I still remember, just over a year ago, noticing the ‘suitable for vegetarians’ logo on a carton of UHT skim milk. I was still half-asleep, I hadn’t had my coffee yet. Even as a vegetarian I thought, is this really necessary, it’s milk.
I became a vegetarian in August 2015. People ask me why, and I don’t really have a concrete answer. It was during a two-week holiday I had that month, and I ended up staying at home for various reasons, instead of actually going away somewhere. So I had a fair bit of time to think, I suppose. It wasn’t a case of watching a documentary about the meat industry, or reading an article or anything like that; I just started thinking about what eating meat meant for me, for reasons I can’t even remember anymore. And the more I thought about it, the more I became uncomfortable with it. I hardly ate any meat anyway, and had always been very picky about it. I’d maybe buy a packet of prosciutto cotto a week, but that was about it. The difficult thing was giving up fish. Smoked salmon was a treat for me, which I’d often buy to reward myself or to cheer myself up. I loved my tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches, and even in my late twenties I’d still eat the odd fish finger (yes, I know, don’t judge me).
There wasn’t much in the way of meat-free substitutes in Italy, at least back then. At one point veggie burgers came out, as in ones containing vegetables, as previously there had only been soy ones. I tried them once, but one contained a massive piece of cauliflower, and I noped out of there pretty quickly. I did like the soy cotolettas, to be honest there wasn’t much in the way of taste difference between meat ones I’d eaten and the meat-free kind. But the variety of food I could eat dropped dramatically. There wasn’t – at least not in the supermarkets I shopped – a vegetarian logo on all products that were suitable for vegetarian diets. It made food shopping harder than it had been before. I’d have to read through the ingredients of a jar of sauce (yes, I know, I’m lazy) to see if it contained any rogue animal byproduct.
Back in the UK, I was amazed. I remember my jaw dropping in front of the freezer cabinet that contained the frozen meat-free food in Tesco. All that variety! Everything from your standard soy burgers and sausages, and veggie burgers; to pies and sausage rolls and even bacon! Vegetarian bacon! I’ve had Quorn for the first time since I was in secondary school, the chicken pieces went down very well with a stir fry. There are gorgeous Linda McCartney rosemary and red onion sausages. And the pies Tesco makes, ah, they’re beautiful. Even these vegetarian/vegan substitutes are marked with the ‘suitable for vegetarians’ logo! And even vegetarian friendly drinks are clearly labeled!
My diet has changed so much, it’s all so easy now. I can pick something up and instantly know if I can eat it or not. It’s also clearer in restaurants, even though there isn’t always that much variety. One thing I do miss from being a vegetarian in Milan is an Italian vegan chain called Universo Vegano. It was wonderful being able to step into a restaurant and be able to order anything on the menu.
One thing I will say about vegetarian food in the UK though… The goat’s cheese. All of the goat’s cheese. I don’t even like goat’s cheese!