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Going Vegetarian


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Going vegetarian

Why Become Vegetarian?

There are as many reasons for becoming vegetarian as there are vegetarians; it's a highly personal and individual decision to make. But in a survey conducted on behalf of The Vegetarian Society the majority of people said that they gave up meat and fish because they did not morally approve of killing animals, or because they objected to the ways in which animals are kept, treated and killed for food.

With the growing awareness of the importance of healthy food, many people are also becoming vegetarian because it matches the kind of low fat, high fibre diet recommended by dieticians and doctors. Concern about the environment is another factor as people become more aware of the effect raising animals for their meat is having on the environment. Or you may be concerned about wasting world food resources by using land to raise animals for meat instead of growing crops that can feed more people directly.

See the Information Sheet on Statistics for further details of surveys.

Common Questions about Vegetarianism

Use these answers to some of the most common questions asked about vegetarianism to put at rest your own mind, or to respond to any queries from meat-eating friends.

What is a Vegetarian?

A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat, fish, poultry or any slaughterhouse by-product such as gelatine. Vegetarians live on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit, with or without free-range eggs, milk and milk products. Vegetarians not eating anything containing dairy products or eggs are called vegans.

See the Information Sheet on Definitions for further details.

Isn't it hard being a vegetarian?

Not at all. Vegetarian food is widely available in shops and restaurants, it's easy to cook and you're probably already eating many vegetarian meals such as beans on toast or jacket potato and cheese without even putting your mind to it. It's no sacrifice to give up meat when there are so many delicious recipes and so many tasty foods to experiment with. Plus you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you're eating a healthy diet that doesn't involve the killing of animals or the abuse of the world's resources.

Where will I buy all this new food for my vegetarian diet?

Exactly the same place you used to buy food - in markets, supermarkets, corner shops. Vegetarian food, both in its 'raw state' as grains, pulses and vegetables, and as pre-cooked meals, is widely available nowadays.

What do I say to my family/friends?

Don't get caught up in arguments, just gather all the information about vegetarianism so you can calmly explain your decision. Then try introducing them to some of the delicious meat-free meals you're enjoying and see if you can win them over by setting a good example.

Aren't vegetarians being hypocritical because they still wear leather or exploit cows for their milk?

There is a very valid argument for becoming vegan - for giving up all dairy products, eggs and any other animal by-products. But realistically speaking, few people can go from being a meat eater to a vegan overnight. Vegetarianism is a very important halfway house. And even if you never go on to being vegan, you've already made an impact and saved the lives of many animals simply by giving up meat. Far from being hypocritical, you're making an effort to change the way you live for the better. How far you go with vegetarianism is up to you, but however small the step you take, it's not wasted. And don't feel that you have to become a perfect vegetarian overnight. If you forget to check the ingredients list and realise that you've just eaten something containing gelatine, don't feel that you've failed. Take it one step at a time and enjoy learning more about the vegetarian lifestyle. The important thing is that you're doing something!

See also the Information Sheet on Clothing

Aren't all vegetarians pale and unhealthy?

This old stereotype has taken a long time to die out. In fact, people who follow a varied, well-balanced vegetarian diet are in line with the current nutritional recommendations for a low fat, high fibre diet. That's why medical studies are proving that vegetarians are less likely to suffer from such illnesses as heart disease, cancer, diet-related diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. So, if for no other reason, go vegetarian as a favour to your body!

See also the Health and Nutrition Index.

What happens if I have to try to get a vegetarian meal in a restaurant?

There are very few restaurants now that don't offer at least one vegetarian option. Vegetarianism is such a growing movement, restaurateurs can't afford to ignore it. In the unlikely event that a restaurant doesn't have anything for you, don't be put fobbed off, especially with the offer of a fish or chicken dish which are 'practically vegetarian' - they're not!! Simply ask politely if they can make something specially for you. if they can't be bothered, why give them the benefit of your custom when there are plenty of other places all too willing to help.

See Eating Out Index for restaurants in your area.

Isn't vegetarian food boring?

Vegetarians don't eke out a miserable existence on a few limp lettuce leaves and some boiled rice. And a proper vegetarian meal doesn't mean taking the meat away and leaving the side vegetables. With the hundreds of different vegetables, grains, fruit, pulses and nuts and seeds that exist, you could live to be 100 without exhausting all the possibilities for imaginative, nutritious meals! And as vegetarian food tends to be cheaper than a meat-based diet, you can afford to treat yourself to more expensive delicacies such as asparagus.

See the Recipes Index for ideas.

Won't it take a long time to prepare the food?

Just because there are so many wonderful vegetarian dishes to try, doesn't mean you have to become an expert cook and spend hours in the kitchen. You can easily cook good, wholesome vegetarian meals in under half an hour, and don't forget that most manufacturers now also offer a wide range of ready-made vegetarian dishes.

See Books and for some quick and easy recipes - Meat-free made easy

But how will I get enough of the vital nutrients such as iron and protein?

A well-balanced vegetarian diet provides all the nutrients you need for good health. In the case of protein, it's not only found in meat. It's also present in adequate quantities in dairy products, eggs and nuts, as well as in combinations of foods such as pulses and grains. In fact it would be very difficult to design a vegetarian diet that doesn't include enough protein.

See also the Health and Nutrition Index for further details.

Useful Tips on Going and Staying Vegetarian

Treat yourself to a vegetarian cookbook for inspiration and advice. There are a wide range covering recipes for beginners, advanced cooks, slimmers, diabetics. Most also give dietary advice. (If you buy your books using our link to Amazon, the Society will benefit from your support).

Find our more about the subject. Our New Veggies Start Here section has information on all subjects relating to vegetarianism from the ethical issues to the practical day-to-day details, as well as being able to answer any other questions you might have.

Start gradually. Adapt familiar meals such as lasagne and shepherd's pie by using textured vegetable protein. Although fully vegetarian, it has the look, taste and texture of mince or meat chunks, according to which variety you buy. It is available from health food stores. If you don't buy the flavoured variety, be aware that you need to add seasoning of some kind or it will remain bland and uninteresting.

Buy vegetarian cheese. It's not an unfamiliar product as cheese is probably already on your shopping list. But whereas some cheeses are made with an ingredient from the stomachs of slaughtered calves, vegetarian cheese uses vegetable-derived rennet. Every supermarket now stocks at least one kind of vegetarian cheese, and many of the more unusual varieties such as Stilton and Brie are also now available in vegetarian versions.

Buy free-range eggs. Again, eggs are another staple ingredient in many people's diets so it won't take much effort to pick up the free-range variety instead of the Battery Produced.

Read the labels. Although you may get the odd shock when you realise that a food product that seems vegetarian in fact contains something such as gelatine or animal fat, there are plenty of others you'd be surprised and pleased to find out are suitable for you.

Look for The Vegetarian Society's Seedling Symbol on food products. It tells you at a glance that the product is suitable for vegetarians.

Pulses. Forget the dried variety if you find them difficult to prepare - go for the tinned variety of kidney beans, chick peas, etc.

Adapt familiar dishes. If you're the only vegetarian in your family and it's too difficult or expensive to cook totally separate meals, adapt a meat dish. A casserole, for instance, can be made with beans and vegetables in one pan. Then the meat can be cooked separately and given just to the meat eaters. Or use soya mince and see if anyone notices the difference.

Don't be put off by unfamiliar foods. Tofu, for instance, is a boon to vegetarians, especially new ones. This by-product of soya beans is incredibly versatile and easy to use. And if you use the plain variety, don't think that you've done something wrong when it appears tasteless in the finished recipe - it's meant to absorb the flavour of other ingredients. Or you can buy the smoked or marinated versions. (See Tofu recipes)

Explore health food stores. They'll have vegetarian products you haven't seen before, and the assistants will be able to answer your questions about products suitable for your new lifestyle.

If you are in the UK, see The Shopping Hub Page for local shops, restaurants etc.

What You Should Eat Every Day on a Vegetarian Diet.
  • 3 or 4 servings of cereals/grains or potatoes
  • 4 or 5 servings of fruit and vegetables
  • 2 or 3 servings of pulses, nuts & seeds
  • 2 servings of milk, cheese, eggs or soya products
  • A small amount of vegetable oil and margarine or butter.
  • Some yeast extract such as Marmite, fortified with vitamin B12.
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