Stephen Jardine: Perfect time to try less meat, and more veg

On Week Three of his meat-free May, Stephen Jardine has growing respect for vegetarians

Stephen has new respect for vegetarians. Picture: Ian Georgeson

If nothing else, National Vegetarian Week provides me with plenty of good company.

I’m currently in week three of Meat Free May, testing my prejudices and preconceptions about vegetarian eating. This week I’ve been joined by lots of other people who have been trying the experience as part of the annual celebration of life without meat. A few even shared some vegetarian recipes with me and very nice they were too.

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On Day 20, I can honestly say it has never been difficult to find something delicious to eat. With meat off the menu, I was worried my basic knowledge of vegetarian cooking would leave me hungry or surviving on hummus. Instead of that it has been a brilliant journey of discovery through the many lovely things you can make with vegetables, grains, beans and pulses.

Working late the other night I went to a convenience store expecting to have make do with a cereal bar and a banana for dinner. Instead of that they had a fantastic selection of Middle Eastern chilled dishes which were totally vegetarian.

Given how easy it is to be meat free, it is surprising the percentage of vegetarians in this country remains stuck at around two per cent. It has never been easier to be a vegetarian with so much choice and information.

However meat eaters are also living in different times. Better welfare and organic standards can provide a level of reassurance for those worried about the treatment of animals and the quality of meat they eat. The percentage of vegetarians may be static but people are now eating less meat and when they do, it is the best they can afford.

These flexitarians are a growing phenomenon and I seem destined to join their ranks.

Once again this week, I transgressed. Arriving at a friend’s house for a drink, the smoke from the barbecue indicated they’d decided to cook. Not knowing about my vegetarian adventure, the steaks were sizzling. It was my fault for not warning them and since there in no greater sin than food going to waste, I ate the steak, reasoning the animal was dead anyway and my bruised conscience would not change that.

However I still left with a grubby sense of disappointment and decided it wouldn’t happen again. Ahead of the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards dinner on Thursday, I put my vegetarian request in early.

Three weeks in, the experience has already changed my attitude to anyone who chooses to lead a life without meat.

In the past, I’ve secretly slightly resented having to cook something different for vegetarians. In a society overwhelmingly geared towards rearing and eating meat, to shy away from that seemed a bit holier than thou.

What the past month has taught me is that, on the contrary, choosing to live a vegetarian life requires proper principles and commitment. It is not a simple option in a world where so much food features meat but it is a choice made for good reasons with sincere intent. The least the rest of us can do is respect that.

For me the key motivation so far has been personal rather than political. Cutting meat from my diet has made me feel better and it has also helped she shed a few pounds of winter padding as well.

Of course there are bigger issues at stake, such as environment and animal welfare. With Brexit we may head towards eating meat with troubling provenance including American beef from cattle who have never seen grass and chickens bathed in chlorine to kill bacteria.

With all that in mind and new season produce abundant, this might just be the time to get used to less meat, and more veg.