I stopped eating meat and this is what happened

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I started slowly. I tried to eat meat only at dinner time...

I stopped eating meat and this is what happened

The shocking truth

Like some of you, I took the Aurora carbon footprint quiz and was pretty shocked and disappointed when I saw my results. I’m not quite the eco-warrior I’d imagined I was. My invisible superhero cape is actually an imaginary one.

Sustainability can be difficult for everyone, no matter where or how we live. There are so many factors that are hard to control. Like travel. This was in a pre-pandemic world where I needed to get to and from work, and I already didn’t travel much by plane. So how could I cut back? I couldn’t, really, apart from walking to the smaller, closer grocery store instead of driving to the bigger one further away.

I’ve already planted more spekboom plants than any reasonable person can live among. I’ve switched out my lightbulbs for LED ones and turned down my geyser. I rent a small flat, so I can’t install solar panels or a greywater system and buckets in the shower can only go so far. I don’t have a garden for a compost heap – though I’m looking into a compact solution for that at the moment.

I’m looking into green investments – something that had never occurred to me before, but I wanted something immediate and tangible. What more could I do to improve my score and help my future kids have an actual future? 

The realisation

Where did that leave me? Food seemed to be the easiest, most reasonable option. I could stop eating meat.

I grew up mostly vegetarian – we ate meat once or twice a week. I already ate a lot of lentils, chickpeas, veggie curries and stir fries… and speaking of Fry’s – their schnitzels are life.  But I hadn’t eaten that way as an adult with three, sometimes four jobs (the millennial cliché is real) and cooking my own meals. I’d been following a relatively low-carb diet due to health reasons, which meant lots of meat-with-a-side-of-veg dishes that were quick and easy to cook in bulk for the week.

The approach that – spoiler alert – didn't work

I started slowly. I tried to eat meat only at dinner time. At the time, I was eating breakfast and lunch in my work canteen, so that was easy – I just picked vegetarian options. Though if I ever see another stuffed pepper or stuffed butternut, I’ll burst into tears on the spot.

When it came to dinner, I had limited time and was trying to make sure I was getting balanced nutrition. My previously mentioned health condition is PCOS, meaning I’m prone to insulin resistance and at risk for type two diabetes. All the eating plans I had been following said to avoid too many carbs. And unfortunately, my vegetarian food soulmates – lentils and chickpeas – are higher in carbs than most people realise. Eating animal protein made me feel full and satisfied. And when it came to treats and takeaways – well, you try it. Log onto any food delivery app and count the vegetarian options. Not great.

So, I started slipping, As I got bored of the veggie canteen lunches, I’d lie to myself and say I’ll eat meat for lunch and a veggie dinner. As I got tired of trying to think of new recipes, I went back to the easy-win chicken dinners. I had failed.

All or nothing

What do people do when they fail? Well, they make New Year’s resolutions. Not being one to make promises I can’t keep; I’ve never actually made resolutions. But this year I decided to give up meat, just for January.

Sure, I might eat more carbs and not follow my PCOS diet. Sure, I might get tired of salad. But it’s only 31 days. I’ve had uneaten veggies in the back of my fridge for longer than that. Okay not really, I’m pretty clean and I worry about food waste… but I figured I could do 31 days.

I started by making a few concessions. I grabbed a takeaway poke bowl after yoga twice or three times a week. Usually, I wouldn’t buy meals out that often, but the extra cost was worth it to get my veggies in and save me all the chopping time.

I ate pizza once a week, and pasta too. Carbs be damned. I bought the sometimes expensive, sometimes unhealthy and sometimes not even that tasty ‘fake meat’ sausages, burgers etc, that I’d tried to avoid. Basically, I stopped making life hard for myself. 

The long haul

Then the 31st  of January arrived, and I thought, okay, I’ve succeeded. I’ve done what I set out to do. I can eat meat again, but only when I really, really, want it.

Six months later, I think I might start calling myself a pescatarian. Sure, I’ve really wanted meat, especially when I want to order a big meal to share with my partner. But I haven’t really, really wanted it.

And I’ve found some meals – like fish tacos and Beyond Burgers that genuinely taste better than the meat I was eating before. I’ve also started to get a little grossed out at the thought of eating a dead animal, which, as a previously “make my steak rare please” person, I was not expecting.

And the health effects?

Over the last few months (pandemic snacking excluded) I’ve managed to balance the health aspects of what I eat with some quick, easy and delicious staple ingredients and go-to dishes. For example, I’ll make chickpea curry but not serve it with rice, or I’ll make a veggie stir fry with halloumi. It’s not no-carb but its lower-than-you think-carb. 

What's next?

The next step is obviously to reduce or remove all animal products from my diet. I rely on fish, eggs and cheese to bump up my protein and help save time.

But for now, I’m happy with the changes I’ve made. Plus, since my partner has moved in, he isn’t eating meat either unless we order a takeaway, so I feel like my change has had an even bigger impact than I was expecting.

Let’s see what happens next New Year’s Eve!

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