What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
This past Christmas I went absolutely crazy for meat. Like, I'd wake up, eat some ham. Have a shower, eat some ham. Sit on the sofa, eat some turkey. Have lunch -- turkey and ham. Walk to the kitchen, eat some ham. The whole 9 or 10 days I was off from work was a meat orgy.
Christmas Eve saw us celebrate at my friend Cam's house -- she and her Mum are absolutely awesome cooks and every year they do a massive spread and invite us all over to pig out. One of her signature dishes is honey mustard sausages. Now, I don't like sausages. I think they're foul. But these sausages? Like tiny little angels dancing on my tongue. Seriously. The glaze is the most delicious mix of sweet and tangy, the crunch of the skin, the pop of the juice within. I must have eaten 30. No exaggeration. Thirty. I DON'T EVEN LIKE SAUSAGES.
I started as I meant to go on, with every eating opportunity (of which of course there were many) seemingly a competition with myself as to how many different breeds of animal I could get in my face at one time. I was a non-discriminatory consumer. Pig, chicken, cow -- it was all going in there.
By around the 28th, 29th of December, I was meated out, man. I was bored of meat sweats. Plus I'd got into juicing and following all my reading up on the alkaline diet -- something I've been trying to follow as much as possible to help my stomach acid issues -- it became apparent that meat is really freaking hard to digest, and creates a lot of acid down in the tum.
During one of many "laying on the sofa in my dressing gown watching Netflix" days over the festive period, we chose to watch a documentary about some meat lovers trying out a vegan diet. I thought it would be kind of like a reverse "Super-Size Me," a jolly romp perhaps. And for the most part it was an interesting look at what effects changing from a meat-heavy diet to a plant-based one have on the mind and body. But there was also quite a lot of footage of the way livestock bred for both meat and dairy are treated, as well as the affects that animal agriculture have on the environment.
Now, I'm not stupid. I haven't got to 26 without realising that every time I eat a beefburger, I am ingesting a cow. I know that bacon comes from pigs. I know how fois gras is produced. I've eaten veal, well aware that it was a BABY COW. I've heard about the terrible treatment of chickens, mass produced solely for our finger-lickin' pleasure. I know all that, and I still chose to eat meat, because I hadn't actually seen it.
After watching the documentary, something really chimed in me -- I didn't want to be part of that. I didn't want to contribute to an industry that's responsible for 51% of the global greenhouse-gas emissions that are causing such serious environmental problems today. I didn't want to mindlessly put meat into my mouth without thinking about where it was coming from. I didn't want to ingest another live being's suffering. I WAS GOING TO GO VEGAN.
Then I decided that being a vegan would be far too difficult as I'm legit obsessed with eggs in every form. But vegetarianism looked appealing. The images in my mind from the documentary (I won't go into it all, as this isn't a piece of vegetarian propaganda and some of the scenes are really hard to describe without getting preachy) were still raw, and the idea of eating a bit of flesh really did not appeal.
I ate my last bit of meat on New Year's morning -- a bit of bacon, which I didn't really enjoy as I was so hungover -- and then vowed to a life of not eating any kind of animal.
At first, it was easy. I realised that my breakfasts were always vegetarian anyway -- porridge or toast with avocado at work, or eggs at the weekend -- and lunches at work were pretty easy to substitute for non-meat versions.
My usual bagel with Lactofree cream cheese and ham was the same, just with Quorn pretend ham. My cous-cous, avocado and chicken lunch was kept the same, but with Quorn chicken-style fillets (surprisingly delicious, actually) instead of the chicken. Easy enough.
Dinners I found slightly more challenging, perhaps as I had to try and capture the imagination of my boyfriend as well as myself. Quorn spag-bol was delicious, and as a minced beef hater, I will always now use the Quorn alternative as the texture doesn't skeeve me out as the meat alternative does. I tried the Quorn escalopes in lieu of a chicken one. It was OK. I generally just swapped out the meat for a pretend-meat substitute, as introducing too many vegetables isn't great for my stomach.
By the 8th day, I was starting to get frustrated. I'd tried and failed to make my famous (in my house) chicken noodle soup with tofu, and it was grim. The texture of tofu is sick and wrong, you guys. Then, after scanning the supermarket shelves of EVERY supermarket in the town I work in for vegetarian meat alternatives that weren't made my Quorn, I got disillusioned. It was HARD. Yeah, it'd be fine if I wanted to eat rice-stuffed peppers all day erry'day, but I don't.
I finally found a "vegetable kiev" in the last shop I tried and took it home, hopeful that this would be the perfect replacement for my Favourite Food Ever (ish) -- the chicken kiev. One of the staple meals in my house is chicken kiev, baked potato and baked beans. Easy, quick, and tasty when you can't be bothered to actually cook, I had yet to replicate this in a veggie-friendly way.
I took home the kievs, popped them in the oven and returned half an hour later to realise that I'd misjudged the texture -- obviously they're not going to be as firm as their chicken counterpart -- and when I returned to the oven they'd fallen through the bars (yes I was lazy, yes I should have used a baking sheet, sorry Mum) and splattered all over the bottom.
"Being a vegetarian is SO HARD!" I cried at Chris as he scooped the breaded mess from the oven and onto our plates. "It looks like CAT SICK!"
It tasted quite nice, but the experience was TAINTED FOREVER.
On Day 10, I walked into my local branch of KFC, ordered myself a 3 piece meal and aboslutely destroyed it. I licked the bones clean. It tasted like the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth, it was like an out-of-body experience. I walked out of there feeling like a new woman.
But then, the guilt. I'd only lasted 10 MEASLY DAYS! The thing is, I really do want to make this change. But meat is so delicious that I'm really struggling. I wish I didn't enjoy tucking into freshly fried chicken, but I do. I just don't like the legacy that my choices support.
So help me. How can I make the transition? If you're a veggie, or a vegan, I'm calling out to YOU. How did you make the change? What recipes do you go back to time and time again? SHARE!
Natalie's trying not to eat meat over on Twitter: @Natalie_KateM