Thinking about going veggie but, ugh, you just love meat too much? Here are 5 ways to help you change your approach and make the transition easier. These five steps helped me change my thinking and, eventually, change my daily life.
P.S. I assume you’re here because you already want to change. This ain’t a post telling you why you should.
1. Stop Punishing Yourself and be Realistic
The majority of us have been raised to cook with meat. We are used to thinking of eating it completely by itself. When we remove that from our plate, we have to look at what’s left and, to be honest, it’s often not very exciting. We focus so hard on extravagant meaty centre-pieces, that we don’t know what to do with vegetables.
First and foremost, you’re gonna need to change how you cook and think about vegetables. There are no two ways about it. Changing your thinking requires a degree of effort. You need to find new recipes, experiment with cooking, and relearn how to make a fulfilling and tasty dinner, let alone lunch.
And it feels like an effort because we use meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner without thinking about it. We’ve learnt to cook a certain way by the meals we’re fed as children and by watching our parents. Changing that landscape gets hard quickly, especially if you’re forcing yourself to quit all meat in one day and forever more.
Without food, we got nothing. We have no fuel. Straight-up changing your diet like this might be a shock to the system and your enthusiasm, especially because you need to be aware of consuming protein and grains. You will actively be conscious of nourishing yourself (until your new lifestyle becomes second nature). Changing the very essence of what you need to survive needs a willingness to learn and experiment. Japanese, Thai and Indian cooking have changed my relationship with vegetables, so start there. Branch into the beyond.
So what’s the answer?
Reduce your meaty meals to twice a week. Make an effort to find/make alternatives for lunch. And if you decide to eat cocktail sausages at a party, don’t punish yourself for it. If you’re struggling with meat-free lunches but you’re getting great at dinner, that’s excellent! Be proud that for four or five days of the week, you’re learning to find alternatives that you enjoy. Choose the vegetarian option at restaurants, because it can be* a great insight into excellent meals (*can be, some are just clueless, but usually they’re good).
Commit to the long-term goal. Praise yourself for making the first big conscious change.
2. It’s All in the Sauce Anyway, Baby
This realisation was revolutionary to me. I don’t even remember where I read this, or if someone told me, but the majority of “great meaty meals” is all in the sauce or flavouring.
I do acknowledge that meat has some kind of flavour, but is it really that addictive? We baste chicken in herbs and oil and chilli, we serve ribs in BBQ sauce, we serve pork buns with heapings of apple sauce, and we drench lamb in mint and gravy. By themselves, these meats are pretty bland. They taste fine, sure, but their main flavour is only brought out with fat, herbs, salt or added sauces.
Once you focus on basting your tofu steak in some kind of herby fusion, lashing it with onion gravy, and then serving it with honey-roasted carrots, you’ve got most of the flavour sensations you’re craving; the mental gratification of eating something steak-like, and your much-needed protein.
Pretty soon, once I practised enough cooking with this mentality, I got the knack of recreating flavours I love. Soon after that, I realised I no longer wanted to lunge for the slices of ham in the fridge because they were boring. I could create something else so much tastier. I committed to no longer eating gelatin or any meat other than fish
So what’s the answer?
Experient, duh! Download something like the Tasty app and set it to show only vegetarian options. You’ll be blown away with what you can create and the flavours (not meat) that you were craving all along.
Look. There is not a lot that recreates the taste of bacon, I will hold up my hands and admit this. So get over that now and stop complaining. Processed ‘vegetarian bacon’ looks so disgusting I’ve never tried it, but apparently, I shouldn’t bother anyway.
There is something that comes pretty darn close, however, and once again, the motto “it’s all in the sauce” helped me to get over bacon. I genuinely do not flinch anymore when someone starts frying bacon. So, I’d like to say a big thank you to smoked paprika.
Have you ever picked up a Super Noodle ‘bacon flavour’ packet and stopped to read the ingredients? Vegetarians can eat that, you know. Its main secret ingredients are paprika, onion powder and garlic powder. And it tastes like goshdarn bacon.
So what’s the answer?
