Vegetarian January: Week 1. Why the hell am I doing this?

Those of you who follow my social media channels may have noticed an odd phenomenon over the last few days: this usually pork-addicted, hot-wing-munching, BBQ-Meister appears to be attempting… Vegetarian January? “WTF,” I hear you cry in disbelief! Well, quite.

Why Vegetarian January?

A reasonable question, given my carnivorous ways. But let’s get a few things straight before I answer. This is not some kind of health kick or diet fad. I’m not trying to eat fewer calories or lose weight. (You can read about my non-dieting philosophy in my post on How to Be a Foodie.) Neither is it a New Year’s Resolution: I had the idea to go vegetarian for a month back in November, but clearly December was not the month to turn down roast turkey, smoked salmon, foie gras et al. and simultaneously piss off my entire family. January was simply the next available month. Nor have I suddenly developed a deep concern for animal welfare. I don’t wish unnecessary harm on any creature, but that’s about as far as it goes. I care more about flavour than welfare (although typically, the two go hand in hand).

So if those are all the plausible but in fact not applicable reasons, why the hell am I doing this?

Vegetarian January: Chilli con carne without the carne
Chilli con carne without the carne – my first attempt at vege dinner

A couple of years ago, I saw an online quiz from a reputable source that was designed to test how sustainable your lifestyle is. To make a calculation, the tool asked you a variety of questions which eventually answered the question: “If everyone on the planet had the same lifestyle as you, how many Earths would it take to sustain the population?” I love a good questionnaire so I dived in, feeling pretty confident about my small apartment (which houses two of us, so we technically only get 23m2 each), efficient heating system, lack of car, penchant for cycling everywhere, and decent(ish) recycling habits. Not to mention my mother’s mantra of “waste not, want not” (coined long before climate change was even a thing) that doesn’t allow me to throw an ounce of food away. I hit the “Get Results” button at the end, naively assuming that my lifestyle was some kind of utilitarian ideal that would ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number – if only everyone adopted it.

How wrong was I? Very, as it turned out. The results came back: “If everyone on the planet had the same lifestyle as you, it would take 2.2 Earths to sustain the population.” Dismayed, I looked at the reasons why. There were two main culprits: air travel and meat. Given that I live in a small apartment with a small mortgage precisely because I want to travel at least once a month, I was at a bit of a loss on that first one. But that second one niggled at me every so often for years. Could I continue to spend so much of my time, energy and income on food, yet manage to cut down on that all important meat consumption? That was the challenge.

The Vegetarian-for-a-Month Challenge

Armed with the undeniable truth about my unsustainable meat habit, what was I going to do about it? Of course, I could’ve stopped eating meat at lunchtime and confined it only to evenings. Or I could’ve adopted various meat-free days of the week. Or chosen only to eat meat out at restaurants, not at home. But none of these measures felt like they’d really kick-start the lifestyle change that I was after. I needed to go cold turkey. Or rather, cold tofu.

How to be a foodie
This is how much I love pork…

For some people, a month of vegetarianism might not be that big of a deal. For me, daily meat-eater, it is. Not as much of a challenge as Dry January, I might add, which I attempted six years ago and fell spectacularly off the wagon after 12 days – but a significant hurdle, nonetheless. At this point, I don’t know exactly what I intend to do after the month is over. I’m 99% sure I’ll go back to eating meat in some quantity or another. But for now, I need to hit the re-set button.

Vegetarian Recipes – Beyond Ottolenghi

Sure, I own Ottolenghi’s Plenty – and I love cooking from it. But that’s about as far as my vegetarian recipe repertoire goes. One of my aims is to increase the number of vege dishes I can readily make in the hopes that, once the month is complete, I’ll continue regularly making them. If any of you are attempting something similar, feel free to browse my Pinterest board of vegetarian recipes, or any of the brilliant suggestions from my Facebook followers on this post.

Amsterdam’s Vegetarian Restaurant Scene

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t have a “vegetarian” category in the cuisines criteria on my restaurant finder. Nor have I ever written a post about the best vegetarian restaurants in Amsterdam (although I can feel one coming on, somewhere around 31st January ;-)). I can list the number of vegetarian restaurants I’ve reviewed on the fingers of one hand:

  1. Golden Temple (my favourite so far)
  2. De Waaghals (decidedly less than it was cracked up to be)
  3. Bolhoed (fine if you can avoid the tofu and mushrooms – or, I guess, you actually like tofu and mushrooms)
  4. Dophert (good for several reasons; not good for breakfast – think tofu for eggs, seitan for bacon, you get the idea…)
  5. Cropbox (not really a restaurant – more of a delivery service, but pretty good!)
Indian thali at vegetarian restaurant Golden Temple

So over the course of this month, that’s all going to change. I’ve been compiling my list of vege places to check out, which I’ll be reviewing over the next few weeks (currently on the list: Betty’s, Meatless District, Marits Eetkamer, Saravana Bhavan and Fento). I’ll be adding a vegetarian cuisine category to my search criteria. And – all being well – I’ll publish a Vegetarian Guide to Amsterdam in a few weeks’ time. Because one month of vegetarianism makes me the bloody expert – right?!


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