There was no satisfactory answer to this, and in the weeks that followed I couldn't stop associating the meat on my plate with the original animal. Yuk.
Luckily for me, my mother was a great cook and took on the challenge of cooking for a lone veggie in the family with gusto. My sister eventually turned veggie too - the food was that good.
Twenty four years after I became a vegetarian, I decided to try being vegan. The only vegans I've met have been pasty, skinny or militant. Usually all of the above. Not the best advertisement for going meat and dairy-free. But even they didn't shake my feeling that a vegan diet must be the healthiest, kindest way to eat. Kind both to animals and to the environment.
Quite by accident, I was recently tipped over the edge by a book purporting to be about weight loss. Skinny Bitch is an excellent read. It's an irreverent, straight-talking guide to exactly what you are putting into your body and how to eat more healthily. And sings the praises of a vegan diet. Even if you don’t need to lose weight, I urge you to read it.
Just like my old Junior Master, Skinny Bitch raised some simple questions which changed my perception of my diet, namely: 'Why eat things that cause cruelty to animals – is this a valid choice for a compassionate person?', 'Why persist in consuming milk and milk products when we’re supposed to be fully weaned by the age of four (at the latest!) - can this really be healthy?'
I’ve always loved food, for me it is truly one of the most enjoyable things in life. So, four months ago I chose not to be vegan but to be ‘Vegalicious’ (vee-ga-lish-us).
And forget the militance so common with veganism. A Vegalicious chick like me isn’t on any crusade to convert friends and family. Instead, I enjoy treating my friends to yummy food that subtly changes their perceptions. No, I’m not talking about magic mushroom risotto. I mean the Vegalicious blueberry muffins that my friend declared “better than the ones at Starbucks by miles”, the wonderfully moist apple and cinnamon spiced cake (No eggs! No milk!) that I made as a houseguest gift when J and I stayed with friends in Manchester a few weekends ago…
On Saturday, my friend Kath came for a 'girlie night in' as I had Els and J was away. I enjoyed cooking Kath a Thai curry (with butternut squash, chickpeas, mange tout and baby corn) followed by a caramelised apple tart with a hint of aniseed. For breakfast on Sunday, we had Vegalicious buckwheat pancakes with fresh blueberries and maple syrup. I really don’t think she felt deprived.
Nor did J's friends who came over for an impromptu lunch later that day when J had returned. I made a simple, yet delicious, pasta sauce by slow-roasting fresh tomatoes with loads of garlic, olive oil and rosemary. I turned part-baked baguettes into garlic bread using a non-dairy margarine, and rustled up a cherry (tinned, but still yummy) and almond crumble which I served with Alpro non-dairy custard which, believe me, is just like the Real Thing.
I can’t say I’m a Skinny Bitch yet, I think I’m eating too much for that, but I’m certainly a healthier one. My intermittent IBS-type symptoms have all but disappeared, and I feel lighter inside (strange but true). I’m also happier as I’m living more in line with my values.
As a newly Vegalicious person, I am spurred on by the decidedly non-pasty vegan role models I have recently discovered, including the very healthy-looking lead singer of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Anthony Kiedis, cute and curvy Alicia Silverstone and the rather beefy NFL athlete Tony Gonzales.My old heroin poster misconception of how vegans look has finally been replaced by healthier, more inspiring examples.