As I type, I am dreaming of a juicy hunk of steak, barely cooked and savagely scrumptious. When this gory reverie is over, I am instantly distracted by a craving for prawns: little pink bursts of sweetness nestled between lettuce leaves or stirred into spaghetti.
But, unfortunately, all this pining is useless. Vegetarianism. I have resolved to stick to a vegetarian diet for a month… and meat, in all its guilt-ridden deliciousness, has been banished from my life.
I’ve always been somewhat conflicted when it comes to eating meat. There have been times (usually at about three o’clock in the morning on one of those ill-advised nights where you decide to think rather than sleep) where the whole idea of consuming flesh has filled me with an abject horror. But then on other occasions, ravenous and keen to try new things, I’ve happily thrown down raw beef with lupine abandon. I’m squeamish about offal, in fact the thought of consuming liver is enough to make my stomach up and leave me for another woman, but completely unperturbed by roasting lamb, or stewing rabbit. They may be heart meltingly cute but not even the childhood trauma of watching Watership Down has failed to sharpen my compassion enough to eclipse the knowledge that they are also supremely tasty. Finding out that pigs are regarded to have the equivalent intelligence of a 3 year old child was enough to give me a wobble, (http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/hidden-lives-pigs.aspx) but in the age old battle between a vague sense of unease at the thought of eating sentient creatures, and the nose twitching succulence of bacon, I’m afraid bacon has won out.
The hedonistic pleasure I take in ripping the leg off a tender roast chicken or pulling the heads off prawns before feasting means that, 4 days in, I approached giving up meat like someone going in for a month of ascetic self denial. I’ve grumpily made various types of uninspiring cheese sandwich and one very unsuccessful butternut squash curry (thinking all the time about the deep, dark chilli con carne I cooked the week before (I follow the Heston Blumenthal recipe ) or the decadent fish stew I spent too much money putting together the night before starting the diet. My boyfriend has started looking at me with nervous eyes, wondering how much more I can stand before I take a bite out of him, whilst I bitterly contemplate how the vastly underrated film Troll 2 so accurately and perceptively represented the inherent evils of vegetarianism.
This is all idiocy, of course. What, in the end, spurred on my decision to do this was the fact that meat or fish is the key ingredient in everything I cook: which every other ingredient revolves around. I eat it on pizzas, in sandwiches and have enough bacon in my breakfasts every week to make Gillian McKeith faint into her own fatless self-righteousness. It is ridiculous to have meat in nearly every meal, and with the environmental concerns enough to put wrinkles on the most botoxed forehead, it is also completely unsustainable. This new diet is something to be embraced as an opportunity to try new things; it will hopefully force me to be more creative with my cooking and open my eyes to different, tasty options. With the River Cottage, Veg Everyday cookbook (which I made my boyfriend thoughtfully buy for me as a Valentines Day present) on its way I am feeling much more hopeful about the next month, and much less likely to carry on throwing my toys out of the pram. And anyway, having just finished reading Lord Of The Flies where bloodlust and hunger for roast pork (which I must not think to deeply about as I ponder my dinner-time salad) seems to be the key to a savage Land of Mad, I’m thinking that perhaps existing on lovely leafy things is maybe just a more civilised thing to do.
words Holly Emma Ashby, Illustrations: Liz Connolly