A few months after Mike and I moved in together, we were cooking in the kitchen together (or rather, I was probably cooking while he got in the way). "I've been thinking about going vegetarian," he said, suddenly, having never mentioned it before.
And so we did, slowly at first, eating vegetarian at home but allowing flexibility when we left the house; where we live, we are limited. Now it's been two years and we're what I'd call "proper" vegetarians. When we go out to eat now, if there are no vegetarian options, we don't give them our business.
I found going vegetarian really hard. Really, really hard. Some of the vegetarians and vegans I follow on Twitter act like it's nothing sometimes and it can make me feel a bit crap about myself to be honest. And so I thought I'd pass on some of the difficulties (and how I got round them) so if you're thinking about going vegetarian, or trying to and struggling a bit, you can know that you're not alone.
1. What is a meal?
I grew up skint, and so the aim of meals were for them to fill us first, and nourish us second. My parents were both from farming families so every night we had boiled potatoes, a piece of meat and frozen veg or beans. Day in, day out and year in, year out until I left home at 19 and started making a version of this meal every day for myself. I was in my 20s before I tried curry, fajitas or stir fry for the first time.
Getting my brain to think differently about what a meal could look like was a big challenge - initially, I was just looking for an alternative to the lump of meat that took up a third of my plate (which, of course, didn't make vegetarianism very appealing to me). Once I started buying cook books and breaking down my vision of a meal, my diet got a lot more exciting.
2. I like meat
"I can't go to McDonald's because if I do, I'll tell myself I'm going to get a veggie burger and then ask for chicken nuggets," I mused aloud a few weeks ago at work.
"But you're a vegetarian!" my (vegan) colleague replied, visibly shocked.
Yes, I am a vegetarian. But I still like eating meat. I've chosen not to include it in my diet any more mainly due to environmental reasons but I still loved eating it on the day I gave it up. I still prepare it for my parents if I'm the first one home, or my dog if she's poorly and I've noticed I have no desire to sneak a piece these days. But now and again I get a full on craving. And that's totally ok. It's like deciding you're never going to have guilty sex with that prick of an ex boyfriend of yours ever again, even though it's really, really good. Accept it's normal to crave something you ate for so long and it doesn't make you a terrible person, or a terrible vegetarian. You might just need an extra bit of willpower for a day or two until the craving passes.
3. Life, uh, finds a way
Last year, I went to stay with my grandparents in Edinburgh for the night, a week before they moved to a flat over the road. It would be the last night I ever spent in that house, the house they'd lived in together for half a century and I was sad. Almost all of their belongings were in boxes and they were very stressed to be moving for the first time since they got married.
So when I asked what smelled so good in the kitchen, and my Nana told me she'd made spaghetti bolognaise because she had to use up the mince that was left in the freezer, I sat down at their table and I ate that delicious beef and pasta and thanked her when I was done. I was not reminding my Nana that I was vegetarian during one of the most stressful, upsetting periods of her life because I knew damn well my grandad would insist on driving to Asda to get me something else. And I'm not a dick. You can't be 100% prepared all the time, especially in the beginning so don't feel bad if life finds a way to screw with you. If you have a slip, just start again.
4. Organisation/Learning to be hungry
In the beginning when being veggie was new, I had a lot of slips and they usually centred around me trying to buy something last minute from a shop because I hadn't taken my lunch to work that day, or just for whatever reason, I ended up being away from the house over a meal time, unexpectedly.
And sometimes there would be no options left and I would feel I had no choice but to buy a chicken wrap. Or sometimes I wouldn't even click that I had bought something with meat in it - I was so used to buying meat that I went into autopilot when standing in front of a Tesco meal deal and would only realise what I'd done when it was too late.
I accept now that I do have a choice and will go hungry that bit longer now until I can find something that meets my dietary requirements.
5. Know thyself
Like I said previously, I know that if I go to McDonald's, I will 100% end up asking for chicken mcnuggets. And instead of trying to test myself in some way by going there, or any other restaurant that doesn't really cater for me, I just don't go any more. Again, I'm not a bad person for liking a delicious comfort food that makes me feel good so shaming myself for liking it in the first place is a waste of time. I just accept that I like, and always will like, chicken nuggets but I've made the choice not to eat at the restaurant that sells them any more. Just be honest with yourself, and realistic.