I am a vegetarian. You may have noticed that I have mentioned that occasionally in other posts. I am not a vegan. I do not eat meat or fish, however I do eat animal products such as honey, dairy products and eggs. I have some friends who are vegan and I think some of them disapprove of me eating some animal products. But I have never had strong feelings about being vegetarian, I just lost the desire to eat anything that used to be alive and is now dead.
I stopped eating meat at the age of six. I can’t remember exactly why. I think there were were two major influences. The first was my little best friend at school who became a vegetarian. It was something I had never heard of, she introduced the idea to me. But there was also a school trip to a farm, Tatton Farm in Cheshire. I distinctly remember being horrified when I saw a pig. I had been reading story books with tiny little pink pigs. But seeing a enormous hairy pig was terrifying. I went home and told mum I no longer wanted to eat what had previously been my favourite food, sandwich ham. Not long after that I lost the desire to eat any meat or fish.
Mum and Dad thought it was just a phase. But the phase has lasted a very long time. I remember my parents wondered what I would eat instead of meat and fish. They bought vast quantities of frozen veggie burgers from the supermarket. I couldn’t stand them! Being a vegetarian at school was hard because there was not often a vegetarian choice. I remember dinner ladies being very angry with me that I was eating only boiled rice because I did not want the chicken supreme or the mincemeat chilli. My diet at home for many years growing up was cheese on toast, beans on toast, cheesy pasta, tomato pasta – then I found pesto sauce and was so grateful for the variety.
I was desperate for variety in my diet. When I was a teenager, I asked my parents if I could start doing some of my own shopping and cooking. I started using Quorn mock chicken style pieces and making things like vegetable curries (with a jar of curry sauce from the supermarket), vegetarian lasagnes, and using soya mince to make shepherd’s pie and spaghetti bolognese.
I don’t have a problem with other people eating meat. I just don’t have any desire myself. I cook meat for other people, family, friends and while I was working as a cook I cooked meat for clients of course. I don’t mind cooking pieces of meat that I can’t really identify. But if I have to cook a bird, I find it really hard, because I can see where it’s head and feet where. It makes me feel really sick. When I was six years old I had no idea what gelatin was, or rennet or the ingredients that might be hidden in soups and stocks and gravy. So for years I ate all of those in ignorance. Many years later I learnt about them and realized I had been eating them. It did not really upset me.
I have done pretty well on a vegetarian diet. I remember at school the teachers saying that vegetarians are weaker or they don’t develop properly, or become sick more often. I don’t know if that was the general opinion back then. But I was a competitive swimmer with a lot of strength and stamina. I was on all the school sports teams. I did not seem to be lacking in strength. In more recent years I have been more conscious of making sure I eat more vegetarian sources of protein and a huge variety of vegetables. I love my veggies, I always have.
The only difficulty I have had is that I seem to have become sensitive to dairy. For that reason I have been eating a mostly vegan diet for some years. I am not sure, but I wonder if I ate too much dairy for many years. I cut it out completely for around five years, during which time I did not have a single cold. Before then I seemed to be chronically congested and snuffly. Since then I have been able to introduce a little dairy into my diet. I don’t drink milk or eat ice-cream, yoghurt or cream But I will have a little cheese every now and then (I love cheese!) and I seem to get away with it if I have a little. I know if I overdo it because I suffer!
So that is me. I am a vegetarian, not for religious reasons, not for ethical reasons, not for health reasons. I know some people do have some very strong feelings about being vegetarian or vegan, and I respect that. But in my case, I just lost the desire to eat meat and fish when I was six years old and thirty years later, I still have no desire.
So when I do mention I am vegetarian, I am not preaching, I am not promoting a vegetarian diet as superior to others, it’s just a small detail in a personal account I might relate. I don’t mind what you eat.