Easing towards the vegetarian options

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been trying to transition into a more vegetarian diet. I’ve also tried to cut out dairy. It’s been going… ok. Some parts are easier than others. Wanna hear about it?

Why going vegetarian(ish)?

I don’t see anything wrong with killing animals for food as a concept. Animals have been feeding on each other since the dawn of time and there’s no moral behind it. It’s just how life works. Nutrition is scarce and every lifeform is trying to get as much of it as possible in any way they can.

However, as lifeforms go, humans are unique. Or rather rich world humans are unique.

Unlike all other animals, we have created a society where food is abundant and available at all hours of the day. We have bred vegetables, fruit, and crops that grow faster and bigger. We’ve industrialised the breeding of livestock to ensure steady access to dairy and meat of all kinds.

And that’s where I start seeing problems… As someone living in the rich world, I am well beyond eating to survive. I can eat anything at any time. I can choose. So for me, eating meat is an indulgence. I don’t need it, there are plenty of options readily available, so it’s a luxury. And a habit. I do it because I like it and I’ve always done it. And that doesn’t sit right with me at this point in time. With everything I know of the meat industry and the climate crisis, it feels downright wrong. Why should I support a cruel and unsustainable industry when I don’t have to?

Note that I don’t necessarily see a problem with other people eating meat. Not everyone has the resources or the digestive system to go vegan or vegetarian. I judge nobody but myself here.

So I figure why not do the world a tiny favour and avoid it? At least a little bit?

Red currant bush with berries
Red currant

Quitting dairy is easy, except for cheese

Let’s start with the easy part: I used to think I was lactose intolerant but after much experimenting, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s worse than that. It’s not the lactose, it’s dairy in general. I realised that when I went completely lactose-free but STILL had symptoms. Symptoms that only went away after excluding dairy altogether. I read you can be allergic to the protein rather than the lactose, so I guess it’s something like that I have.

Not a huge problem though as going without milk and butter and such turned out to be super easy. We have lots of great plant-based alternatives available here and I personally like the ones made from oats. Our fridge is full of plant-based “dairy” products and it’s working great. I’ve even found amazing vegan ice cream that is way better than regular!

But one thing I can’t find any decent substitutes for is cheese. Yes, there are plenty of vegan cheese options. No, they are not good. Every vegan cheese I’ve tried has had either horrible taste, horrible texture, or both. 🤢

So I’m still cheating when it comes to cheese. I’ll make vegetarian lasagna or vegetarian pizza and then put real cheese on top. 😅 But I try to keep it to a minimum since my body doesn’t like it.

Asparagus pizza
Pizza blanco with asparagus and garden rocket 👌 And real cheddar and mozzarella *sigh*

Meat substitutes are horrible (with some exceptions), just use vegetables

Like many others I’m sure, my first instinct was to substitute meat with “fake” meat like quorn or soy meat or similar. Unfortunately, I hate most of them. Most products I’ve tried have either a weird taste or a very unpleasant texture. So I’ve learned to use regular vegetables instead. Aubergine, lentils, paprika, beans… there are endless options. Anything that you’d normally do with fried meat you can do with fried vegetables. Pies can be filled with vegetables. Cabbages and root vegetables roasted in the oven are amazing.

(Real vegetables are usually much much cheaper as well.)

But there are a few exceptions:

  • Hamburgers – they sell Beyond Burgers at our grocery store. They taste great, even my meat-loving husband likes them.
  • Diced bacon – I’ve found a brand that sells packages of small chunks that taste incredible when fried. It’s nothing like real bacon but is delicious in its own right. (Icas egna vegobacon, i fall nån svensk läser det här.)
  • Sandwich meat – there’s a brand that makes large thin slices that look and taste a lot like bologna. (Pärssons Vegoskivor, den med paprika är bäst) It’s a breakfast staple for me now!
  • Nuggets – I mean, they’re deep-fried. Doesn’t matter what’s in them, you can’t go wrong with deep-fried.

Mushrooms are could be a lifehack

I absolutely love all kinds of mushrooms so I’ve also been using mushrooms in everything. (Yes, I’m a hobbit.) Mushrooms are incredibly versatile so they fit right in with almost anything. When bbq:ing you can marinate a couple of portabellos and throw them on the grill. Any kind of dish that calls for diced meat can be made vegetarian by chopping a few button mushrooms and use that instead. Meat pies, sandwiches, sauces – fry some chanterelles.
We are even privileged enough to have access to both the forest AND a mushroom guide in the form of my father in law, so we can pick them ourselves!

It was all good and well until my husband started making noise about not liking mushrooms very much. He says he doesn’t want to eat them and can I please keep it to a minimum when cooking? FFS… 😑😑😑

On second thought, that might be a good thing. Because if someone wasn’t here to stop me I’m pretty sure my diet would be 90% mushrooms by now…

Mushrooms in a basket
🤎

The social situations

Vegetarians/vegans are unusual where I live and in my social circles, and I hate the idea of inconveniencing other people or seeming ungrateful. Like if I’m a guest in somebody’s home I’ll happily eat whatever they serve. Who am I to come into your house and demand special treatment? Hell, I’m just happy you want to feed me!

Or if we’re out and about I wouldn’t dream of demanding we go to a different restaurant when everyone else wants to go to some other place. Especially since I’m not allergic. A piece of steak won’t exactly kill me.

There seems to be a huge difference in the way other people react in the case of being allergic vs ethical/political. One people take seriously, the other is you being annoying.

How do real vegetarians/vegans deal with that?

The meat I still eat

With all of this said, I still eat meat. When you’ve been a meat-eater your whole life it’s so damn easy to stay with your old habits. Especially when you’re tired or stressed (and have a husband who doesn’t like mushrooms). It does get easier the more I learn and practise, but it’s still a process.

