I’m not the sort of person who would go vego. If you has asked me what my favourite food was 6 months ago I would have said roast beef. I liked my steak medium-rare. And once I went to Mad Mex 3 days in a row because I was obsessed with steak burritos. Seriously, I was a carnivorous cat.
And now I’m not.
How did this happen? Here’s the weird and sometimes funny story of how I accidentally became a leaf loving lady.
It all started in South Korea
For the 2015/16 season I taught snowboarding in Phoenix Park, South Korea. I got a great deal there – a daily wage regardless of how many lessons I took (and there were frequently 1 or less lessons a day), free staff accommodation and 3 meals provided daily.
The only problem was that these meals were very Korean. I’m talking white rice, whole fish with the eyes still in, bucket loads of kimchi and chilli-slathered meat piled high enough to cater for the hundreds of staff that poured through the food hall. Despite the intestine-liquefying spiciness of these meals, I really did love them. But after eating this type of food for 3 months straight, 3 times a day (yes breakfast was also meat, rice and kimchi) it started wearing thin.
Towards the end of the season I began looking at those mounds of meat differently. The old ladies who worked in the kitchen would hobble out with a massive bowl of meat to slop into the buffet for the masses. And I started thinking just how many dead animals were in that bowl.
When I arrived back in Sydney in March I wanted to eat healthier so I was all over green smoothies, salads and fresh fruit. At this stage I was eating less meat, but still wasn’t vego. Then two meat-related things happened in a short period of time:
- I stumbled across a short video about milk production and what happens to the calves that are kept around so their mother cows continuously lactate. I was skeptical but the RSPCA confirmed that 450,000 calves under 5 days old are killed each year in Australia. Long story short, I was really upset by what I saw and decided to reduce my intake of milk by going to soy and coconut milk. I’m hypocritical in the fact that I still eat cheese and yogurt, but it started to change the way I thought about the meat and dairy industry.
- A few days later, I watched a silly Buzzfeed video on bacon-lovers playing with piglets. I swooned over those little piggies. And that night I made a bacon fettucini carbonara. Something clicked in me that night and when I put that usually-delicious bacon in my mouth…I wanted to hurl. I stopped eating, threw out my dinner and decided to quit eating meat for a few days. You know, until I started feeling ‘normal’ again.
Trying and failing to be a carnivore
The ‘normal’ just wouldn’t come back. I tried meat a handful of times after that – even my beloved roast beef – and still I saw a dead animal lying on my plate and felt sick. My subconscious had gone full vegetarian but my conscious self was still fighting this departure from the norm.
I ate fish on occasion (so really I’m a pescatarian) and kept saying to friends and family that I was just off meat ‘for now’. Looking back, I was so worried about other people’s judgement and backlash, especially after living in Korea where vegetarians are considered crazy. But in reality, people couldn’t care less.
I regularly went out to lunch with my dad and kept choosing the vegetarian option. I didn’t say anything but I think he knew what was going on. Instead of judging he just said, “Your uncle Martin doesn’t eat animals. I bet he’d be proud.”
I also felt bad that I stopped eating what my mother cooked for dinner. I told her, “Don’t worry, I’ll start eating meat again soon.” She just shrugged and said, “Probably not.”
Eventually I just had to accept it. I was pescatarian. And you know what? It was surprisingly easy.
So what do I eat?
- Mexican. So much mexican. Burritos, nachos, quesadillas and tacos with rice and beans instead of meat. My fan-girl favourite is a ‘Vege Fries’ burrito bowl from Beach Burrito.
- Vego lasange. With grated carrot and beans and zuchini and happiness.
- Pancakes, waffles, bagels, toast. Carbohydrates are your new best friend.
- Pumpkin soup with crusty warm bread.
- Vegie turnovers. Like creamy chicken turnovers minus the chicken. Plus cheese.
- Pizza. Magherita is the bomb. Plus cheese.
- Pasta. You know, of the tomato or carbonara variety, but with vegetables like snow peas and brocolli. Plus a truck load of cheese.
- Sushi. It’s rice, veggies and fish derrrr.
- Hot chips. Oh my god, I used to hate hot chips. Recently I read something about how you start loving hot chips when you become vegetarian and I was like, “Pshh as if,” BUT IT’S TRUE. I could eat those bad boys all day every day.
Hints & tips for going vego
I also believe we’re designed to eat meat due to our canine teeth. But surely things have gotten out of hand. Animal farming and super markets mean we can get any food at any time. I’m pretty sure our hunter/gatherer ancestors didn’t eat burgers and steak every day.
So while I’m not judging people who do eat meat, if you’ve ever thought about going vego for ethical, environmental or other reasons, I’m down to help you. Here’s some advice:
- Start with just one vego day a week. It’ll save you money and be a nice healthy day.
- Don’t think of meals in terms of meat. This was a game changer for me. I used to think, “Dinner time. Do I want beef, chicken or pork?” and now I just think about what meal I really feel like instead.
- Research for inspiration. I looked up vegetarian recipes online and started following vegetarian pages on Instagram to find new delicious meals.
- Think of replacements. For example, I use tofu or noodles to replace meat in stir fries and zucchini instead of mince in lasagnes. Some people are all over the fake meat substitutes but I’m not into it because anything that looks remotely like meat makes me feel sick.
- Don’t freak out about not getting enough protein. Dude, animals are not our only source of protein. Vegetables, nuts, beans, tofu – they’re all great for it. I admit, I was a little worried about this but I’m yet to feel lethargic from a lack of meat. Instead, I actually feel better.
- Athletes, never fear. I was also worried that I’d struggle being pescatarian because of how active I am as a snowboard instructor. Then I read Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run. If you don’t know, Jurek is arguably the world’s most successful ultramarathon runner (that means running between 50km and 160km, depending on the race). He’s also vegan.
- Get friendly with beans. I still don’t know what a legume is, but beans I can use! Put them in pastas, rice, veggie burgers, whatever.
- Eat hot chips. Don’t argue. Go get ‘em.
These days, I see meat differently. It’s not food, it’s an animal – like road kill. I think we’ve been brought up eating faceless meat, so far removed from the original animal, because we don’t want to think about the living, breathing entity that once had its own thoughts. But it did.
Once I realised this, going vego was just a change of mindset and habit. And I’m happy I made the change. Because when it really comes down to it, I love animals. I like looking at them and patting them and playing with them. I could Google ‘baby otters’ and ‘Japanese dwarf flying squirrels’ all day (and if you haven’t, please do this immediately). That love extends to cows, pigs, sheep and chickens too. So I’m not going to nom on them anymore.