Food, Health

Veggie January – or not quite

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen that I pledged to do a ‘Veggie January’, i.e. moving from my regular omnivorous diet to a vegetarian one for a month.

I wanted to do this for a few reasons:

  • Environmental resources: the reading I’ve done generally leads me to believe the amount of meat we eat is unsustainable, in addition to this, while I have no ethical objection to eating fish and mammals (sorry if this offends anyone), I do have issues with an industrial farm system that uses excessive antibiotics, breeds animals that are genetically unable to live humanely or reproduce alone, and feeds these animals on foods they were never meant to consume. In addition, the transport round the country and packaging of butchered meat for supermarkets seems excessive and resource hungry.
  • Animal welfare: I’ve bought organic chicken and eggs for a while due to things like the ‘Chicken Out!’ campaign, but again, as I read more, I began to realise that many other animals suffer unnecessarily in industrial farming systems. Fish farming seems particularly cruel. And while I may be OK with my choice to kill and eat an animal for food, I’m not happy with breeding it in an environment that means its life is full of mental or physical distress.
  • Health – so many reports that processed meat is a cancer risk, that red meat is full of saturated fat, not to mention hormone disruption from the aforementioned medications … it seemed clear that I’d be healthier on a vegetarian diet.
  • Cooking inspiration: since I became single I’ve been stuck in a bit of a food rut, I began cooking again just before Christmas and figured this challenge would inspire me to try some new things.

I started in January and really enjoyed the food. I experimented with meat substitutes (Quorn – tastes of dust and disappointment, Linda Macartney’s options – really tasty), tried new recipes like quinoa and halloumi stuffed peppers, and rediscovered some old favourites like risottos and dhals. All was going well until…

  • About 6 days in I began to wake up every day with a headache. Friends suggested it was my body adjusting and that vitamin supplementation may help, which I did, but it’s continued and has got pretty debilitating.
  • 10 days in and my stomach began to revolt. I’m not talking about some wind or just the extra fibre giving symptoms – I’m talking agonising cramps, feeling like I had swallowed a bowling ball after every meal and being up in the night with the kind of symptoms I don’t need to describe….it’s been really painful and distressing, especially as I suffered with IBS, intolerances and a host of other stomach issues on and off until I did a Whole30 the other year and modified my diet in a way which really helped me. It’s felt like a big step backwards for my health.
  • I have been craving sugar and carbs like crazy and I feel I am eating less well than I did before – I was never a McDonalds-a-week girl, I have always made an effort to cook from scratch and had reduced my reliance on processed food but this dietary change sent my body a bit crazy.

I really wanted to stick with this for the whole month, but ultimately I’m a solo parent, I work full time, and I’m under a whole load of stress right now. I am sure experimentation and/or sticking it out may have helped me but I’m just not in a position to go through the pain and ill health to get there with everything else I have thrown at me right now.

HOWEVER…..I have definitely seen some benefits from my 15 days as a vegetarian!

Firstly, it’s reminded me that I love cooking and I love new recipes, and I also learnt that many veggie recipes take much less time to cook which is fantastic. Some of the things I tried have become new staples and I will be much more adventurous in future with my veggie cooking choices, I think.

Secondly, it’s made me think a lot more about the provenance and packaging of my food, including trendy veggie staples like almonds and quinoa ,and thirdly I’ve realised just how much meat I was eating and how unnecessary (and expensive!) that was. My food bills and the rubbish I throw away definitely reduced when I wasn’t eating meat. So in order to keep some of the benefits and be a bit more thoughtful about my food, I’ve subscribed for a small Riverford meat, fruit and veg box for me and T each week, as well as organic eggs and milk. My goal is not to buy or eat any other meat for us, although I need to find some way to deal with T’s ham sandwich addiction! 🙂

I’m going to supplement with wild-caught, sustainable seafood once a week and also aim not to eat meat or fish options out unless there is some information about the provenance of the food, or unless the only veggie option is dairy filled (I am lactose intolerant so generally don’t eat much that isn’t hard cheese or butter). I’m hoping I’ll be making some positive environmental and welfare while easing into this in a way that doesn’t cause me health issues. In the meantime, any tips for getting the best out of your veg box or delicious, seasonal vegetarian recipes will be much appreciated!

EDIT: while researching I came across this wonderful post on Kate Arnell’s Eco Boost blog.

Although I have never been vegetarian like Kate was, I’ve struggled with making the ‘right’ choice for a long time. Her post articulates really clearly why it’s very difficult to know what ‘right’ is in an eco conscious context and also how we all need to eat in the best way possible for ourselves, physically. We are all different.

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