With the climate crisis ever-looming, back in 2019 my flatmate and I decided to do our part, however small, and begin to phase meat out of our diets in our shared mealtimes.
We began by hosting weekly Meatless Mondays in our flat. Back in pre-Covid times, we would have a bunch of friends over, and attempt new vegetarian and vegan recipes. They would bring the wine and dessert in case our attempts gruesomely failed. It was around this time when my flatmate and I began to experiment with fake meat, and plant-based meat substitutes. Not all of them were a hit with our friends. Just as some vegan cheese can taste like rubber, some fake meat can just have a disturbing texture that leaves one feeling that something is not quite right. On one fateful occasion, we found out the hard way that a lot of people are allergic to Quorn products, and had to rush one of our friends off to the hospital. Poisoning aside though, Meatless Mondays were a huge success.
Then, of course, as all stories go these days, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and having people over to your house became illegal and inadvisable to one’s health. My flatmate and I made it back to St Andrews for the Fall semester, but were immediately plunged into a 14 day quarantine. This gave us the opportunity, however, to phase out meat altogether. At this point in our journey we each had a slew of vegan and veggie recipes under our belts, and—with nothing else to do and no one else to cook for—we certainly had the time to test out and perfect more. We relied more and more on meat substitutes to complete this phase-out, and got very comfortable with that lifestyle. Neither of us are completely vegetarian, but we are now comfortable getting enough food and having it be good, tasty food, from meals that do not centre around a meat product. When restrictions eased, we reinstated Meatless Mondays, now less of an experimental dinner where few were brave enough to attend and we were obliged to profusely apologize to our guests as they fled our house (likely stopping to get a pizza on the way home). Now I was cooking fajitas with fake chicken that—when spiced properly—passed for delish Mexican-adjacent cuisine. Friends of mine still frequently request my red lentil fritters and vegan sriracha mayo recipe, and my Korean barbeque cauliflower lettuce wraps are a roaring hit at any potluck I bring them to.
This brings us to this academic year. My flatmate and I are still living together, but over the summer we both decided to undertake a gluten and dairy-free, or non-inflammatory, diet, just to add to the mealtimes challenge and really embrace that American stereotype of being obnoxious at restaurants and dinner parties. In doing so, we have had to examine the fake meat products we came to love, and have discovered to our dismay that most of them contain gluten. This also, most sadly, excludes pasta from our repertoires, a significant ingredient in any burgeoning vegetarian’s kitchen. We have had to reexamine a lot of our mealtimes in this process.
This new hurdle in our dietary regime is, as I’ve said, a new challenge, but if you have gleaned any information about me and my flatmate from this article, I trust that you now know that challenge is not something we shy away from— at least in the kitchen. I urge anyone who is thinking of reducing their meat consumption to at least try out some plant-based substitutes, or a recipe that does not require a meat product. You might just find that the problem-solving skills it can entail are not-so-much a burden, but a fun pastime to share with your friends.