Could you take the meat-free challenge?

Could you take the meat-free challenge?

National Vegetarian Week begins today. Carnivores are invited to take the Meat-free Challenge and give up meat and fish for a week. Always pioneering, ahead of the pack (don’t chuckle at the back), I tried it last week…
Breakfasts were easy. I tend to favour eggs, toast or cereal on weekday mornings. Weekends were harder, though – I had to forgo my beloved smoked salmon and kippers. Lunches were salads or veggie sarnies.

As for dinners, I tried a range of options, from Linda McCartney veggie sausages to tofu (in a veggie miso soup broth, enlivened with a huge slug of wasabi). I fell back on some meat-free classics in my own recipe repertoire too, such as ricotta and spinach-stuffed pasta shells. Soups, veggie sandwiches and stuffed peppers also put in an appearance.

National Vegetarian Week falls at a handy time. The shops are full of seasonal British vegetables – and I made the most of them. I’d imagine the meat-free challenge would be much harder in January, when it’s root veg or nothing.

So, I lasted the week – but what did I learn? Well, I didn’t really feel any healthier, I was also lucky that my usual diary of food-journo engagements was quiet last week. No restaurant openings or reviews, pie awards to judge or meat-fuelled Bacchanalian feasts to attend.

Did I think about the animals? Nope, sorry. In my work I’ve witnessed the sharp end of animal farming and production, and the meat I try to buy – local, free range, native or rare breed if possible – is from farmers who look after their animals’ welfare.

And did I enjoy it? No, not really. I love eating meat way too much, and not in a macho, gung-ho kind of way. I don’t eat huge amounts of meat (even though I have my butcher on speed dial). I prefer quality to quantity. I like choosing it and thinking about how best to cook it. I like the touch, taste, texture and smell.

What did I miss most? Surprisingly, perhaps, I didn’t long for things like fat, juicy steaks. Rather, I missed being able to pop a bit of homemade stock in a soup, or add a few lardons to pasta. That was the hardest thing.

So, apologies to the Vegetarian Society, but I’ll not be joining the cause. However, I do think that if people ate a little less meat, and respected and valued what they ate, animals, the planet and society might be a bit better off.

If you’re taking the veggie challenge, try one of these tasty dishes

wild mushroom and mozzarella risotto cakes
slow-roasted tomato and red pepper soup with crottin de
chavignol croûtes
egg and shiitake ramen
aubergine parmigiana
oriental mushroom and pak choi stir-fry

There’s plenty more inspiration at

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