I firmly believe that we in the Western World eat far more meat than we need to, and that the pressure it puts on our health and the environment is unsustainable. I’m not prepared to give up meat entirely but I’m very happy to be an occasional vegetarian. Over the years my family and I have gradually reduced the amount of meat we eat and although I doubt we will ever actually become vegetarians, becoming occasional vegetarians by eating less meat has benefitted our health and our budget.
To be fair, this wasn’t a huge leap for us. When I was growing up, I loved nearly ever vegetable I came across, aside from Brussel sprouts and lima beans. One of my favourite summer dinners was a plate of steamed asparagus with a couple poached eggs on top. My husband enjoys vegetables too, so it never occurred to our son not to like them. In fact, he actually converted my husband and I – confirmed Brussel sprouts haters – to the pleasures of this much maligned vegetable. I think I’m the only Mom in history to have a child beg them to buy Brussel Sprouts. Heads swivelled round in our local supermarket when, age seven, my son piped up with, “Please Mummy, won’t you buy some Brussel sprouts? We haven’t had them in ages!” (As for me, I’ve discovered that properly cooked, Brussel sprouts really are scrumptious. Not only can you steam them, they are fabulous thinly shredded in stir fries or layered in vegetable casseroles.)
I do struggle with the ethics of eating meat, but giving it up entirely is not something my husband is keen to do, and frankly there are many meats I would miss. I feel very strongly that animals raised for meat must be ethically and humanely raised. While I cannot argue that the very act of killing animals for food is cruel, organic, free range and pasture raised animals have at least had a life outdoors and have been treated kindly until the very last. I have no patience for battery eggs, or for industrially reared meat. The idea that a chicken can legally be reared from chick to full grown in a matter of weeks, crushed into a barn with no space to move, and never feel the sun on its back absolutely incenses me. Intensive farming is unkind to animals and due to the pressure it creates on the environment and the antibiotics often given to the animals, it is very bad for humans too.
Do you feel something like this as well? Then consider joining my family and I as an occasional vegetarian. It’s easy, good for you and benefits the family budget. Plus, it’s actually much easier than you might think.
Tips to Help You Become an Occasional Vegetarian
Start by checking out The Meatless Monday or Meat Free Monday movements. Both offer easy ways to gently introduce your family to meat free meals. The Vegetarian Society also offers fantastic recipes and advice.
Take it one meal at a time. If a whole day meat free is too much to start with, just try one meal. Every step forward helps.
Try serving vegetables drizzled with a bit of butter or olive oil to encourage reluctant vegetable eaters. A bit of healthy fat never hurt anyone and it really does enhance their flavour. A pinch of salt can also make vegetables taste delicious, but always add salt after cooking. Using salt in the cooking water for vegetables can make them tough. Be sure to cook vegetables lightly. Generally, vegetables are better if they are steamed rather than boiled, although there are some exceptions. For example, green beans benefit from being just covered in water and very gently boiled for just a few minutes.
Be inspired by great vegetarian cooks. The late Linda McCartney’s recipe books are excellent and there are some wonderful vegetarian magazines out there including Vegetarian Living (their website is pretty inspirational too). Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso in Cork, Ireland (my all time favourite vegetarian restaurant so far!) is another vegetarian chef who has written several excellent books.
Explore vegetarian options in your favourite restaurants. There’s are some really creative and delicious dishes available these days. The bonus is they are sometimes cheaper than other menu options.
Occasional Vegetarian Recipes
Of course, full time vegetarians can enjoy these delicious dishes too!
Spinach Florentine Pasta Bake
Being “Occasional Vegetarians” really works as a lifestyle for my family and I. We feel good about how our choice impacts on the environment and helps to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s also a delicious way to eat more healthily and save money. I encourage you to give it a try too!