This morning I have been menu planning for the next week. It sounds very efficient doesn’t it? I struggle with being this organised. It really goes against the grain for me, but I have to grudgingly admit that sitting down for half an hour a week, planning out our main meals and making sure I (mostly) have all the ingredients I need, actually takes a large amount of the stress out of the rest of my week, at least as far as meal times go, which is definitely a win.
We eat a lot of meat in this house. Nearly every day there is meat on the menu. This is because my husband, and most of the time the children, do not feel a meal is a true meal unless there is meat in it.
It is not that I don’t like meat, by the way. I do, despite people regularly asking me if I am a vegetarian, because I look like a vegetarian. When I ask them what a vegetarian looks like they say: ‘Oh, you know. Pale. And a bit ill looking.’ Which is a great compliment both to me, and vegetarians.
It is just that meat is a) bloody expensive and b) there are trillions of interesting vegetarian recipes that I would be more than happy to eat as a main meal were it not for those pesky kids/husband. Left to my own devices I would probably eat meat once or twice a week at most.
I have reached a workable compromise where I throw in a few vegetarian dishes on a regular basis, but serve them with some kind of meat for those that want it. I’ve found it’s a brilliant way of introducing the rest of my family to new dishes and tastes without them panicking about the lack of meat and equating it with the fact that they will hate this new dish because it might taste too much of vegetables.
I was looking through some vegetarian recipes today for some inspiration, and came across a recipe description that said something along the lines of: ‘This recipe will totally win over the meat eaters in your life. They won’t realise there isn’t meat in this’
This kind of description crops up a lot in vegetarian cooking/recipe descriptions, I have found. This idea that what you are making is so bloody amazing that the meat free situation will simply cease to be an issue because the carnivores in your life will be so dazzled by what you have done with curly kale or sweet potatoes or courgettes that they will eschew rare fillet steak with a firm hand for ever more, seems to be a popular myth.
And it is a myth.
It is not that I don’t think this recipe or that dish, or that ingredient isn’t bloody lovely. I am absolutely sure it is. But I have never, in all my years of eating vegetarian food, ever, eaten any dish where I thought I had mistakenly eaten meat. Never.
Over the years I have eaten TVP, Quorn, vegetarian sausages, ham and bacon. I have eaten mushroom dishes that I was told would taste exactly like meat. I have eaten tofu in practically every incarnation you can find it. I have eaten all sorts of things in all sorts of places, in all sorts of ways, but not once have I ever thought: ‘Goodness, that tastes just like chicken, or fish, or lamb,’ or whatever meat it is supposed to emulate. Nor have any of my family been fooled on the days when I have simply left meat off the menu, or substituted meat for Quorn. They eat what they’re given and mostly enjoy it, but they always comment on the lack of meat. Always.
I don’t think this is a bad thing by the way, the fact that meatless dishes don’t actually taste meaty. I find the idea of food that isn’t meat trying to be like meat a bit weird. I actually want a mushroom to taste like a mushroom, and not like a bit of tripe. I like the fact that vegetarian dishes taste different than meat based dishes. It’s great. I quite like Quorn, because it tastes of Quorn, not because it tastes like chicken. Because it doesn’t.
I think this whole idea of fooling meat eaters is actually kind of insulting, both to people who happily eat meat and don’t have a problem with it, and also to people who are vegetarians because they prefer the taste of veg.
I also think that people who fervently try to assure you that the people who you are cooking for won’t notice the lack of meat, or will be fooled into thinking they are eating meat, clearly haven’t eaten meat for a very long time. Which is great, if you’re a vegetarian. Obviously. But doesn’t entirely qualify you to tell someone that: ‘this tastes exactly like bacon.’
It’s like me trying to tell people who smoke that nicotine patches, or e-cigarettes are exactly the same as smoking a packet of Marlborough Lights or a pipe. It isn’t at all, and if you are a smoker, you know this, but you accept the substitution because you want/need to. Just as, I suspect, someone who wants/needs to give up meat for ethical reasons, or health reasons actually knows that what they’re eating isn’t a lamb kebab, but it’ll do under the circumstances.
Why not let’s celebrate that there are billions of fabulously satisfying, delicious and brilliant vegetarian recipes that taste exactly perfect because they are vegetarian? And let’s stop trying to convert meat eaters into eating vegetarian food by thinking that they can be tricked into it, rather than by just cooking them such bloody lovely food that they are happy to eat it regardless.
It’s just a thought.