christmas, but hopefully by then I’ll be well and truly in the swing of things and it won’t be a problem.

When I stopped eating meat I began to jot down a few observations:

  • Dead meat is everywhere! You can’t walk into a supermarket or look at a deli bar without seeing hundreds of versions of it. My favourite recipe books are packed with meaty recipes, disappointingly only reserving a few pages for vegetarian alternatives.
  • My digestive system is working better. For as long as I can remember it’s always been a bit sluggish but now, everything works exactly as it should and I feel better as a result.
  • I gained a few pounds to begin with. Not the result I was anticipating as I switched to a very healthy diet, but in doing so I inadvertently found myself eating too many nuts and cheese. Have you ever looked at the calories on a snack size packet of cashew nuts? It’s a shocker.
  • Menu planning to fit in around meat-eating kids has been easier than expected. I try and keep the adult menus close to the teen versions so we might all have stir fry but I cook chicken separately for them and add it at the end.
  • Vegetarian dinners don’t take as long to cook, a huge bonus for reluctant or busy cooks.
  • No more worrying about eat by dates or food going off. It’s easy to see if a vegetable is getting beyond its best and quickly use it up.
  • No more worrying about the amount of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), glyphosate and other chemicals inadvertently entering our bodies. Almost all farm animals in Ireland are given feed with GMO’s in them unless they’re certified organic.
  • See above. We can buy more organic vegetables now we’re spending less on meat, something we’ve been working towards for a long time.
  • Uncooked meat smells, and not in a good way. Opening a packet of chicken or ham for the kids lunches can make me feel like retching and as for the butcher counter… bleugh.
  • I have huge motivation to grow more vegetables in the garden than ever and save us some serious money!
  • Vegans are given a bad rap. I’ve a few vegan friends and family now and something I realised early on was that the thought of eating an animal for a vegan is no different to us thinking of eating another human being. It’s abhorrent. People complain that vegans can be a bit too radical. Since I’ve stopped eating meat I’ve become aware of just how arrogant some meat eaters can be.
  • Meat out-flavours everything else. Not much to add to that but when we stop eating it, we quickly become aware of how delicious other food stuffs are that we might not have appreciated before.
  • Quorn is a meat alternative that you can find in freezer departments in supermarkets. We’ve used it in bolognaise and chilli and nobody recognised the difference.

Becoming vegetarian, easier than you might think

I promised you a recipe at the beginning if you’d like to try a vegetarian (vegan) alternative to meat one evening, this is currently one of our favourites. It’s a tofu and spinach lasagna recipe that my vegan sister shared with me last year. Tofu is made from soya milk and organic versions can be found in health food stores.

Tofu and Spinach Lasagna Recipe

Thinking of becoming vegetarian, it's easier than you might think

Tofu & spinach lasagna

Ingredients

2 bags frozen spinach (defrosted) or fresh equivalent
450g pack of organic tofu
¼ cup of non dairy milk
2 peeled & chopped garlic cloves
2 tblsp lemon juice
2 tblsp chopped fresh basil leaves (about 20)
Dried lasagna sheets
Salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce:

Carton of passata
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
Courgette, chopped to bite sizes
6 mushrooms, thinly sliced
Teaspoon dried basil

Method

Heat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4/350ºF. Make the tomato sauce. Fry the onion and garlic gently until soft then add the courgette, mushrooms and finally the passata and basil. Mix the ingredients together and season to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes or so.

If using fresh spinach, blanch it for 1 minute in boiling water, drain and immediately plunge in cold water until cool. Squeeze out any excess water from the defrosted or blanched spinach.

Prepare the tofu mixture by placing the tofu, milk, chopped garlic, lemon juice, basil and salt in a food processor and blending until it’s creamy but still has some body. It will resemble a ricotta cheese. Empty into a bowl and stir in the spinach using a fork. Season to taste.

Layer the ingredients into a dish starting with the tomato sauce, then lasagna sheets followed by the tofu and spinach mix. Repeat until all the ingredients are layered in the dish.

Bake for 40 minutes or so, or until the top is golden and bubbling.

