Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 16 News List

Here's the beef... on giving up meat

Staff reporter Noah Buchan, a committed carnivore, turned over a new leaf to mark International Vegetarian Week. How hard could it be?

When it comes to turning vegetarian, there's no gain without a smidgen of pain.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Day three and I’m feeling like part of a Pavlov experiment. Early in the afternoon, which is the time I usually have a snack, like a bowl of beef noodles or chicken leg with rice, the stomach pains begin — gnawing, dull throbs. Then the uncontrollable drooling at the mere thought of meat.

People choose to quit eating meat in all its varied manifestations for many reasons: religion, culture, ethics, politics, health. My editor assigned me the task for International Vegetarian Week, which ran from May 19 to May 25.

“Seven days? Big deal,” a friend says. This is especially true as the experiment is finite: after seven days there’s no obligation for me to continue eating a strictly vegetarian diet.

I don’t really see the challenge so much as becoming a vegetarian as I do quitting meat, an important distinction because this perspective implies leaving behind negative behavior rather than instilling positive habits.

Even though rainforests are being cut down to plant corn and maze to feed (rather than graze) the many animals that are then slaughtered, often using horrific methods, so that I have something to accompany my French fries, health is as good a reason as any to switch to a vegetarian diet.

“Who wants to think about that? I just want to eat my steak,” another friend says, neatly highlighting an important aspect of becoming a vegetarian: awareness. Success requires an awareness of what goes into your food, what to avoid and the repercussions of eating meat, which stretch far beyond the dinner table.

THE JOURNAL

Day 1 (Monday): Jumped into vegetarianism with gusto, which included spending considerable time in natural food stores purchasing organic tortillas and mixed grains, stocking the fridge full of roughage and trawling the Net for recipes.

After browsing meal options such as insanely easy vegetarian chili or vegetarian lasagna I realize I can eat exactly what I was eating before today, just by simply subtracting the meat.

I also noticed, however, some more creative ideas such as baked eggplant with goat’s cheese and cream and miso broth with silken tofu and Asian greens (both of which can be found at www.taste.com.au/recipes/collections/vegetarian). I hadn’t thought of this before, but in terms of taste, switching to a vegetarian diet might not be so bad after all.

Day 2 (Tuesday): As I’ve made shedding a few kilograms part of eating a vegetarian diet, I’m becoming increasingly conscious of what is put in food. Today was lunch at one of those ubiquitous Buddhist vegetarian buffets that are a mainstay of Taipei’s restaurant scene.

Vegetarian they may be, but don’t expect to lose much weight or eat your way to health because these cafeteria-style eateries replace the meat with generous drizzles of oil, sprinklings of salt and lashings of ersatz mayonnaise. Still, quite tasty and filling.

Day 3 (Wednesday): “Just eat more often,” an acquaintance quipped in response to my incessant whining about hunger pains. “That’s what I do.”

Becoming a vegetarian involved listening to advice, often self-evident and therefore quite annoying, from well-intentioned although sometimes self-righteous friends. However, listen I did and spent considerable time today chopping up fresh carrot, cucumber and a variety of fruit for snacks, which makes suppressing hunger pains more convenient.

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