Why I became Vegetarian (and what I've leaned since)

The Lobster Incident occurred on 23rd May 2018.

I had decided that it was high time my husband and I ate the lobster that had been in our freezer for... well, a while. Since it was for two of us and there's not much meat on a lobster I also got out a couple of salmon fillets.

I'd never prepared lobster before, so I was  a little shocked when I tipped the lobster out of its cardboard box because it looked like a lobster. Yes, I wonder what I expected, but there it was, red and dead, an entire animal, looking at me.

I read the instructions on the box. "Twist off the claws. Insert a knife into the back of the head and twist until the shell cracks..." I recoiled in horror. I couldn't do that to this animal.

Some context here. A few years ago I squirted wasp killer at a wasp which was terrorising my dining room. I watched as the innocent creature fell onto the window sill, writhing and twitching horribly, and slowly curled up in a ball of pain and died. I sobbed, horrified that I had been the cause of its suffering and death, wishing I could undo what I had done. Why had I felt I needed to kill it when it had as much right to exist as I did? I still remember that poor wasp, and bitterly regret my selfish action in requiring something else to die for my own comfort, and I've never killed one since.

But the lobster was already dead, and I still couldn't bring myself to take a knife to it. I called my daughter into the kitchen and gave her the knife (she's 17) and asked her to do it. I had to stand at the far end of the room reading the instruction off the box. As she laughed at my patheticness, I explained that I couldn't cut up something which had eyes and was looking at me as I did it.

"You'll be okay cooking the salmon, then," Hari said innocently. "That hasn't got eyes any more."

And with that comment I realised, fully and finally, that much of what I ate could look at me. Not that I hadn't known that before (I'm not that blonde) but perhaps the enormity of it hadn't sunk in. If a chicken could look at me as I cut it up, would I still do it? What about a pig? A lamb?

That was it. Instant decision. No more meat for me. It just stopped making sense that things had to die so that I could eat them.

Now, I love meat. Bacon. Bovril. Burgers. My paprika pork recipe. Christmas turkey. Prawns. Chicken with chilli and salt and crispy shredded beef from Kamble. My harissa meatballs recipe. Harvester's waffles with buttermilk chicken and bacon and maple syrup. But I love animals too. I love my dog so much I just paid £8,000 to a specialist vet to make him well again. I no longer want animals to die so that I can eat them.

My husband was quite sad and dismayed at my decision (and didn't believe it for a couple of days) because he felt I'd be missing out. But I've eaten meat for almost fifty years, so I think I've had plenty. I promised him that he would still get to enjoy all the food he did before, and I would cook what I had always cooked, I would just do a little something else for me. So the next day I made macaroni cheese, and the big pan for the family had gammon in it (as usual) and the little pot for me had cherry tomatoes and spinach in it. I made fajitas with chicken as usual for the family, and sweet potatoes and mixed beans for me. My freezer is stocked with lots of very delicious Quorn and Linda McCartney meals.

In just these few weeks there have been several occasions where I've been very glad to be vegetarian. The missionaries brought an investigator to dinner recently, and he bought some food with him for us all to try. Goat curry. Now, I've eaten goat before, so it wasn't a big deal, but since I was veggie now I just had the mashed okra side-dish he'd made. It wasn't until after everyone else had eaten the curry that he told us it wasn't just regular goat meat, but goat liver and kidney.

Then we had a hog roast for seminary graduation. There was an entire pig in our cultural hall, its ears and snout singed black, its eyes looking at me, its body being carved up for our hungry graduates. The Hog Roast people had brought an alternative for the vegetarians - a wholemeal halloumi wrap with Mediterranean roasted vegetables and a yogurt and mint dressing.  It was delicious. I watched as the chef twisted off the pig's head and threw it in the bin, and was glad that it wasn't done on my account.

The question people ask most often is whether I eat fish. Well, no. It would be somewhat disingenuous to become vegetarian because of a lobster, and then continue eating fish.

So far I am absolutely loving being vegetarian. Yes, there are some menu challenges (how disappointing seitan was!) but I am happier with myself, as though some dichotomy has been resolved. I like vegetarian me more than I liked carnivore me.

I'm also finally losing weight. After six (six!) years at Slimming World during which I had only lost a stone, I'm finally getting some good results on the scales and reaching new goals.

I don't think that's because a vegetarian diet is any healthier or lower in calories. The things that are and always were my weakness, diet-wise - crisps, chocolate, cake, cheese - are vegetarian and still very much temptations. What has made the biggest difference is (i) the lack of choice, and (ii) the lack of convenience.

Here's how the choice thing works. I go to the Legal Charities Garden Party each year, and each year there will be a tray or two of canapes on our table. Last year I stood at the stall talking to people about LawCare and eating all the canapes. Then I went round to some of the other stands and ate all their canapes too. If food is there, I will eat it.

This year, however, I was vegetarian, and there  was only one vegetarian option on the tray - a little chilli pepper stuffed with cream cheese. So I ate all three of them, and then I had to stop eating.

Similarly at buffets, meetings and events, only about 25% of the food will be vegetarian, and that means I don't eat it all.

As for convenience, I love McDonald's. Fast food in general, if I'm honest, but McDonald's is by far the most common in our area. If I'm driving around, maybe dropping children wherever they want to go, and I'm feeling a bit peckish, I could just pull into the nearest drive-thru and have a cheeseburger in my hand in three minutes.

Not any more. Yes, all the fast food places have vegetarian options, and they're all pretty good and reasonably priced, but they're not fast. With fewer vegetarians around they cook these to order. Last time I went to McDonald's I waited 15 minutes for my spicy vegetable deluxe. So now when I'm feeling a bit hungry and driving past a McDonald's I carry on, because it's  quicker to go home and make a marmite sandwich.

Another question I'm often asked is whether I have any regrets. The answer is no, not really. The only possible regret I have is that I wish I'd know this was going to happen so that I could have appreciated all the "lasts". The last cheeseburger I'll ever eat. The last Bovril sandwich. The last chicken with chilli and salt.  So that I could savour them and say farewell properly.

I've discovered that some interesting and unexpected things are vegetarian. Beef gravy granules (yes, really!) Bacon crumbles. And some equally interesting things aren't. Worcestershire sauce. Jelly.

If you'd asked me a year ago if I'd ever go vegetarian, I'd have laughed. "I'd miss meat too much", I'd doubtless have said. I've found I miss it much less than I could ever have expected, but that's possibly because this is the right time to go vegetarian, with so many fantastic meat alternatives available. Linda McCartney's pulled "pork" burgers are juicy and delicious, and her sausage rolls are better than meat ones. Quorn crispy fillets are so tasty I'm eating way too many of them.

I never did eat any of that lobster.


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