I’ve been a vegetarian since my ‘Veggie Time’ post which I wrote on May 12th, which I make to be about three months of happy meat free munching! For five weeks of this I was travelling around Eastern Europe, which I thought would pose a challenge as the traditional dishes in many of these countries are predominantly meat based. Though I did miss out on the odd ćevapi in the Balkans and the Berlin bratwursts, I made it through and to be honest, I didn’t really struggle at all. I didn’t feel like I was denying myself great tasting food in favour of unsatisfying vegetarian options as the traditional vegetarian meals that we did try were delicious, and I always kept the reasons for cutting meat out of my diet in the back of my mind. As we were travelling on a tight budget, the veggie options were also always the cheapest which was a nice added benefit. What was more difficult was finding out what options were actually meat-free as some of the places that we were eating didn’t provide an English menu- a problem easily solved by asking the waiter!
While we were travelling, I noticed that there were two common reactions that people had on finding out that I was a vegetarian. I thought I’d answer these here, as well as give more of an insight into what veggie life has been like for me so far.
1.But where do you get your protein from?
This has been the single most common question that I have been asked upon telling people that I don’t eat meat. It is certainly understandable why people believe meat is the only decent source of protein, as this is what the meat industry has been so keen to shove down our throats (excuse the pun) ever since the mass production of meat took off some sixty years ago. The short answer here is no, meat is not our only source of protein, nor our best or healthiest source.
Grains, beans, nuts and vegetables all contain the protein that we need to be fit and healthy. Some examples of these are lentils, bean products like falafel, hummus etc, soy meats, and all of your veggies. Simply put, the main difference between ‘animal protein’ and ‘plant protein’ is that the animal protein is ‘complete’, as in the amino acids that make protein have already formed to build up the flesh and muscles of the animal. In plant protein the amino acids are present but incomplete, meaning that eating a combination of these plant based products will provide plenty of the essential amino acids that your body needs to form protein itself.
The benefit of eating plant based products is that the protein that you are consuming is not laced with saturated fat or the remnants of chemicals and antibiotics pumped into the animals to keep them alive!
Another point to make is that due to the sheer amount of meat that people are eating nowadays (for many, meat is the base of all three meals a day), we are consuming up to five times more protein than the body can consume anyway. This excess protein is digested and metabolized as nitrogen, and a large amount of it can put an added strain on your kidneys. Coupled with the pesticides and industrial chemicals found in our meat, this is not a particularly happy combination. People also seem to forget that often, they don’t know what they’re eating. When your beef burger contains only 40% meat, it gets quite hard to justify its health benefits and overall necessity.
The idea that meat is the only sufficient source of protein to keep our bodies strong, or indeed the only source of protein at all, is a myth propelled and exacerbated by a very profitable meat industry. It only takes some common sense to dispel it: have a look at a gorilla, an animal with DNA 96% identical to ours. Gorillas are vegetarians, and yet their incredible size and strength doesn’t really point to protein deficiency. Our need for meat was left at the supermarket doors, where every possible alternative food to keep us plodding along can be found stacked to the brim.
One friend said to me that it was impossible to be hench without eating meat. My response to that is here.
Whilst interrailing, though we spent all of our days walking to explore the cities and enjoying the occasional hike, I didn’t feel particularly tired or weak at any point of the trip. I’ve returned home feeling healthier and fitter, and I definitely managed to build up the muscles in my legs without the need for a hearty steak. I hope this has shed a little bit of light over the misconceptions surrounding protein!
2. I could never give up meat, it just tastes so good!
This comment followed most of the conversations I had with people about vegetarianism, and granted, it’s a good point. Fortunately, the growing popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets has led to the production of more and more meat substitutes that mimic the texture and taste of all different types of meat. These are easily found in supermarkets, and often are a cheaper alternative to real meat. Though it may be hard to believe, it is also possible to eat delicious and satisfying meals containing no meat at all! In Budapest we ate a magnificent aubergine stuffed with rice and grilled cheese, and every pizzeria that we went to served a vegetarian pizza that wasn’t just a margherita. We found vegetarian cafes in most of the cities that we visited, often in the more alternative, cooler parts of the city such as Berlin’s Urban Spree, where we found the city’s first vegan market in an abandoned train depot, surrounded by amazing street art and cool bars.
Though it may seem like a massive and overwhelming change, cutting meat out of my diet hasn’t really seemed like a big deal at all, simply because there are so many other options. I’ve also enjoyed talking to people about it, as it seems to be something a lot of people haven’t really thought about before. If I can do it travelling around Eastern Europe, you can certainly try it at home! I challenge you to incorporate some vegetarian meals into your day to day routine, it is healthy and super easy to do, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and the planet will be very grateful.
Thank you and happy munching,