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.
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.
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.
Rearing 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.
Our 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!
- I’ve been reading more and more lately about the environmental impacts of humans eating so much meat and I’m following the stories with interest.It’s been suggested that switching to a mostly vegetable based diet could help slash greenhouse gas emissions by more than two-thirds.
- I’m planning to take the challenge offered by Mark Hyman MD and stop eating diary for two weeks as I read more about its adverse affects on our diet, though it might be difficult to find alternatives products that don’t contain palm oil.
- 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.
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
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
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.
Hey Dee. I’m a big fan of your blog and your principles but I find parts of this post insulting to myself as a meat eater. I have absolutely no issue with people choosing to be vegetarian or vegan but if there is a reason people think “vegans can be a bit too radical” it’s because of the type of sweeping, derogatory remarks about meat-eaters that you make in your post.
I am genuinely happy that you feel better, both physically and emotionally, not eating meat. It is possible that the improvements in your digestive system are down to eating more vegetables and fibre rather than specifically the removal of meat, but all bodies are different, so getting rid of the meat could well have made the difference in your case.
I am against factory farming and all that it represents, but your sentence “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” implies that our health is suffering because of eating meat, which I don’t believe to be true. I have not encountered any studies (and I do read lots of them) that indicate that meat-eating is at the core of our dwindling health. I believe that sugar currently holds the title as principle health daemon. While I have seen plenty of studies that show many of us should reduce our meat consumption for better health I have not yet seen any that suggest we should eliminate meat completely for health reasons.
But it is your choice of language that most offends me – that meat is “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” and that we “shovel meat into our mouths because it’s easy”. If you’re a vegetarian do you not “shovel” vegetables into your mouth? I don’t eat meat because it is easy or because I “can’t be bothered” (read “am too lazy”) to look for alternatives. I make contentious choices about my meat eating. Your observation may be correct in some cases, but don’t tar all of us with the same derogatory brush. Similarly I find your use of the term “dead meat” derogatory. By definition, meat comes from dead animals – your inclusion of the word “dead” is defunct and serves only to illustrate your own distaste. I should point out that the vegetables you eat are also dead. They were living happily in the soil until they were yanked out for consumption. I know you recently posted an article on how trees interact with each other in a social way. I have seen many studies in this regard and value plants very highly, treating them with respect. ALL food is precious to me.
I do agree with many of your sentiments. We should not condone or support factory farms. We should be aware of where our meat comes from and ensure the welfare of our animals. We should improve the quality and quantity of vegetarian recipes to provide alternatives to meat eating, whether for those who wish to reduce their meat eating or remove it completely. Eating less meat can be cost effective. People should be aware of the environmental impacts of meat production so that they can make informed decisions. All this is good. But using derogatory terms and belittling meat eaters as thoughtless and cruel is not helpful in a world where over 90% of the population still eats meat. We need to encourage people on board, not belittle them.
Apologies for taking up such an amount of space but I could not find a way to make my points more succinctly.
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the post June and I’m sorry you were so offended by it and felt that I was belittling meat eaters.
Perhaps there was a touch of the “ex-smoker” in my article as a new vegetarian convert… I’ve always been impressed by your conscious food choices and yes, some of my comments were broad and sweeping and didn’t take into account there are considerate meat eaters too but that’s because I have been both an inconsiderate and later on a respectful meat eater so feel qualified on all fronts to make them.
I have been on the wrong side of vegan beliefs on my blog and on twitter when I posted the stories about the pigs but there are many more who quietly get on with their lives without attacking people or trying to ‘change’ them. However, it wasn’t until I stopped eating meat that I noticed there are some pretty arrogant meat eaters out there too and I’ve never heard anyone mention them before whereas people are quick to put all vegans in the same box. Only this weekend I heard yet another comment about “vegans are too opinionated, how can you possibly take them seriously?” Something we learnt when we reared out own pigs was that the majority (and yes I mean the majority) of meat eaters we spoke to didn’t want to know where there food comes from and “couldn’t possibly rear their own” which is where my comment about being blinkered comes from.
