Can meat-lover Caomhan Keane survive a month without bacon for breakfast or beef after a workout?
MY childhood was made a living hell by the fruit-and-veg set — from the Morrissey worshipping pal who espoused that meat was murder while bedecked in a leather jacket, to the mother of a mate who lectured my own ma about never allowing her kids eat meat (while draped in a rabbit pelt), to my best friend’s flirtation with veganism which turned her into the Norma Desmond of Spelt, flying into seismic rages when she ran out of soymilk.
(The limited options for vegans at this time meant that she came dangerously close to unconsciously coupling with an eating disorder.)
When my roommate in college went veggie, his farts were so lethal the smell, not the noise, woke us both up, a by-product of his gut reacting to the excess legumes and lentils in his diet. Meanwhile, another zealot flooded my inbox with videos secretly shot in abattoirs with YOU’RE PART OF THE PROBLEM in the subject bar.
Then there is PETA, whose sole job is to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals, a position you’d think would garner sympathy, but whose tone-deaf approach leaves even the more malleable minds cold.
Imagine my horror then, when my mot announced he was becoming a meat apostate. His promise that it wouldn’t affect me in anyway fell on deaf ears, as the steakhouses we could no longer frequent, the meals we could no longer split and the fishing trips we could never now take, started a morose montage that left me in mourning.
Scientific studies regarding vegetarianisms mental health maladies were deflected by his Teflon tenacity. Tantrums, threats and tears couldn’t assuage him.
While when he gaslit me that a vegetarian diet was an easier, more flavorsome way to live, he parboiled spite in my veins.
It might lower your risk of having a stroke or a heart attack, but who actually wants to live to witness the world cows are purportedly fartingand belching us into?
Sure, 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions are projected out of bovine behinds and the methane involved in their farming is 23 times more potent than the fumes of your car.
But scientists have also determined that eating lettuce is three times as bad for the environment as eating bacon. While the human and environmental cost of avocados, almond milk, soy and cashews pokes a hole in their self-satisfied stern.
None of this explains why I was furious about my partner’s decision — why I longed to rub my bloody, raw steak along the pan he bought for the sole use of his vegetables.
Did it ignite some macho BS within me that he had a willpower that I lacked?
Or is it that we Irish are raised to worship at the altar of slaughtered flesh so that we get prickly when others forsake it, as we can’t face the ethical questions implied by their stance?
More likely it’s due to the smugness of their delivery, the self-righteous tone adapted rubbing me up the wrong way so that I acted like a pillock of the alt-right, ignoring scientific fact due to personal irritation.
I decided to cut meat out of my diet for a full month. Partially to see if I could actually do it but, also, to see if I felt better physically or if I went out of my mind from the lack of flavour.
I failed, straight out the gate. Posting a picture of my first veggie meal (gnocchi in a mushroom and truffle sauce), it wasn’t 20 seconds up before my veggie pals made me feel like Nigel Fromage. Parmesan isn’t vegetarian, I was told, due to its possession of an enzyme.
Having signed up to a meat-free month, this little nugget was uncovered in the contract while my diet was in escrow and now certain cheeses and jellies were also off the table.
A carb-heavy first week was greeted with a Dunkirk-like assault on my social media accounts, with people decrying the ‘unhealthy’ pasta, spud and cheese combos I was ingesting.
They then decried that my food pallet was ‘arse brown’ in colour, lacking greens. And still they weren’t satisfied when that was tweaked, exclaiming it lacked protein.
But for all the abuse I got, I also got encouragement, advice and recipes. Best of all, I got dinner invites, as vegetarians know that nothing indoctrinates newbies quicker than delicious cooking.
Cooking for myself I started trying foods I previously spurned, like kale, cauliflower and aubergines, while a need to substitute the texture of flesh saw me experiment with tofu, couscous & black beans.
Patience was a virtue I needed to acquire. Aside from the long cooking times, my dyspraxia meant that following recipes was no easy feat and I regularly went off like Solange in an elevator when 45-minute recipes took several hours, meaning I was eating close to midnight. Or when my mild curries ended up making my gums hotter than a John Hamm suit fitting as I added a tablespoon of chili when a teaspoon was required.
It also cost me a fortune, as I needed to invest in spices, herbs and curds I didn’t possess. (Unlike animals, vegetables rarely taste good cooked in their own juices.)
But I didn’t miss meat, at all. Where once I would start my day inhaling Peppa Pig and her entire family before devouring a steak after every workout, a focus on being happy rather than healthy meant that my cravings were initially sated with lashings of butter, lemon and garlic.
Veggie recipes often prioritize nutrients over flavor, but if you parboil the veg first, you won’t feel like your eating produce straight from the ground and, despite the odd nibble, I found it best to avoid meals that tried to trick you with a “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Carcass” shtick.
One of the biggest fears I had with the thought of going vegetarian was how limited my diet would be.
But, during our photo shoot at Cornucopia, a vegetarian restaurant on Wicklow Street, Dublin, I had to try different foods and textures I’d have otherwise spat out if the chef weren’t standing, expectantly beside me. Forced to really focus on what I was eating.
I was shocked to discover, that once the initial hysterics in my head were quieted, it wasn’t hard.
Soaking beetroot in a raspberry mayo cut through it’s earthy taste and added a fruity hue to the mushrooms and lentil chard; the cold carrot, olive oil and avocado soup had a lemony zest which made it the perfect end of summer concoction, while the tofu, with coconut, star anise and mirim was simply divine.
My aversion of crunch meant noodles, samphire and wakame in green chili tofu cream didn’t work quite for me, nor did the daikon radish wrap, with carrot and coriander pesto.
But I forced myself to focus and appreciate the flavors.
Will I keep it up? I signed up for four weeks and lasted seven. I’m too invested in putting the children of the owner of my local halal chicken shop through college to give meat up for good, but I might now just leave it to the weekend.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved