Five Things I’ve Realised By Going Vegetarian

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About a year ago, after many more years of deliberating and cutting down, I decided to go veggie. Except I didn’t. My attempts at changing my eating patterns came just before I went on a ten day cooking holiday to Italy, so that put a dampener on things, and then I was a bit worried about telling friends and being that awkward dinner guest, so I ended up being a veggie who ate meat when other people cooked for her. Oh, and the occasional bit of fish because fish don’t have feelings and because I was doing some research into Vitamin D for work, and became convinced I was deficient.

I properly became a veggie after a week at home over Christmas, which included a day when I managed to eat five different types of pie in one twenty four hour period. Yes, five. Yorkshire is amazing. But, like most people who indulge in things which they don’t normally eat, I felt incredibly unwell and decided It Was Time.

Now, I’m not going to bang on about why I made my choice (see my first point below) – but I have been pondering diet, health and food, particularly as it’s National Vegetarian Week. And so, I present Five Things I’ve Realised By Going Vegetarian.

Nobody Really Cares

It used to be that being a vegetarian was a sign of fussiness, a political statement or an attempt to be interesting – luckily things have moved on since my mum’s 1980s foray into the world of lentils and about 20% of my age bracket are now veggie. I’ve read a couple of articles written by vegetarians who are apparently interrogated about their food choices but I’m happy to say that either my friends have better manners, or they’re just not bothered. Vegan seems to be the new thing. As always, I’m behind the times.

Eating Out Is Boring Now

So boring. It’s pretty much macaroni cheese, mushroom risotto, or a sodding veggie burger. Occasionally a beetroot and goat’s cheese tart. I quite frequently look at the Instagram food pictures of friends in London, Leicester and Manchester with envy. Despite Edinburgh apparently being the vegan capital of the UK (I’m raising my cynical eyebrow) options are usually pretty dull unless you go to one of the vegetarian only restaurants in town.

No, I Don’t Miss Bacon

I’ll admit that I’ve not been asked whether I miss bacon (I’ve never been a massive fan) but it does seem to be trotted out as a standard quip whenever giving up meat is mentioned. The thing I do miss? Oddly, it’s sweets. I have a weakness for chewy sweets, most of which are made with pork gelatine which does sneak its way in to a lot of things. Low fat yoghurts were a particular surprise. For a lot of veggies this isn’t a big deal, but it’s pork in particular which I’m keen to avoid, so thank goodness for M&S and their green eared Percy Pigs.

I’ve Become Obsessed With Protein

When I was a student I’d be chatting to my mum about cooking and she’d frequently ask me about my protein levels. I never really understood what her obsession was… and now that is me. I find myself frequently bemused by vegetarian recipes which have no protein in them, irritated by people who tell me that I’ll be deficient in all sorts of nutrients if I don’t eat meat, and I have recently discovered the joys of almond butter. I don’t know who I am anymore.

Life Becomes An Ethical Minefield

I am one of life’s over thinkers, and therefore this probably won’t surprise anyone, but the more I contemplate the ethics of vegetarianism the more I worry that I’m going to become that woman who only eats bananas. I can see how people become vegan and why buying leather shoes could be hypocritical – but then I also don’t like the idea of oil-based plastics and I’d rather have one high quality pair that will last me two years. Choosing makeup brands which don’t do animal testing is straightforward, so I’ll stick with that. Ultimately I think it’s about picking your battles and my one woman crusade against mushroom risotto is currently absorbing most of my energy.

April in books

“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” – Henry Ward Beecher

April saw me (yet again) ignore blogging… But I did read a bit, so there’s that…

Daphne Du Maurier, Jamaica Inn

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When 23 year old Mary Yellan’s mother dies, she finds herself alone, and travels to Cornwall to live with her Aunt and Uncle at Jamaica Inn. Finding herself in the middle of a smuggling ring, Mary must establish week is telling the truth – and how to stay safe…

I read Rebecca years ago and enjoyed it, so I was intreagued by how different Jamaica Inn was – while the rather Gothic tension was familiar, that was the end of the similarities. Jamaica Inn isn’t the most challenging book I’ve ever read – the plot is surprisingly simple – and at times I found myself wondering why it is so lauded. It’s slow. Nothing much happens until the last few chapters. The “twist” isn’t really that surprising… But it is incredibly atmospheric, something that I find a lot of more modern novels lack. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been curled up next to a log fire with the wind and rain outside, but it was a good pick anyway.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

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Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, shares her advice and wisdom on living creatively in this self help slash biographical tome. Outlining the reasons why people don’t explore their creativity, and encouraging us to ignore the “fear” which stops most of us from exploring our full potential, Gilbert writes frankly about her own experiences to encourage the reader.