I have been on many diets during my lifetime including incredibly high fibre and high vegetable and they didn’t have the effect that stopping eating meat has had. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence, we were eating meat 5 or 6 times a week which our digestive systems aren’t designed to do. Perhaps it suits some people? It didn’t suit me. There are many articles both for and against eating meat in connection with our health but I don’t think any of them believe we should be eating meat two or three times every day, particularly when the meat isn’t organic or ethically reared, which again is what we were fairly much doing until we took hold of ourselves – we couldn’t afford to buy organic meat for five adult sized eaters every day. Having seen supermarket trolleys at various bag packs we weren’t alone. By two of us stopping our meat intake it’s meant that the other three can now have good quality meat in their diets.
In Ireland whilst the majority of cattle farms are outdoors, more are appearing where the cows aren’t seeing sunshine (there’s a new one next door to Alfie and Margaret at Oldfarm). Intensive pig farming slightly decreased last year but is still very high and unless animals here are being organically reared, they’re all being fed genetically modified feed. http://www.bordbia.ie/industry/buyers/industryinfo/agri/pages/default.aspx
I know this article has been provocative but hope that it makes people think a bit about what they’re doing and far from annoying meat eaters, makes them consider, even for just one shop, that there are alternatives.
Thanks for taking the time to reply, Dee. As I tried to outline in my comment, I agree with many (if not most) of your sentiments, including intensive farming being a very bad thing and that for many, reducing our meat intake is a good thing. I could not even imagine eating meat 2-3 times per day! I don’t consider elimination of meat to be necessary or more healthy though (unless, like in your case, you can pinpoint it as causing a particular unwanted side effect). And I completely agree that the majority are detached from their food (all food, not just meat) and don’t appreciate where it comes from and what’s involved in producing it. But my main point was about both sides having respect and not using sweeping statements. There are arrogant meat eaters and arrogant vegetarians & vegans. I would never tell anyone they should eat meat if they didn’t want to, nor would I question or slight their choice in any way. I might ask why they didn’t, but only out of curiosity. Similarly, I don’t want people telling me not to eat meat or making judgments about me because I do eat meat.One of my best friends is a vegetarian and we never quarrel over it, although we do sometimes discuss it. But I do share your final sentiment – we all need to think about our food intake and make choices that are both healthful and respectful of our environment and the creatures and plants that provide our food.
June nowhere in my article did I suggest that everyone has to give up meat, or that people are wrong in eating it, my own family are still eating it and I fully respect their decision to do so and I might add am preparing it for them. I’ve simply listed observations I’ve made over the weeks since I stopped eating it and my thoughts and reasons in doing so, many of which I hadn’t expected.
Great post Dee. Lucy can’t eat dairy and is a vegetarian – she cooks for me when she’s at home and the food is amazing!
I’m not a huge meat eater myself and never have been. Although I’m not keen on soya alternatives either.
I totally agree at the amount of negativity towards vegans, it’s not cool at all. It’s also really difficult to eat out if you are vegan and seeing the fab meals Lucy cooks I don’t understand why.
I think people need re-educating especially some of the restaurants out there.
It is a tricky one as we’ve avoided soy too, hence sourcing the organic tofu and then there’s the questions about almonds being mass produced and sprayed in California and all the bees dying! Hard to know what’s right and what’s wrong tbh. However, we’re really enjoying the recipes and flavours from our new diet which are heightened by there being no meat on the plates. Eating out as a vegan must be very frustrating as choices so limited. That said I was in a Chinese restaurant at the weekend with a vegan friend and she introduced me to some amazing tufo sizzlers and hot and sour soup. Perhaps as more people turn to vegetable based diets, the demand will grow and more cafes and restaurants will cater for them.
Dee the Swedish branch of my family have a farm in the North where they work with a small community to cull the Elk and other wild animals to preserve and manage the vast forests. This has gone on for centuries and it gives each family a small amount of meat to see them through the winter. My nephews who participate in these annual hunts won’t eat meat that they don’t kill themselves!! At first I thought this barbaric until I came to understand that this is how they respect their wilderness and their way of life. They eat very little meat, maybe on the Christmas table or for a special day. I often think if we all had to eat only what we kill ourselves there would be far more respect for animals and more of us would be vegetarian. Great piece and thought provoking!
