My Meat-Free Journey

As of Easter Sunday morning, I completed my meat-free Lenten promise. There were a lot of lessons to learn during this time period;

Lesson 1: Always read the menu properly

I was just into Day 4 of my new meat-free lifestyle when I was eating out in a restaurant for lunch, and I ordered the Poutine. Poutine is a classic Canadian dish which contains fries, cheese curds and gravy. I love Poutine, it’s always the first thing I want to eat as soon as I get to Canada, so when I see it on a menu I usually order it. So, after seeing Poutine on the lunch menu on this particular day, I immediately ordered it without looking into the ingredients. As I awaited my lunch, filled with excitement, my sister pointed out that gravy isn’t usually vegetarian and I felt so disappointed in myself for not even thinking about that. A few minutes later my meal arrived and I was already feeling like a total failure, when they placed a plate in front of me that was filled with Beef. If I had have paid any attention to the ingredient list, I would have seen that I ordered a Brisket Beef Poutine. So as I sat there, embarrassed and disappointed with my myself, my sister named me “The Worst Vegetarian in the World”. I didn’t eat any of the meat and I definitely didn’t let it go to waste, my friends ate it instead. I felt like a total idiot, but at least it taught me to be more thorough when ordering food. FYI, this is now my sisters favourite story to tell people.

Lesson 2: Lent isn’t only 40 days

I guess I just always thought that Lent was 40 days because it reflects upon the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the wilderness. But apparently the time period of Lent isn’t always the same every year. This year it was 46 days and I was happy to keep up my Lenten promise for a little longer.

Lesson 3: Use supplements

One thing I realised after the first few weeks is that I wasn’t using enough supplements as my energy levels were getting pretty low. I guess the biggest difference with taking meat out of your diet will be Protein and Iron levels. So, I made sure my meals and snacks included Iron rich foods like; Spinach, peas, chickpeas, beans (kidney, black, baked), nuts, lentils, avocado, broccoli, tomatoes and Tofu. I also started using protein powder in smoothies and I noticed an immediate difference to my energy levels.

Lesson 4: Come up with exciting recipes

My first experience with Tofu wasn’t great, it was very bland and soggy. Overtime, I figured out how to season it and cook it better and that I definitely preferred the Extra Firm Tofu. One time I battered it and fried it and it was really tasty, I made my sister taste it and she compared it to a chicken nugget which I was pretty happy about. It’s like an international thing that when something is compared to tasting like chicken it gets the seal of approval. I started making really interesting dishes to stop my taste buds from getting too bored. Zucchini fries, fried Tofu and plant-based mince and salads really got me through it all without craving meat at all. I was pretty luck that restaurants in Calgary are very accommodating to vegetarian diets, so I usually had a lot of options when eating out. I had numerous veggie burgers, tofu dishes, Portobello mushrooms and avocado tacos.

Lesson 5: Plant-Based Burgers are amazing

Honestly, this transition was made so much easier with the help of A&W. A&W is a fast-food outlet found across Canada which is famed for its delicious burgers. I am a fast-food junkie, I LOVE burgers and fries, so when A&W launched their Beyond Meat menu, I was over the moon. I would happily say that their Beyond Meat burger is probably the nicest burgers that I have ever eaten. I will happily pick that burger over the beef burgers from now on. They also provide a Beyond Meat breakfast bap that contains a sausage equivalent that I have yet to try. It is inspiring to see such a large company taking action and providing meat-free equivalents.

The first meat I ate was some bacon with my breakfast on Easter Sunday and yes, it was tasty but honestly I would have still been happy with the meal if it wasn’t there. I really enjoyed the vegetarian life-style and I hope to continue along this path but I think my more realistic goal is to have a 6:1 diet. I will follow a vegetarian diet as much as possible but still allowing myself to eat meat if I really crave it or for special occasions. I would recommend people to really try it out, even one or two days a week, it is definitely the better environmental and economic lifestyle choice and is not very difficult to follow.

My 2019 Lenten Promise

I am pledging to stick to a Meat-Free Lent this year.

For anyone who doesn’t know what Lent is, it is a Christian practice of sacrifice for 40 days before Easter. It was used to reflect on the time that Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness and so people would fast during this time. In modern times, most Christians only practice fasting on the first and last days of Lent known as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. During Lent, it is widely accepted to sacrifice something rather than fast. For example, someone may choose to sacrifice alcohol, fizzy drinks, take-aways or crisps during the 40 days.

Growing up in Northern Ireland, most people took Lent very seriously and would not eat meat on either Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. I worked in a local fish and chip shop and these two days were hands down, our busiest days of the year. Customers would line up, out the door and down the street to get their hands on fish and chips on these days but then would go straight back to their normal diets the next day. This always seemed so strange to me, that everyone struggled so much to go meat free for just two days of the year.

Now, to be totally honest, I was never very good at keeping my Lenten promises. I would last the first week or two and then break it, I always remember my friend being so determined and vigilant with her Lenten promise and I was always jealous of her will-power. As I struggled with sacrificing some of my favourite things, I decided to do things instead of taking them away. Some people would do good acts for the 40 days and I always loved that idea. Some years I would pledge to be healthier, cut out fizzy drinks and drink more water and one year I gave money to charity every day.

This year I would like to go completely meat free. I have been changing my diet a lot lately and vegetarian meals have been a big part of that. I have been cutting meat and fish out of my diet a couple days a week and I have honestly enjoyed this transition. I have chosen vegetarian options when eating out and I have been surprised at how tasty they can be. Although I enjoy trying to be occasionally vegetarian, I doubt that I will have the will-power to make this a permanent change. I love food, every kind of food and restricting my diet will always be difficult but I want to give it a try.