Are you vegetarian or vegan or tempted to make the switch? What are your thoughts or worries about the amount of meat being consumed?  If you’ve been thinking about reducing your meat intake I’d recommend just doing it. It’s a lot easier than you might think and your body and mind will love you for it.

Food & Drink

Easy Vegetarian Recipe: Chickpea & Walnut Wellington

May 9, 2015

It’s easy to find ourselves in a tired routine where we churn out daily meals without thinking. When we’re busy and have to conjure up menus that are not only quick to make, but healthy and balanced too, what was once a pleasure can soon turn into a chore as the same dozen or so recipes are recreated throughout the month. I remember Jamie Oliver suggesting we all try cooking one new recipe a week, giving us 52 new dishes a year and I promised myself I’d try it, but of course never quite saw it through as day-to-day life and activities took over.

The Blackstairs Mountains | Greenside Up

Family day out on the Blackstairs

However, that may have changed following the arrival of my sister, brother-in-law and two young nephews for their first holiday in Ireland last weekend, as it forced us to trawl through the vegetarian cookbooks on the bookshelf. My Canadian family have been vegetarian for thirteen years and all of them vegan at home for three. Despite us rearing free range pigs for our table, strangely my sister and I have more in common now than we ever have as we both share a desire and passion for locally sourced, unprocessed, chemical free food and a love of the great outdoors.

My sister grows her own food in the front garden of their urban house in Ottawa, avoids buying tins by bottling all their own tomatoes and drying beans, and preserves as much as she can for their lightweight, backwoods camping trips by cooking and dehydrating food. They arrived with a fist-full of their favourite recipes for us to try in the hope that we might at least cut the amount of meat we eat each week, and I can happily share that they were successful. Vegetarian or even vegan cooking might be different, but it’s flavoursome once you get the hang of spicing it up or adding handfuls of fresh herbs and it can be a very cheap way of eating nutritious food.

Vegan Chickpea Wellington Roast Recipe

If you’re looking for vegetarian dinner ideas, the following Chickpea and Walnut ‘Wellington’ Roast Recipe is one of my sister’s family favourites. She usually cooks it for them all on Christmas Day and I can see why as despite being a simple dish to prepare, it makes a great vegetarian/vegan dinner party meal that we really enjoyed too. We doubled the recipe below so that we had enough to pack for lunch and snack on cold during our Blackstairs Mountain hike the following day.

Ingredients, Serves 4

450g chickpeas, soaked overnight and boiled for a couple of hours
1 tsp Marmite
150g chopped walnuts
150g fresh breadcrumbs
1 onion finely chopped
100g sliced mushrooms
50g sweetcorn and/or 50g peas
2 garlic cloves, chopped
60ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp chopped coriander
*2 tbsp coconut milk or regular milk
*225g frozen puff pastry or if vegan, there’s a recipe for puff pastry on veganbaking.net that looks easy to follow.
*egg yolk (omit for vegan version)

*adjust for vegan/vegetarian

Method

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas 7 and line a baking tray.

Whiz the chickpeas, walnuts, Marmite and breadcrumbs in a food processor until roughly chopped, then sauté the onion and mushrooms in a large frying or sauté pan until lightly cooked. Add the blended ingredients to the mushroom mixture then stir in the sweetcorn and/or peas and the garlic. Stir in the vegetable stock and coriander and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and allow to cool while you prepare the pastry.

Chickpea Wellington Roast | greensideup.ie

Roll the pastry into a rectangle shape, fill the centre with the chickpea mixture then wrap the pastry around it so that it resembles a plump loaf of bread, sealing the edges with damp fingers. Place it on the baking tray, seam side down and score the top. Brush with the coconut milk for vegan version or the egg and milk mixed for vegetarian.

Bake in the oven for about half an hour until the pastry is golden.

Serve hot or cold with a good dollop of cranberry sauce on the side.

I must admit, it was a toss-up sharing this recipe with you or the tofu, chard and kale lasagna we cooked the following evening, particularly as we were harvesting the vegetables from the garden, but perhaps that can wait for my next recipe post as we will definitely be cooking that one again too.