I also happen to live somewhere where it’s quite easy to get slightly “better” meat. I have access to lots of small local eco-friendly farms where you can buy directly from the farmer. The rivers and lakes are full of fish and the forest is full of game animals. Moose actually need to be culled since we don’t have enough big predators (that’s a whole other issue for another time) and let’s be honest: a hunter’s bullet is the most merciful death a wild animal can wish for. So I have fewer qualms about eating a moose than a cow.
Reindeer live in the wild too, and you buy their meat from Sami herders. I don’t mind eating reindeer as I see how it supports our indigenous people.

So right now, while I’m cutting back on all meat I find it more important to stay away from “industry meat”.

I’m under no illusion that it will save the world, but I feel it does make my conscience a little bit clearer. I can’t, for example, use more public transport instead of driving because of where I live – but I can eat less meat. And doing something, no matter how small, feels better than doing nothing. 🍃

Comments

  1. 13 June 2021

    Well done for making these changes and becoming a flexitarian! Fab!! I’ve been a vegetarian for over 13 years and vegan (of sorts, I still eat honey but very rarely as it’s too sweet for me anyway) for about a year or so.

    Firstly, a vegetarian diet is much better for health, as you mentioned the digestive system. There are plenty of scientific papers on this, the last one being on how well vegans are doing if they catch covid, as in a fantastic 73% decrease in reporting moderate to severe disease.

    My suggestion with cheese is to avoid it for 3-6 months. After that you might not like the taste of dairy cheese. I was told about this and discovered that it’s true. As the lockdowns lifted in UK a couple of months ago, my husband and I went for a coffee. We asked for vegan latte and we given by mistake dairy milk latte. Both of us felt sick and couldn’t drink it. I would have liked to drink it because it was wasteful, but I couldn’t. It was strange, as I imagined I could drink milk and decide not to, but it turns out I can’t, which is strange, as I drank milk for the first 30+ years of my life.

    Meat substitutes in UK are amazing! There are so many sausages and burgers and fake mince and fake anything. When you see new items on the shelves, try them, you might be surprised. A few years ago the veggie meats were not great here either, things change as more and more consumers are asking for them.

    I wouldn’t want to visit someone who is not respectful of me. I wouldn’t serve a guest something they do not want to eat regardless of the reason, so I expect the same courtesy. It’s not being difficult or annoying, just polite. Would you eat a dog-steak if a Chinese couple invited you for dinner? It’s perfectly ok from their point of view. From mine too, as I don’t make the difference between a dog and a cow when it comes to steak… hence why I’m veggie. Or… would you offer beef to a Hindu or a cheeseburger to a Jew? They do not have allergies, but a religious belief. It’s that more moral than an ethical one?
    Originally, I am from a country where there are very few vegans and vegetarians, but I rarely had issues and most people were willing to make/buy something suitable. When asked what I eat, I would always say about traditional dishes that are either naturally veggie or easy to adapt.

    I agree with you on the culling vs industrial farming, these are so different. If not culled, those animals would slowly die of hunger because they would not have enough food for growing numbers. That is awful. Industrial farming though is responsible for animal cruelty, climate change, and hunger in low-income countries, where fodder is grown to feed livestock, but there is not enough food for them.

    That was a long comment. Again, well done for taking this step. Your husband might join you at some point too, as my husband did. He was eating meat even after I went veggie, but now he is vegan, he made the choices when he was comfortable with them and he is very happy. It’s a journey.

    • 15 June 2021

      Thank you for such a thorough comment! I will definitely try avoiding all cheese for a while and see if that resets my taste buds, great tip! 😃
      Glad the UK has good meat substitutes. I’ve tried all the ones we have here I’m afraid. And they’re not great… I really hope they’ll improve in the future as more people become vegetarians/vegans.

      Respect goes in both directions, which is what makes it difficult for me. I can’t help but feel that if I’m the only one with special requirements, then it’s more important for me to cater to the group than for the group to cater to me. In Swedish culture, one of be biggest social faux pas you can make is coming off like you think you’re special (it’s like rule no. 1) and I guess I’ve fallen for that extra hard. 😅

      It’s good to hear that husbands can come around, haha! Mine is theoretically on board, he agrees that being vegetarian/vegan is better, but he still likes meat too much. I’m hoping to slowly sway him with increasingly better vegetarian food as I level up my cooking 😁

  2. 15 June 2021

    We’ve been mostly* vegetarian in our house for 4 or so years now and it’s honestly weird thinking back to when we thought meat was necessary for a meal to be a MEAL, you know? It’s been fairly easy for us because the meat here in the Netherlands just doesn’t compare to the meat we grew up on back in New Zealand so we don’t feel like we’re “missing out” or depriving ourselves of anything.

    I agree with Anca re: giving up dairy for a while if you really want to quit it altogether. I can’t stand cow’s milk in my coffee anymore and my cheese consumption has gone way down after realising that my sandwiches and pizza still tasted delicious without it. I just have to eat my pizza with a knife and fork! Haha. (Also, I hiiiiighly recommend nutritional yeast if you want a cheese flavour in something!)

    Good luck with the continuation of this journey. Even if you don’t make it past what you’re already doing, it’s still a lot more than so many others are doing!

    (*my body sucks at non-heme iron)

    • 15 June 2021

      Yes, that’s exactly what I used to think too, that a meal = something with meat! It was kind of fun to realise that you can actually eat vegetables with vegetables and it’s still a complete dish. 😄

      Gonna try ditching cheese altogether and see what happens. Milk and cream isn’t a problem, it’s just the damn cheese… Nutritional yeast was an interesting suggestion, thank you! I have a bag of that here and it does taste a bit cheese-y now that you mention it.