If you’re craving bacon, learn to cook with paprika. Look at vegetarian alternatives to recipes that normally include bacon. For instance, I adore carbonara, but I think Tasty’s recipe for Vegan Spaghetti Carbonara is a delicious alternative.
Just look up loads of different methods for creating bacon flavours or ‘bacon bits’. I’ll bet you my boots they almost always involve paprika, and that’s because it works.
4. You’d only be lying to yourself if you didn’t commit after announcing you’re a vegetarian
Eventually, there will come a point where you announce to everyone that you don’t eat meat anymore. You’ll commit yourself to the endeavour, you’ll feel ready to make the lifestyle change, you’ll finally ask your grandma to, “please stop making salad the only dinner-party alternative.”
But a month down the line, your partner brings home a pack of sausage rolls. They would never notice if you ate one. Or you’re at a work party with a terrible food spread—your only vegetarian options are bland cheese triangle sandwichs, lettuce leaves and crisps; no one there knows yet that you’re vegetarian, they wouldn’t condemn you for taking a chicken wing…
But the only person you’d be lying to is yourself. No one cares, in the greater scheme of their own life, if you eat a sausage roll. Just you. So, if you announce to everyone that you’re a vegetarian but still eat a chicken wing under cover of darkness once a month, don’t panic.
This goes back to point number 1, don’t punish yourself. By committing yourself to being a public vegetarian, you’ll naturally start to cut down the meat you eat anyway because no one wants to be labelled a liar.
So what’s the answer?
Stop punishing yourself for eating a couple of chicken nuggets from your partner’s plate even though you’ve told your mum to never cook you a standard roast lunch ever again.
But do try your hardest to stop doing that. Remember, no one is actually monitoring you, only yourself. The longer you lie to yourself about being a full-fledged vegetarian, the guiltier you will feel. This could reach a point where you give-up and revert.
Don’t punish yourself, but be realistic. You’ve got to learn to change your eating habits. You start out thinking, “I must resist” but one day realise you’ve jumped the hurdle and no longer feel like you’re missing out. To get there, you have to resist and commit at some point. No way around that. So keep learning to cook and buying alternatives that you enjoy.
5. Ask for support from your family
If you’re single and independent, making the change will probably be within your own control. If you live with family, however, you need their support to make the change. This must be especially difficult if you’re a teenager and still rely on your parents for weekly shopping.
My partner and I like to have dinner together. It’s nicer cooking for two rather than one, it means we both have a proper meal, and we sit down to spend time together. If my partner refused to eat vegetarian dinners with me, we’d have a problem. We would have to cook independently, or worse, one of us would be cooking two different meals in one night.
In some ways, my partner embarked on step 1 with me. He was very willing to cut down on the amount of meat we ate because we both know over-farming is an environmental disaster. When I eventually committed, my partner was so used to enjoying vegetarian dinners that he didn’t mind having one every night. He continues to have chicken sandwiches for lunch and eat gelatin sweets, but that’s his choice. Ultimately, our routine together is unchanged, we’re both eating healthier dinners, and he never berates me for requiring different food whenever he does the cooking.
Equally, I never berate him for choosing to eat meat. He’s reduced his intake and has become conscious of what he eats just via proxy of living together, and that’s still super. Therefore, we co-exist quite happily and both do our bit for the planet.
It really hacks me off when I hear people say, “I could never date anyone who is vegetarian.” Why? Is it because you mock veggies by pretending to orgasm as you eat a burger, just to make them uncomfortable and irritable with you? Do you berate them for not being able to share dinners, when actually you could both eat something different or, do your body a favour, and make small changes to join them? No one likes being preached at by vegetarians, but “eating healthier” is the last of your relationship problems.
So what’s the answer?
If you are not independent, especially not financially, you need support. Even if your family cannot fathom being vegetarians, there are multiple benefits just to changing your dinners. Take them to step-one, as above; let’s all start by eating less meat together. It’ll make dinners cheaper, it’ll be good for your bodies, and ultimately, it’ll be good for the environment.
Let them eat their sausage rolls, but get them on board with supporting your lifestyle change, not treating you like a burden. We all need to save the planet, we all need to eat healthier, and altering your family’s relationship with food to help you, is equally helping themselves.