A year ago, the idea of not eating any meat would have filled me with dread. I used to love having a nice medium rare steak from time to time, didn’t consider my meal complete without some chicken or fish, and assumed that as soon as I eliminated this from my diet I would lose all my muscle and get really ill.
But as Clay and I embarked on our big trip, a few things happened that slowly changed my mind.
It started when we went to South East Asia. In general, Asian food tends to be pretty meat based, although all the touristy places have caught onto the idea that foreigners like vegetarian options and adjusted their menus accordingly.
When we first arrived, we ate everything. All the glorious curries, pad Thais and spring rolls, all the meat, chicken and fish we could get our hands on.
But then we went to a few less touristy food markets, and seeing how the meat is treated made us feel a little bit sick.
Right next to the stalls with fresh vegetables stand the metal tables laden with raw meat, with all the parts and trimmings out in the open (including, at one market, a full pig’s head). In the 30 degree heat, there are no cooling facilities for the meat, it just sits outside all day. A bored looking lady swats the flies away from time to time, usually only when someone is looking her way. Even if this meat gets fried until all the germs are dead, the thought of putting that in my body is a bit repulsive.
But the animals that have already been killed and butchered aren’t the worst; for us, the image we can’t get out of our heads was from a stall selling frogs for cooking. To keep them fresh, the frogs were kept alive, but a skewer was stabbed through their legs so they couldn’t run away, five or six frogs impaled on one skewer at a time. It was truly gut-wrenching.
At the same time, we met a few fellow climbing couples in Thailand who happened to be vegetarians. We spent a lot of time discussing food and eating habits, and it was clear they had no less energy than us and their climbing ability was not affected negatively by their diets.
Since then, we have been paying more attention to the diets of fellow climbing bums, and the majority are either vegetarian or vegan. It has got to a point where, if we meet new people who are also travelling around in a van and they happen to mention buying meat for dinner, it sounds extremely unusual. Is it our community that has changed, this sort of lifestyle naturally attracting the more hippie types, or is the world slowly changing?
When we briefly came back home after Asia, the nail on the coffin of our meat-eating days was the realization that if we wanted to extend our holiday, we simply could not afford to buy meat, or fish for that matter. Not the organic variety anyway, and not regularly.
But having seen enough documentaries and other evidence suggesting eating red meat may not be the healthies dietary choice, and most certainly not the most environmentally friendly, the decision in the end was simple. We were making the move to a vegetarian diet. It would be far more affordable and we could still have plenty of really tasty meals with all the right nutrients.
And the surprising thing is, it hasn’t been hard at all. Once or twice a month, we still allow ourselves the luxury of having a little meat or fish. I suppose the real term for the way we choose to eat is ‘convenientarian’ – that very millennial label. I’m not one for sticking to any diets 100% in the long run, and in my personal opinion that is the healthiest way to eat. The point is, the shift in my mindset has been monumental.
In some countries and situations it is harder to avoid meat than in others – for example, we are currently in New Zealand (a post on this coming up!), which is very meat heavy. I want to try the local food, especially the famous NZ pies, but these are mostly made with meat. For me, it is about minimising the amount of meat I consume and making the effort to make the most sustainable choices.
The next frontier for me is cheese…which quickly replaced much of the meat and fish I used to eat. I don’t believe for a second it is a healthy choice, but it’s what you crave after a day of scaling rocks (and in the colder months, freezing your ass off while doing this!) I’m not quite ready to give up parmesan on my pasta, but I am making an effort to reduce the amount I eat and replace cheese with other alternatives, such as yeast flakes.
I’m enjoying discovering these alternatives though, and sometimes I find I like them more than the original – maybe not in the case of cheese, but I love a veggie burger now!