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A Vegetarian’s December Dilemma
What! No Meat?
Being a Vegetarian Is Not As Easy As You Think
Seems like I picked the worst possible time to come out as a vegetarian - less than a week before Christmas; my family mutinied, worried that I would refuse to cook, or even purchase the turkey.
The Epiphany of the Cockerel
Although I had been considering taking the step for some time, but had not come up with a good enough reason, the thing that finally persuaded me came in the shape of a cockerel who decided to make his home in my back garden shortly before Christmas. He befriended me, followed me down the drive to the dustbin and back when I went to empty the rubbish, and put himself to bed at sunset each evening in the bottle recycling box inside my front porch. It was lovely to watch him scratching around on my lawn for wild bird food and I wondered how many chickens, battery kept all their lives, would never experience that.
Of course I couldn't keep him, I had a cat who was eager for a chicken dinner and it was hard work keeping the two apart. The cockerel needed to be with other chickens where he'd be happy.
"Put him in the pot," everyone would say, to my dismay when I told them of my wish to reunite Chanticleer, as I called him, with his rightful owner. He was just a chicken to them I suppose, but to me he had a personality all of his own. I had never thought of chickens as intelligent creatures before, not having experienced such close contact with one. Eventually the RSPCA found a placement for him and I was tearful when he went, still concerned in case he would end up as someone's festive dinner, although they assured me this wouldn't happen. They said the chap who wanted him would build a pen for him on his small-holding near York. The episode with the cockerel was a kind of epiphany for me I suppose, like Francis of Assisi talking to the birds although not quite as religious or dramatic.
My family laughed at me (it's my age you see) but I really felt for this poor creature and the Friday before Christmas I decided I could no longer eat meat or fish. After all, I reasoned, there are so many other things one can eat nowadays, without depriving another living entity of its existence. Unfortunately, my local Co-op stocked hardly any of them; all I could find were several packets of Linda McCartney sausages which were on two for the price of one.
So this is how I fared in my first month of being a vegetarian:
Diary began Friday December 20th.
Breakfast was easy - a banana and a cup of tea. What I usually have most days anyway. I went to a friend's house for lunch after my trip to the supermarket and she prepared some ham sandwiches. She's known me for over ten years and if I'd suddenly declared myself a vegetarian she'd have thought I'd finally flipped. I kept quiet about it and nibbled at the sandwiches reluctantly. The ham was incredibly salty and as a consequence I drank too much wine and fell asleep on the sofa when I got home. Annoyed with myself, that I'd fallen at the first hurdle I sliced up an assortment of vegetables, arranged them beautifully in a casserole dish, sprinkled it liberally with herbs de Provence and put it the oven for my supper. Unfortunately the kids got to my piece de resistance before I did. They don't normally eat vegetables but this time they perversely demolished the lot. "Mmm... this is delicious mum..." Well at least I got some praise, but I was still hungry so it was back to square one...
I decided to consult Grandma's trusty old cook book. "Ah, here we are, spoiled for choice," I declared to myself triumphantly. "Vegetarian curry, vegetable stew, fricassee of vegetables or winter vegetable casserole." on closer inspection it turned out they were all variations on the same theme so I settled for an omelette instead (made with free range eggs of course). Two eggs, plain flour a little butter and some milk for the batter, and cheese, onion and tomato for the filling. Bit of seasoning and voila! Very tasty. I was proud of my effort, without the aid of a cook book. I sat down to relax now I had a full stomach but not for long; everyone else decided they wanted an omelette too, the smell was just too irresistible and I ended up using a week's supply of eggs all in one go.
I was rapidly running out of ideas and even the contents of the cat bowl were now beginning to look appealing. Perhaps I should have put off my resolution until New Year when I could have given myself a little more time to think this through properly.
Annemarie, my eldest, gave me a Vegan cookbook as a Christmas present - she thought vegan was just another word for vegetarian.
"It's even more difficult being a vegan," I explained, "They don't eat any animal produce or use any animal by-products whatsoever. Maybe one can be a bit too pedantic about things. I thought, and what about leather shoes and cod-liver oil tablets? Even the innocent-looking Black Forest gateau I bought contained pork gelatine. And I knew I had better things to do with my life than worry about the origins of every single morsel that passed my lips.
"What are you doing this for anyway?" my daughter asked. "It's not you who actually kills the animals is it?" I knew she had a valid point. We feel we can somehow distance ourselves from the slaughter when we see the turkey with all the trimmings on the table. But if we had to go out and kill it ourselves, instead of reaching into the freezer at Tesco’s we might think twice about eating flesh.
I have a friend who is a farmer and he says you just have to disassociate yourself from sentimentality when it comes to slaughtering animals for food. He's right of course, but not everyone, me included, is capable of this.
My Vegetarian Christmas dinner, by the way was just as tasty, wholesome and satisfying as any that contained meat. We all sat down to watch the premier of "Chicken Run" on TV that afternoon. "Hey I could have written that!" I said, remembering the incident with the cockerel.
The days between my first turkey-free Christmas and New Year passed rapidly and then a two week stay in the Canary Islands was not quite as difficult as I'd imagined when it came to finding suitable sustenance. I opted for a self-catering holiday and with a well-stocked though pricey "Supermercado" just across the road from my apartment, things couldn't have been easier. I found myself living mainly on cheese, bread, fresh fruits, pasta, vegetables and fruit juice (not to mention the local wine which turned out to be cheaper than bottled water - Jesus would have been out of a job.) I returned to the British Winter feeling refreshed and invigorated.
It's a month now since I became a vegetarian and the other night I dreamed I was gorging myself on a huge platter of various cooked meats only remembering after I'd "Eaten" it that I was no longer supposed to indulge in that sort of thing. It could all mean something, I don't know, I'm no interpreter of dreams. But it just goes to show how our unconscious mind still craves for the things we willingly deprive ourselves of in daylight hours.
I don't know how long I'll remain a vegetarian but I've just invested in a marvellously innovative cook book and as long as I don't get bored I'll be okay. My family thought it was just a passing whim or one of my sillier experiments but I must admit I do feel healthier both in mind, body and spirit; I've even lost a few pounds into the bargain and that can't be bad, or all a figment of my imagination. Whatever one's reasons for becoming a vegetarian I can only conclude that it is not something to be done on the spur of the moment. It was far more difficult than I'd imagined finding healthy and nutritious meals without becoming bored.
A Good Vegetarian Cookbook
Becoming a Vegetarian
Vegetables are Super Foods
Fruits in Season
What if we Were all Vegetarian?
© 2015 Stella Kaye