I’ve found myself struggling to find my creative mojo recently. In absolutely no way did this book help – if anything, I finished it feeling more frustrated than I did to begin with. While I have no doubt that Gilbert is well intentioned, her never-ending stories about her own success frustrated me and I found it increasingly repetitive. This could be because I listened to it rather than read it, which did tend to emphasise how little she actually says. A one hour TED talk? Yes. A six hour audiobook? No. Ultimately it also failed to address the key reason that a lot of people I know are not “living creatively” – frankly, we’ve not worked out what we are good at yet. If you’re into her books, or think writing is your thing, give it a go. If you’re looking for advice and inspiration? Don’t bother.

Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker

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Myrtle Dunnage shocks the Australian town of Dungatar when she returns from a long absence to look after her mentally ill mother. Why do they all think she is cursed? Why did she leave, all those years ago as a teenager? And how did she become such a skilled seamstresses? Rosalie Ham’s debut novel, set in the 1950s, explores themes of prejudice, love… and fashion.

After seeing trailers for the film version of this book at the beginning of the year, I decided to give the original a go. Myrtle – now known as Tilly – is a fascinating lead character, an outcast who has been wronged by her community, and I enjoyed watching her revenge playing out over the course of the novel. To an extent though she is more of a vessel to tell the story of a town inhabited by individuals who struggle with their own happiness, and despite the slow first third of the book, I found the ekeing out of the stories of the other personalities just as interesting as Tilly’s, if not more so. It’s hard to describe The Dressmaker without giving anything away, but its fair to say that Ham has a knack for drawing a character and I found myself both laughing and crying at different parts. Worth a read, particularly if you didn’t catch the film.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Novel Habits of Happiness

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The tenth novel in McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series sees our philosopher heroine drawn into a mystery of identity – that of a small boy, Harry, who is convinced that he has lived on this earth before and who is unsettling his mother with tales of another family. Isabel’s professional life is also thrown into disarray as she discovers that her unpleasant former colleague may be relocating to Edinburgh…

There’s several reasons I enjoy McCall Smith’s “philosophy” series, and I suspect they are the same reasons that other people don’t. The setting is in many ways the star, which suits me fine but I suspect would put others off as the nuances (such as the significance of where characters live) are likely to be lost unless you know Edinburgh. Similarly, McCall Smith has a tendency to add in smatterings of what I can only assume are his own interests – Auden poetry and ruminations on morality for example – and I do find myself wondering if there is an element of biography in the series. But despite these niggles he writes an excellent character and is one of the only male authors I can think of who can successfully write a woman. One of the reasons that Isobel is such a strong lead character is that she is flawed, particularly in this book, where she finds herself repeatedly ill at ease. In many ways not much happens plot wise, I suspect that it’s largely scene setting for later in the series, but even still McCall Smith offers a gentle but firm reminder to his readers that quite often our assumptions are wrong – and that the adage that we are all fighting our own secret battle is often worth remembering.

Kerry Greenwood, Flying Too High

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In the second of the Phryne Fisher mystery series, we discover that our daring investigator is not only clever and beautiful – she’s also an excellent pilot! After a rather daring day at an airfield, Phryne is asked to investigate two different mysteries. The first – the murder of an unpleasant businessman whose son is protesting his innocence despite being charged. The second – the kidnapping of a young girl just weeks after her father wins the lottery. Can Miss Fisher save the day?

After enjoying the first in this series last month, I thought I’d keep going and give the second a try. In many ways I enjoyed it more than the first as we get to know not only Miss Fisher a little better, but her growing band of sidekicks too. The novel itself is pretty short but captures the essence of the 1920s incredibly well, particularly the controversial nature of women’s roles in society. While it would be easy to write off the series as daft, frankly I’d rather call it entertaining fun – and we all need a light-hearted read now and then. I’m looking forward to the next already.