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National Vegetarian Week: 16-24 May 2016

Posted in Spotlight on Food, and World Affairs

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In the UK, this is the 24th year of National Vegetarian Week. The International Vegetarian Week runs from 1-7 October, and the united aims are to educate people on what vegetarianism is. Gone are the days of hippies and where the only vegetarian dish available was a salad, baked potato, chip (fries) or an omelet. Today there are more gourmet dishes available made with tofu and other substitutes, but there are still many places where vegetarians are met with a groan.

I’ve been vegetarian for over 20 years and remember the first Vegetarian Week organized. In those days you sent off for your free pack, and as I was a member of the Vegetarian Society I was sent the handbook, recipes, and magazines. That’s how I knew what was and what wasn’t approved, as I carried my handbook around with me, whenever I went shopping. The choice to become vegetarian was for me a combination of health and moral reasons, and that remains today. A vegetarian diet can be healthier, but one should caution against too much dairy, and refined carbohydrates which are used to bulk up meals and to replace protein.

Fortunately, due to consumer demand, there are more choices available and at a reasonable price. Once upon a time the health food shops had a monopoly, but now even discount retailers have vegetarian food ranges. Aldi even lists all their vegetarian products online, and most companies with have a small v to indicate it’s suitable for vegetarians on the pack in response to customer demand. I can tell you it helps, after years of scanning packets and looking up the ingredients in my handbook to see whether they were approved or not, I still spend time double checking. Companies are more aware of vegetarians and some have taken out ingredients to make the product suitable for vegetarians. I remember when Curly Wurly (a chocolate bar) wasn’t vegetarian approved, and was so happy when they took out the gelatin. To be honest, you couldn’t taste the difference as it is now suitable for vegetarians, and Cadbury’s has regained some lost consumers.

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People don’t have to become vegetarian completely, especially if it’s for health reasons, but having the odd meatless meal can make you more aware of your diet and what you are eating. It’s not hard to be a vegetarian, and I am one that doesn’t like salads and I am healthy. I don’t eat much dairy either, but I do like a boiled egg, and buttery toast. These days you can even find vegan ice cream, cupcakes and cookies that taste wonderful. At times they can be pricey, but it shows it’s possible to have good and tasty food with less saturated fats.

As the short barbecue season has arrived, veggie burgers, sausages, and hot dogs can be found in most supermarkets. Sausages come in a variety of flavors; Cumberland, Lincolnshire, and Red Onion among them. I do recommend Lincolnshire as the ones with a peppery taste, by Cauldron Foods; this is one of my favorites. The frozen food market for vegetarian food is big business, with Quorn expanding its range to include some vegan burgers. You can now find veggie bacon, chicken nuggets, pies, pasties, and roasts, both frozen and in the chiller cabinets. A couple of decades ago all that was available was a nut roast, dried TVP (textured vegetable protein), and cheese crispy pancakes. It’s much easier now to be a vegetarian than it was, and many people like to try vegetarian dishes to see if they can taste the difference. Many are pleasantly surprised when they enjoy it, and don’t even notice there is no meat.

I don’t aim to covert, but events like this to encourage people to look at their diets, and promote the health benefits of vegetarianism. Maybe you realize you are eating too much dairy, or sugar and perhaps need to cut down? I gave blood recently and they took an iron test, and even the nurse was surprised at my high level of iron when I said I didn’t take supplements. Diet is about choice and balance; I do think about what I need to eat, and also what I enjoy. If you don’t enjoy what you are eating, what is the point? I love my carbohydrates; potatoes, bread, and pasta, but all in moderation. Pizza is a favorite of mine, but with less cheese and a wholemeal base, and I eat chocolate cake, but not every day. You see, you can still enjoy your food and be a healthy vegetarian.

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