The Accidental Vegetarian

A little over a month ago, I fell very ill after a meal involving red meat and red wine. I didn’t even have what one could deem « too much » of either, but the fact is I got home from a weekend away and spent the entire night saying « Hello » to God on the Big White Telephone in the bathroom. No-one else got sick: not the kids, not the Hubby. Just me.

It only lasted one night but it was enough to knock me for six. I was off work for two days and – rare fact for me – I was too miserable to eat, read, or watch TV in bed. I slept and felt sorry for myself. The doctor didn’t quite know what was up with me and even sent off analyses for salmonella poisoning and such, but nothing. Apparently, it was, as they say in Ireland, « just a bug ».

Fun fact: Since that day, I have been unable to eat meat. Coffee, my dearest brew – black, hot, strong and silent – has tasted like it does when you’re a teenager and you try your first espresso and you wonder why adults can’t function before they have their first hit and actually go to great lengths to get some. Wine (or any alcohol) has tasted like turpentine. 

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME? 

Now, the upside to this acute vegetarianism is that I have lost 3kg in 4 weeks. Jeans fit again that I had only kept in my wardrobe for nostalgic reasons. I can see my feet again. (Just kidding, I actually could see my feet before the food poisoning.) 

Luckily for me, I like vegetables and don’t really see it as a deprivation. I am, however, perplexed. My youngest son looked at me, a little worried, and asked me if I had “caught vegetarian”. Cute.

At home, this is not really a problem. I cook shedloads of veg and just add a roast chicken for the 4 fellas. I can see meat and I can cook it for other people (even if the smell’s a bit of a challenge). I can handle the taste of beef or chicken broth. I just can’t imagine chewing meat again, be that beef, chicken or goat.

At a restaurant, it is infinitely more complicated. The South-West of France is a meat-lover’s paradise. Eating vegetables is something people readily do, but as a side dish to steak. So, when I took the kids for some lunch the other day, I had a look at the menu and didn’t quite know what to do. Out of ten dishes 9 involved meat, so, if I wasn’t fancying the mushroom risotto, basically I was out of luck. (I am not a fan of risotto. To me, it’s one of those dishes that were a cooking fail, but someone decided to brazen it out and say it was the best thing they’d ever tasted. Risotto? Sticky, wet, overcooked rice. The Italian answer to Spain’s leftovers bonanza called paëlla.)

So, what’s a newby vegetarian to do ?

My (lifelong) vegetarian friend Isobel and I have had this conversation a few times. Once, about friends who say « We can’t invite you to our house for dinner because we don’t know what to feed you. » and once in a hotel in Spain where the only vegetarian option, night after night, seemed to be plain pasta, plain pasta with cheese or plain pasta with three zucchini shavings on them. That’s just plain silly.

Rather than the absence of vegetables, on the whole what I have found frustrating is the feeling that I have been eating side salads, starch to go with a meaty main dish, afterthoughts. What is the problem with cooking dishes that make the veg the star of the plate? In Andorra this week, the Hubby ordered a piece of beef the size of our car for himself and the three sons. It was beautifully grilled over a wood fire and served with… half a small baked potato, half a small grilled tomato and a small, burnt, largely decorative artichoke. So, proportionally, the Hubby ate 20 to 30 times the weight of all the vegetables combined in red meat. Hm. 

I had trouble finding anything vegetarian among the main dishes on the menu, and ended up ordering (unseasonal) grilled green asparagus with Roquefort. Now, it was absolutely delicious, but it was – literally – just a plate of asparagus with a grilled topping of blue cheese. So again, rather a side dish or starter type thing than an actual vegetarian dish. Hmmm.

And yet, it’s not rocket science!!! (Get it? Rocket? Lettuce humour.) If you don’t remember my post about cookbooks, the original Ottolenghi book has been a great source of inspiration for my vegetable dishes, and, of course, Erin Gleeson’s Forest Feast. Yum! They know how to make vegetables look sexy! And not a whiff of tofu!

I have had the occasional sardine instead of jamon, the occasional bite of lobster instead of veal cutlets, the small (and not altogether convinced) bite of white fish instead of côte de boeufI found out on Facebook what you call a person who eats vegetables and fish, but no meat: a pescatarian! It definitely does sound contagious.

Now, I don’t know if this will last. Perhaps 2017 will be altogether as omnivorous as 2016, but if I have to accept that I have, indeed, “caught vegetarian”, I guess I will have to roll with it.

Life is full of surprises.

PS: I would love to credit the person who created the wonderful fast food assortment in my cover photo and the person who took the photo, but I was unable to identify either. If you can help me, please comment below. Either way, I doff my hat at their creative genius. 

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