I think you have it in a nutshell Catherine and highlight the points I was attempting to make. We’re simply eating too much meat and that which we do eat, on the whole, is taken for granted. I was at a meeting a few months ago and learnt that an intensive pig farm in Ireland has the contract for a fast food chain in the US, purely to provide the ribs, and can’t keep up with demand which I found quite grotesque. While I understand the argument that humans are designed to eat meat, I don’t believe we were designed to eat it almost every day. It sounds like your Swedish family retained a balance and respect for the food they eat.
I was a strict vegetarian for 11 years then I fell pregnant with my first and craved chicken and bacon. I haven’t looked back since. Unfortunately I had alot of health issues being vegetarian but at that time there wasn’t many blogs to or websites advertised with recipes and the likes.
I’m lucky to live with a husband who’s always been pretty sharp on the nutritional elements of food and had a book that seems to give a sensible food pyramid approach. I’m aiming for three protein meals a day and lots of veggies. I’ve found I’m eating less bread and more beans, seeds and nuts and apart from the desire to eat lots of cheese which I’m now curbing, so far feel good for it. It’s early days though but so far feel better on the whole with more energy. But agree we have to listen to our bodies which I wasn’t really before, but will hopefully recognise, as you did, when or if changes need to be made.
Interesting post and comments here Dee.
I enjoy meat (though I don’t eat huge amounts of it, something that always comes home to me when we have men for dinner and I offer them seconds and they always ask for more meat!) and like to know that the meat I eat has had a good life. I read a book by Simon Dawson recently who was living in London and on moving to Devon, found he could only eat meat if he knew it had been free range and then turned to rearing their own. It sounds like you struggled with eating your own animals, would that be the case? And if so, I do sympathise, we had the two lambs in the freezer for about 2 months before we ate any! I do think we have more respect for the meat we eat if we rear it and kill it ourselves. I know I’m thinking of keeping chickens again as I’m not always convinced that a free range chicken actually makes it outside on a regular basis.
Regarding meat having a negative effect on the environment, I agree that much is being made about methane gas etc and while I haven’t been following it as much as I should, Harold Kingston (who was the eco guy in the IFA) is an interesting guy to chat to about the topic. Ireland is much more carbon neutral in its production of meat than other countries though.
More dairy farms are turning to housing cows all year round, not so much here although I do know of one farmer doing so. I’d hate it personally. There is a movement in the UK (where more of their milk is used as milk in supermarkets) to campaign for ‘free range or pasture fed milk’ so consumers know their milk is sourced from cows that are out at grass for as much as the weather allows and I hope it takes off. Countryfile featured this issue a few weeks ago and and many consumers were stating on Twitter that they’d be happy to pay more for it. Unfortunately, supermarkets often price milk as a loss leader so they can be more competitive with their basket of products which doesn’t do the farmer any favours.
Thanks Lorna. I read an article yesterday that suggested if more people at least cut down their meat intake it would help the planet and some of the animal welfare issues quickly but unless we all begin to talk about and highlight the issues, will changes be made fast enough? It’s recommended that we only eat two red meat meals of around 500 gms each per week. Even when we tried our family slipped into eating more than that.
We kept our own pigs for three years and it never got easier. The last two we only had for six weeks and the only way to see it through to the end was to distance myself from them emotionally which in a way defeated the objective. We were talking about getting a couple of Zwartbles lambs this year but I’ve heard they’re incredibly friendly. Then I met two ‘pet’ pigs who greet everyone with tail wags and chatter. That sealed the decision not to do it in the end. If there were no alternatives to meat it would be one thing but today in Ireland there’s an enormous range of plant based alternatives once we balance them into our daily lives and think carefully about our meatless meals, it no longer seems a valid argument.
The environmental reasons aren’t just about methane, they’re about transport, water and grains too but like you, I need to read a lot more more about it. There’s been enough in the news of late though that I’m willing to make the switch but in the meantime was interested to read that if people kept to their recommended daily allowances food related emissions would reduce by one third.
