Going veggie as a grown-up; Stylist's Joanna McGarry shares her experience of turning meat-free for good

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With Britain's first Meat Free Week in full swing, Stylist Associate Editor Joanna McGarry explains how her life has changed for the better since she decided to go vegetarian six weeks ago: 

I never wanted to be one of those urban-vegetarians, the ones that live in a city filled with meat, but bellow their evangelical musings on the virtues of lentils. That wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be a cliché. And I also really REALLY enjoyed bacon. And chicken. Roast chicken, chicken kievs, chicken goujons, chicken and leek pies, chicken and bacon sandwiches. Chicken was the stuff of life. I had grown up with it and it had well, grown me.

But then I did the most cliché thing possible, bored one Sunday afternoon. I watched Vegucated followed by Food Matters on Netflix. Rather than ram vegetarianism down your throat, they breezily tell you the facts, underpinned by real-life people exploring their own relationship with meat.

A couple of things have stayed with me to this day. One being the fact that as humans, we’re not really supposed to eat meat. Our ancient ancestors, after having lived happily as herbivores, took to eating livestock as a means to stay alive during the winter months when plants wouldn’t grow, or – as the population grew – there simply wasn’t enough to go around. Patently, at least in the Western world, we no longer have this problem. Food is abundant. We don’t need to eat meat. 

And secondly, there are the ethics of it all. I don’t consider myself a flag-waving supporter of animals, I wear leather shoes and the odd vintage fur but the way animals are slaughtered for meat is incredibly cruel. Pigs are stunned until they are fitting on the ground, scolded in hot water to remove their hair, and then their limbs are sliced off. It is only at this point that they die. Of course, not all animals are slaughtered in this way but it’s common - the sheer volume that the meat industry must cater to makes it so.

So, since I can’t be sure how each animal has been killed, I’m taking myself out of the equation. I don’t want to be part of that. I can’t justify being part of that, merely to enjoy my two rashers with eggs on a Saturday morning. The fact that the farming industry contributes more harmful gases to the ozone than the global motor industry does was enough to top it off.

It’s been six weeks now and I’m astonished to report that being a vegetarian is EASY. It’s ridiculously easy. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t really want to stop eating meat. It’s easier than it’s ever been. Virtually all restaurants, from the simplest to the fanciest are obliged to offer non-meat options. And crucially, these options are no longer akin to chewing a blade of hay.

Oh, and here’s a disclaimer: I still eat fish (only fish that’s sustainably farmed). Small steps. I know that my six meat-free weeks have only made the tiniest dent in the number of animals that are put down for food but it feels good to be doing my bit.

Cooking is easy too. The trick is to be creative; don’t just eat broccoli and quinoa every night – you’ll go insane. I’m having a illicit liaison with cheese; not your standard cheddar (those farming methods are questionable too) but goats cheese, paneer and halloumi all feature heavily on my weekly dinner plate. And it’s surprising how you can suddenly get your kicks from an exotic, in-season vegetable. Warm green salads of swiss chard, spring greens and artichoke with a little chilli and olive oil is enough to satisfy my palette (a fully-stocked herb cupboard is essential – as is a fervour for experimentation). I haven’t craved meat once. That’s the truth.

The physical effects of a vegetarian diet are only now beginning to manifest themselves. I used to think that it was water that bloated my stomach, distended as it was to the point that if I didn’t suck it in, I’d be in danger of having a seat offered to me on the tube. It’s a bit flatter, and softer now, no longer sturdy with the weight of the stuff I was forcing it liquify. And actually, I realised that I had subconsciously been drifting away from meat for a few years. I could never really stomach huge hunks of steak or juicy burgers, psychologically or er, digestively. And chicken had become more of a treat than a mainstay.

Weirdly, my hair is less oily, I’m not sure if that’s down to my diet, but I can now go a couple of days without washing, which I never have before in my lifetime. My skin is pretty much the same, but I believe that that’s more reliant in drinking water/drinking less wine anyway. And I feel just that bit lighter; walking up the hill towards the office used to be something I cursed, lugging my weary body was a painful reminder of my lack of fitness. But now, I’m one of those people that sprint-walks everywhere. Another cliché, but one I’m happy to keep. 

You might also like; '20 vegetarian dishes you can make in 30 minutes or less'

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