Stephen Jardine: Turning vegitarian on a flexi-time basis

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CUTTING back on meat but not going the whole hog, so to speak, suits Stephen Jardine

Monday is the start of National Vegetarian Week in the UK. As a lifelong meat eater, normally that would be something I would be happy to ignore. After all, on a diet of mung beans and quinoa, it’s unlikely vegetarians even have the energy to celebrate their pious self righteousness for a whole seven days.

Or at least that would have been my attitude in the past but this year something changed. I’m eating less meat. At home it now makes an occasional appearance but when eating out, I will usually choose fish instead and that led to the next step.

At a function at the start of the year, neither choice of meat or fish sounded appetising so when asked for a preference I found myself saying “vegetarian please”. That was the turning point.

While everyone else chewed away at the pale rubbery chicken legs, I enjoyed a really tasty plate of vegetable korma and suddenly saw the light. Since then I’ve found myself almost sub-consciously eating less meat and more fish and vegetables and I’m not alone.

The number of UK vegetarians remains relatively static at around 2 per cent of the population, but the number cutting their meat consumption or switching to fish has soared in recent years.

Following the horsemeat scandal in 2013, a YouGov poll showed 25 per cent of people had reduced their meat intake. A key factor was concern about what they were actually being sold but there is also a bigger picture. Awareness of the environmental impact of meat more than doubled between 2007 and 2013 and it’s predicted sales of vegetarian food will soar by 10 per cent this year.

So on the eve of National Vegetarian Week, I decided to test the water by going the whole hog. Or rather nut roast. I cleared the fridge of any meat products and tried to spend seven days eating only vegetarian food.

At breakfast time porridge with dried fruit on top provided a great filling start to the day and I didn’t even miss my Sunday bacon roll.

Out of the house, I’d expected lunch to be more of a problem but most sandwich shops now have a decent selection of vegetarian soups, wraps and rolls. Evening meals were more of a test and I was beginning to tire of pasta with vegetable sauce when an even bigger challenge arrived.

There really could not have been a worse time for my new barbecue to be delivered and I couldn’t resist trying it out. And yes, I could have cooked vegetable kebabs but life is short and meat tastes better than mushrooms on a flaming grill. Fact.

The rib eye steak I cooked was delicious but the lingering sensation afterwards was a feeling I’d let myself down. That was until I discovered I’m part of Britain’s fastest growing food movement.

Flexitarianism is flexible vegetarianism, in other words you eat a mostly vegetable and plant based diet but enjoy a steak or tuna sandwich when you get the urge. According to Personal Trainer magazine, up to 35 per cent of us are now opting for this vegetarianism-with-benefits approach to eating.

So that is settled. I do admire anyone with the will-power and commitment to be vegetarian but for now, flexitarian is the way ahead for me.

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