Stephen Jardine: Who needs fake meat - I fell for the real thing

A duck wrap in disguise nearly derailed my meat-free May, says Stephen Jardine

Why do we try to replicate meat as a vegetarian offering when we can just enjoy vegetables for what they are, asks Stephen Jardine.

I wrote too soon. A week ago I celebrated a straightforward start to my meat free May. After a lifetime as a carnivore I’m spending this month experiencing life as a vegetarian and challenging some of my own prejudices and preconceptions.

The first seven days were surprisingly easy but this week was different. Staying overnight in a hotel, I was late down to the breakfast buffet. All the vegetarian options had gone and all that was left was a hot plate of bacon and sausages. For a moment I was tempted and tested but I made do with a toast and a banana and felt all the better for it.

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Back home that night I cooked poached salmon, new potatoes and asparagus and ate outside as the sun went down. I’ve definitely chosen the best time for my meat free experiment. As the weather gets warmer it is much easier to choose salads, vegetables or something light to eat over stews, roasts and grills.

However complacency has a habit of catching you out. The following day I was at a buffet lunch in an office. The meat free options on the table looked delicious. Someone offered me a purple coloured wrap and I popped the whole thing in my mouth, lulled into security by the fact that beetroot is one of my favourite tastes.

But hang on. This was something chewy and unexpected. I discovered I was eating a roast duck wrap. It was lovely, but definitely not vegetarian. So what to do? It was not going to kill me and neither was anyone going to appreciate the sight of me regurgitating my lunch into a napkin. So instead I swallowed it.

A month ago I would have had another three of them but what a difference a couple of weeks of vegetarian eating makes. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t taste right either – yes it was delicious, but the texture somehow bothered me like never before.

Food scientists are working to replicate the texture of meat for vegetarians using plant-based products. Why bother? Are we really so rooted in carnivorous eating that we can’t survive without something that pretends to be flesh?

Rather than trying to fake something that can never be the same we should instead be focussing on what vegetables have to offer. At this time of the year, that is a lot.

Of course we still need protein but we can get that in lots of other ways from pulses, nuts and grains to roots and fresh vegetables.

Vegetarian eating should be a celebration of everything except meat rather than a weak attempt to replicate it. Childhood memories of soggy vegetables, robbed of their goodness by too long on the stove, really are a thing of the past. The influence of the food cooked by people like Yotam Ottolenghi has also introduced us to all kinds of spices and condiments that can transform even a humble plate of broccoli into something delicious.

Next week you have the chance to join me on this adventure. National Vegetarian Week offers everyone a change to pause and reboot what we eat. We’re all consuming more meat than is good for us or is good for the planet. So why not eat more veg and think about the part it plays in your diet? Good luck, but watch out for the hidden duck.