It’s a difficult time for farmers in many senses but I hope that the majority will consider the welfare of their animals over financial gain and that consumers would be willing to pay more for pasture fed cows. Supermarkets need a good sharp rap on their knuckles if there are to be any changes in the way we all view food. It’s hard to see how there will ever be significant changes if they keep behaving the way they do.
Interesting article Dee, I was a vegan for a year last year actually and that was for health reasons too. I was suffering with depression, migraines and adrenal fatigue. I also stopped taking antidepressants and focussed only in nutrition. I am today free from depression, migraines and tbh I can’t remember myself being so alive before. I have 4 kids and the husband was very supportive of me but wouldn’t let go of the meat so cooking separate meal for myself was a struggle. So I gave up but I still think and shop like a non meat eater. What I do now is I add plenty and plenty of vegetables or beans to most of my dishes. It’s almost like cooking vegetarian dish with meat instead of meat dish with vegetables. I wish you all the very best in your journey…
Wow, brilliant to hear that so many of your health problems resolved as a result of changing your diet Mira! I feel blessed that my husband has been so into the idea too. The thought of cooking all the different meals is what was holding me back for so long. Now, even if he returns to meat eating, I feel confident that I’d be able to keep it up but then my kids are all older and it’s early days still. We tried vegan ‘cold turkey’ for a couple of weeks last year when my sister was over and I found it extremely difficult. I think that starting out vegetarian and moving to vegan slowly might be the way to go for me.
Interesting post, Dee and thank you for sharing.
I guess my perspective as a vegan is that vegetarianism doesn’t make that much difference (and I say that as an ex-vegetarian myself) because there are so many cruel and unhealthy practices in the dairy and egg industry. What do you think happens to spent hens (chicken nuggets) cows who no longer produce enough milk for the quantities demanded by industrial farming (hello, burgers) and the distress caused to mother and baby when they are separated after just a few hours, in some cases? I’m afraid that if you’re still eating dairy and eggs, you are still indirectly supporting the meat industry.
I won’t say any more, because I’m not one of “those” vegans, and I encourage vegetarianism simply because it’s a step on the road to reducing cruelty and demand for intensively farmed inhumane products. I think this is a good article, by the way – I’m absolutely not knocking it, I just think there needs to be more awareness of the fact that just because animals are not dying to produce those products that they are free of cruelty.
As for the weight loss and health side, I’d really love to help you out on that front so I’m going to send you a free copy of my e-guide to starting out on a whole food plant-based diet. That’s what really brought me back to full health. We don’t use vegetable oils on the whole food plant-based diet, so no palm oil worries either – coconut and olive oil only 🙂 A vegan or veggie diet, as I found out when I went through those transitions, can still be full of processed food, added sugar and oil and not be conducive to healing health issues, it wasn’t until I went whole food plant based that I improved my digestive health and fully recovered from post viral fatigue.
Hi Liz, thanks for your comment. We have our own hens rescued from a battery farm so we know exactly where the eggs are from and have switched to organic diary which, while it may be ‘indirectly supporting the meat industry’ I personally think is a brilliant start in a vegetarian’s attempt to live a more ‘wholesome’ life. While you might not be ‘one of those’ vegans I think it’s comments like those that harm the cause rather than encourage, however well meaning the intention. As I’ve learnt from teaching people to grow their own food, we can’t demand that people change their habits overnight however much we’d like to, rather success comes from supporting people to make small changes and build upon them. Thanks for sending a copy of the book which I’m looking forward to reading and glad to hear that changing your diet to a plant based one helped you so much 🙂
[…] few weeks after I switched to a mostly vegetable based diet, I had a health scare that convinced me the decision was the right one for me. Despite various test […]
So, to move the discussion along, what I’d like to know is to what extent lentils, and nuts can be cultivated in Ireland. It seems that chick peas and quinoa actually grow well here….
In devotion to the aliveness of all things human, animal, vegetable, mineral……
Great question Jane so I’ve just been doing some research and I can’t see any reason why we couldn’t grow lentils here in Ireland bar getting hold of the seed. They’re a legume and grow from places as far afield as the Mediterranean, Europe, Asia, North America and Western Canada. They’re apparently suited to damper coller climates so sound ideal! Some nuts already grow here but whether anyone will consider growing them commercially is another matter…