I stopped eating meat for Lent but I’m not vegetarian yet

Apart from a two week period when I attempted to be a vegetarian in primary school because I was easily influenced by what my friends were doing, I’ve been pretty happy as an omnivore. I don’t eat meat with every meal, but I’ve also been happy to eat it. So what made me give up meat for Lent and how have I found it?

An unintentional choice

Before going to India, we made the conscious decision that we were only going to eat vegetarian food. This was largely to reduce our risk of food poisoning, but we’d also been told that most meals would be vegetarian anyway. It’s certainly very easy to be a vegetarian in India. Most of the restaurants we went to had an equal number of veggie and meat dishes and the food was really tasty. I didn’t miss meat, and I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. But what does this have to do with Lent?

It just so happens that we flew out to India on Shrove Tuesday. On our return, we were undecided about whether or not to stay vegetarian. We hadn’t particularly missed meat, but it was easy to make a dietary change when we weren’t doing any cooking. Being vegetarian at home would require a little more planning, but we decided we were up to the challenge. As a result, we’ve stayed meat free since we’ve come home. It’s involved changing our eating habits (both at home and eating out), giving ‘dietary requirements’ for events at work and eating a lot of lentils. But we still couldn’t decide how long it was going to last.

I think we both knew from the start that we wouldn’t stay vegetarian forever, and that was never really the point. It was more about proving that we could adapt our habits and seeing how it went. We’re both quite stubborn and didn’t want to be the first one to ‘give in’ so by doing it together we’ve stuck with it for longer, and we’ll both be breaking our meat-free period together on Easter Sunday with a roast. It suddenly became convenient that we’d started our new diet on the day where traditionally you give things up, and it gave us a clear end point. But we’re also not ready to turn our backs on the meat-free lifestyle.

Are we vegetarian or not?

In some ways it’s hard not having set rules. I’ve not been too bothered if something is labelled vegetarian providing it isn’t meat. But then where do you draw the line? We used up a tuna can in our cupboard as we’d already bought it and didn’t want it to go to waste, but should you eat fish if you aren’t eating meat? We’ve discussed being vegetarian at home and only eating meat if we choose to when we’re out, but then we have less control over when it comes from. Would it be better to only eat meat at home where you’ve chosen the supplier? It’s all a bit of a minefield and to be honest it’s not something I want to lose sleep over.

So where do we go from here? We’re not sure, but we’re definitely going to try and stick to a more meat-free diet. We know what our weaknesses are (James is worried about upcoming barbeque season, I’d like more choice eating out) but we’ve found it pretty straightforward to eat veggie food at home. And we haven’t just had the same meals on repeat! So we’re going to continue with the flexible approach we’d been moving towards, and hope it doesn’t cause too much confusion for our families.

So what have I learned in the last six weeks?

  • It requires a bit more thought to begin with, but once you’re in the habit of not cooking meat it’s not that difficult.
  • Eating out in the UK you have much less choice than in India if you’re trying to stick to meat free options. Sure, it’s better than it was, but options can still be limited.
  • Meat substitutes won’t satisfy you if you enjoy meat.
  • Sometimes you’ll be forced to try something different, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
  • I’m not too bothered about chicken, but I miss sausages and red meat.

Have you given up meat before? How did you find it?

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