Thursday, 29 April 2010

A Meat-Free Nation - Is It Right & Healthy For Us All?

Everywhere you go the message is loud and clear - global environmental concerns are escalating and actions are required to safeguard the future. This has led to some proclaiming that the world would be in a better position if everyone converted to vegetarianism. That might be so, but it might not be the best decision for the people in it. As a veggie of many years standing, I'm well aware of the positive health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle and the research supporting this, but that doesn't make it right for everyone. Some people just don't thrive on a veggie diet no matter how hard they try or how committed they want to be. For them alternative proteins do not cut the mustard to pardon the pun. Perhaps our individual biochemistry determines this, or perhaps those who are looking for change are trying to run before they can walk.

Making the choice to go veggie doesn't happen overnight. It's not like the film “Big” where you suddenly wake up one morning as a fully committed vegetarian. It can be a difficult and conflict-ridden transition, much like puberty to adulthood. I should know – I've been there. Vegetarianism quite simply crept up on me. Brought up on the traditional Sunday roast and meat, poultry, or fish at every meal with little fruit and veg, it came as a huge surprise to myself and my family and friends. The process from one to the other was so gradual that even now I debate what triggered my decision. At the time, BSE was hitting the headlines, which to a young and stubborn teen was possibly like a red rag to a bull. I looked at and tasted meat differently. Red meat was the first to go, followed by poultry, and then fish when I could no longer stand the texture. For a fussy veg and fruit eater, it was a huge educational undertaking and there were blips along the way. Foreign holidays and meals out became battlegrounds for tense family arguments and I was constantly offered ham sandwiches by elderly relations. It's not a journey for the fainthearted or for those unwilling to re-educate their palate. If anyone tells you that there's no such thing as an unhealthy or overweight vegetarian, they're lying. Vegetarians are just as susceptible to these conditions as the next person if the right dietary choices aren't made.

Personally, I haven't looked back. The decision changed me as a person and I feel all the more healthier in mind and body for it. By all means, try being veggie for yourself, easing into it gradually, and not beating yourself up if you fall at the first hurdle. Vegetarianism is a mental discipline, as well as a food regime, that just may not be compatible to your lifestyle. As a veggie, I feel we need to respect that, but perhaps I'm more tolerant of that choice than others. What concerns me more is our attitude towards food in general. Seen as a commodity and basic human right, man has, on the whole, become divorced from nature. Driven by gluttony and more used to seeing food in packets or wrapped in cling film on supermarket shelves, we've lost our understanding of the food chain and where we fit into it. The conservative approach i.e. compulsory food education and a reduction in meat consumption may be one solution that can make a difference. Global vegetarianism is not a vision that can be enforced, but if we're not careful, it may soon be the last option left.