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Isra’s Veggie Journey

Turnip. Neeps, tae us lot.

So. Here I am. (No, not the turnip.) I’m Isra. Just an average sort of cove, pottering through life as one does, with no discerning features or particular story to tell. But I do have a burning desire to feed people, and if that’s your nosebag, baby … read on.

I’ve been a vegetarian now for about 2 years. Before that I was a real meat lover; loved to eat it, but more than that, I loved to cook it. Stews, casseroles, roasts, slow-roasts, grills, fry-ups … you name it, I cooked it. I was hugely overweight and my digestive troubles were pretty appalling, but how I loooooved the meat!

Then my world took a bit of a spin. I split up with my partner of 11 years and, during the break-up, shed around 3 stone. Ah, the misery diet. They don’t advertise that on the NHS now, do they? Basically, the only thing I could manage to put in my stomach was soup, which I forced into me for sustenance. Food – once almost my entire world – now became a fuel. And not a very welcome one, at that. I spent several months just feeling permanently sick – and the worst thing? People kept telling me how well I looked. Despite the fact I was miserable, pale and feeble, the fact I was back to a ‘normal’ weight fooled everyone into believing I looked fabulous! I, on the other hand couldn’t enjoy it for a second. I was just miserable.

I got into a new relationship. Gradually, after going completely off the rails for a while, my life started to find a new route. And part of this new route has been all about food. See, my new partner is not only a vegetarian – she’s a coeliac as well. And, when we first met, she was on something called the ‘Candida Diet.’ If you want a brief idea of what the Candida diet is, it’s basically:

Think of something nice to eat.

Got it?

Ok. You can’t have it. But you can have this bowl of brown rice and vegetables.

And the thing is, I started really liking brown rice and vegetables. And stir fries with soba noodles. And poached eggs on corn crackers (tip – the corn crackers go soggy if you don’t eat them fast enough, but in my partner’s case, that’s not a problem). And roast chestnut soup. And gradually, eating this way, I started having a new relationship with food.

Not only was my digestion a hundred times better than it’d been in years, I was starting to really appreciate something I’d always known:

Food is a state of mind.

People are always saying to me: “God, I couldn’t be a vegetarian.” And some people actually believe this to be true. They’d miss meat so much they could never last. Well, lemme tellya, I used to feel that way too. Meat is just so delicious! So rich and salty and juicy! No way would I ever give it up, no matter how morally dubious it is, ethically, environmentally, and economically. And yet, when I started eating vegetarian food – because it was easier than charting the moral maze of eating meat in a vegetarian’s home – I discovered something astonishing.

I didn’t miss meat much at all. Ok, the occasional pang when wandering past a burger-van at a festival, but nothing heart-wrenching. And I started loving a whole host of new things on a whole new level: aubergines, beetroot, squashes, brown rice, kidney beans, chick peas, black beans, assorted nuts and seeds … the list goes on. And not only that, being in a position of not eating meat made me remember how incredibly sad I feel whenever my brain jumps that handy little barrier we put up between ourselves and the animals we kill.

But this is NOT going to be a blog about the ethics of vegetarianism. This is not going to harangue meat-eaters, and preach the Truth and the Light. This is going to be a blog about what I love to do: cooking. And it’s about the challenge I face, wanting to explore the new world of cuisine within which I find myself floundering. Sure, it’ll probably mention lots of other stuff, because I tend to wander off track sometimes – and it’ll probably bang on a bit about Food Waste (I volunteer for Love Food, Hate Waste) – but on the whole, this is about a culinary journey.

I began life as a vegetarian two years ago, and had to relearn everything I’ve ever known about food. I’ve always cooked meat, with vegetables as an accompaniment. How do you make a dish be healthy, hearty and enticing, when it’s based around … around … a vegetable!! It seemed like quite a challenge – especially when you add the gluten free aspect to it all. But yes, food is a state of mind, and when you change your diet you change your tastes. Food that seemed dull suddenly took on an all singing, all dancing cabaret of flavours, and now I can honestly, hand-on-heart say: I don’t want to eat meat. And yes, I have tasted meat once or twice since turning veggie. Just recently I ate a bit of bacon that was stuck to the underside of some French Toast. It tasted like salty fat and coated the inside of my throat with grease. Yes, it was bad bacon, and bacon’s never been one of my favourite things anyway – but did I ever really eat that stuff and enjoy it? I did indeed. And when I had a taste of a friend’s steak, out of curiosity, I found it not a dissimilar experience. Salt, fat and chewy solidity. A bit like eating a solid mass of watery blood. I wasn’t repulsed, because I’ve never yet been repulsed by food, and still have no stomach-churning feelings towards the preparation of meat, but I was totally, utterly disappointed. Meat, I’m afraid, seems a bit boring.

Oh yeah. Food is a state of mind, all right.

So I don’t miss eating meat, but boy do I miss cooking it. I miss handling it, stuffing it, preparing it, choosing the flavours to accompany it … and the reactions to it. The joys of feeding people, watching their eyes light up at the sight of something that gets their taste buds going, is – for me – unmatchable. When people are so closed to the idea of vegetables being a meal in themselves, there tends not to be that same excitement to your cooking. Which, for a nourisher like me, is a real sadness.

So this is my mission, should I choose to accept it. I am seeking the vegetarian foods that put a smile on the faces of everyone. But not only that … they have to be gluten free, too!

Tough enough, for ya?

My journey is still very much beginning. I’m an infant in the world of vegetarian cooking, and there’s still so much to learn. As for gluten free … well. Food is a state of mind. I need to stop thinking “these are all the things we cannot eat” and start thinking “good God … look at all the foods we can eat! It’s a cornucopia of luxury!” Cos there’s great stuff out there, there really is.

I hope very much this blog will be of use to others. There are a lot of coeliacs, and even more vegetarians, and I’d love to hear from as many of them as possible. There must be great recipes and tips we can all share. Who knows – maybe there’s a ground-breaking book in it. A TV series. A film! And then awards, honours, plaudits, medals, statues …

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2011 3:04 pm

    Fabulous stuff! Flaneur and I are currently trying to eat more veggies (because they are healthy and cheap) and are drawing good inspiration from the River Cottage Veg Every Day book I got for my birthday from a friend. Gluten free is a bigger challenge, but we are confident that next time the two of you come for dinner we will be able to do a great veggie / gluten free meal for you! I’m totally loving cooking with veg. (Squash in particular – going to make a squash and fennel lasagne this weekend, yum!). Can’t wait to read more!

    • Isra permalink*
      November 9, 2011 5:10 pm

      Brilliant! Can’t wait to be cooked for. Hey – if nobody else subscribes, maybe you, Flaneur and I can just make a veggie gluten free book ourselves.

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