Each month I attempt a different challenge with a green theme. OK, so January's challenge is still languishing my drafts folder waiting to be resurrected when I have a little more head-space to both do and write about it properly. But I shocked myself by starting February's challenge on time! This month I'm having a meat-free February. And Martin's (mostly) joining in too!!
It's no secret that eating loads of meat isn't great for the environment. Do the Green Thing's stat 'one meat eater on a bicycle makes more CO2 than a Hummer' sums it up nicely I think. And, although the jury's still out on the intricacies of the whole meat-gives-you-cancer thing, we know that eating less meat and more veg is a good thing for our health. Two great reasons to give this challenge a go.
Friends might think this is a pretty lame challenge for someone who was vegetarian for 17 years (possibly a few don't even realise I eat meat now). There's a bit of a back-story!
I started eating meat a couple of years ago when I felt like I was running in circles preparing different meals for everyone in the house. I was also worried about sending confusing signals to little M. We don't always eat together because of our working hours but we try to eat the same or similar foods when we can. I felt opting for a 'special' separate (vegetarian) meal was going to send the wrong signals. When I started eating meat the idea was that, overall, the family meat consumption would stay broadly similar. I'd join in meaty meals once or twice a week and we'd all share vegetarian food for the rest of the week. This hasn't really worked - Martin, an enthusiastic carnivore, denies all knowledge of the arrangement - and our meat consumption has gradually crept up.
I've had a lot of stick from Martin over the years for my vegetarianism, it nudged me towards eating meat, and it has made me retisant to serve up as much vegetarian food as I'd like. We're both big fans of all things River Cottage. I'll admit to getting in a fairly big huff when Martin gave 'His Hughness' great respect for taking on a meat-free challenge. Bit of a double standard! So, when we were watching a River Cottage programme a few weeks ago and I casually asked "Fancy doing a meat-free February?" I almost fell off my chair when he said "Yeah, why not".
Being vegetarian won't be a massive challenge for me this month. But taking Martin along too? And upping our game when it comes to vegetarian food, discovering some new family favourites and falling back in love with our veg. That's going to take a bit more doing. If we survive the month with gritted teeth and dive desperately into a bacon sandwich the minute March arrives - I'll consider this challenge a failure!
How has it been going?
Pretty good so far. I've been mining my River Cottage Veg Everyday book for tasty treats. Hugh's mission with this book is to get people eating more veg by temptation - he certainly does that! Everyone should own this book. I've been delving into a few neglected old favourites too and cooking up lots of lovely soup.
Highlights of the last couple of weeks have been last night's aubergine and green bean curry, a sumptuous fennel and squash lasagne, and the tomato and pearl barley risotto with marinated feta that impressed one (non-vegetarian) friend so much she has requested it for Valentines dinner from her boyfriend.
Some homemade pesto was a surprise hit. I tend to put pesto in the same category as salad dressing - not really something to make a meal of. But homemade pesto is a revelation! I thought I'd have moaning from Martin that pasta, pesto and some roasted veg was lacking a meat-substitute but he raved about it.
I got another surprise when out for a pub lunch on Sunday - they served up the best nut roast dinner I've ever had! I take back all my previous harsh words for vegetarian roast dinners in pubs. It even topped my own nut roast which we all shared the previous Sunday. Martin did cave in and go for a meat roast - his first in almost two weeks - and little M had chicken (we haven't dared rock the boat by turning the kids veggie too, except for shared family meals will all be veggie). I almost picked at little M's virtually untouched chicken - a bad habit I need to kick. But I hate seeing wasted food, especially meat so I stashed the chicken to take home and make into a stew to mash up for little L.
It has amused me that we're being meat-free whilst all around us retailers and brands are scrabbling to defend their reputations from the horsemeat scandal that's currently in full swing. Opportunistic Quorn adverts have popped up. In a lentils versus pretend-meat (like Quorn) toss-up we're both agreed that lentils would win. I feel a batch of dal coming on. Perhaps a lovely thali meal with some leftover aubergine curry and a few trimmings.
I think we'll make it through the month (mostly) meat-free. How will we feel at the end of the month? I think the jury's still out on whether this month will have a a major effect on our future eating habits. I've been putting a bit more effort into planning and preparing food than usual and reaping the rewards but I'm not sure I'd keep this level of effort up indefinitely! Check back in two weeks to find out. And if you're lucky I might find time to post a recipe or two if I venture from the safety of my beloved cook books.
Would you find a meat-free month a doddle? Got any favourite veggie recipes we should try?
Disclaimer: Any slight Martin bashing in this post is purely there to show that he, like most other people, is quite partial to tucking into a nice slab of meat...not an enthusiastic tofu muncher. Credit for taking part is due:-)