I have to say, as an omnivore, that my diet sucks – not least because buying the quality of meat that I actually want is way beyond my budget, and my food bill is getting out of hand anyway. I also need at least one large meal a day, because otherwise my anti-inflammatories make my stomach bleed without food to buffer them. Simultaneously, I also need to watch my calorie intake to lose weight (exercise isn’t an option).
The answer to these quandaries is, I think, a return to vegetarianism. I was a veggie for about 15 years, from the mid eighties, before lapsing. This wasn’t an ethical decision – my then wife wanted to be a veggie (though I didn’t realise at the time it was because she was anorexic), and as I cooked, I decided following suit was no hardship, and it avoided cooking different meals for each of us.
My wife got me to write down my recipes – something I’d not done before, or since – and I eventually noticed that, without even trying, we’d slipped into a vegan diet. These day, that’s unlikely to happen, as I’m pretty fond of the extraordinarily versatile fromage frais and crème fraîche , (hard to find last time round, as was fresh tofu), which will improve the mouth feel of many veggie dishes, and a veggie diet can use a little fat (as long as you dont go berserk with cheese and eggs).
What tipped the balance was the Observer’s restaurant reviewer, Jay Rayner, being persuaded by his editor to try a vegan diet for a week – and pretty much failing, on the whole, though he did come up with some inspired vegan meals, which tipped the balance for me.
Being a veggie will make life a little more difficult, as some products – fresh tofu, and the more unusual vegetables, like tiny, flavourful, aubergines – mean travelling to Liverpool which, trust me, is no fun at all. The city centre is a giant building site and parking is almost impossible (public transport is out – I can’t walk well enough). On the other hand, a lot of stuff is now obtainable online – which simply wasn’t an option last time round – and I should be able to find a decent farm shop for veg and fungi.
It would, for me, not be too hard to become a dietary vegan, though I can’t be doing with all the rope belts and plastic shoes stuff, by cutting out dairy and eggs. I do get through a lot of milk, for drinking – sooths my drug-abused stomach – but I actually like Alpro soya milk, so that’s not a problem. What is a massive problem is getting Sainsbury’s to put the bloody stuff on the shelves – the milk section seems to be stocked up by half-witted trolls. For pity’s sake, these oiks are too stupid to make sure they put 6-pint containers of milk, often putting out extra 4-pinters by mistake – I’m sick and tired, over the years, of the repeated arguments over this.
The soya milk problem is a nation-wide Sainsbury’s snafu – they re-stock according to zones so, if zone A just needs, say, 4 or 5 packs of butter, but zone F is utterly devoid of soya milk then, bugger it, zone A gets the attention and zone F stays empty until its time comes around. That’s the explanation I got from the Dairy Products manager at my local Sainsbury’s, though I’m forced to wonder if a person without the initiative to over-rule such a mind-bogglingly stupid system when the need arises is the right man for the job.
I had planned, this year, to start making my own sausages, but my flat is just too warm to do that safely – keeping the meat cool during processing is critical, apparently. However, I’ve long harboured a desire to make a vegetarian sausage which is actually a pleasure to eat – those commercially available are truly awful, and veggie haggis is an abomination. I have a recipe – my own – for marinated, deep-fried tofu, which is pretty damn good (the marinade, after removing most of the water from the tofu – otherwise it’s like boiled snot – is a mix of mushroom soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and veg stock, with a little garlic salt and some white wine vinegar), and it would make a good base for a veggie sausage, with minced cooked grains and pulses and a little greenery in the way of fresh herbs, the whole bound with egg. My idea is to use synthetic casings, poach the sausages to set them, then strip off the casings (which aren’t veggie, they’re made from beef collagen), before frying them. The principle will work, though the actual recipe will need tinkering to get the right taste and texture. I’m not aiming for a meat substitute, but it has to taste and feel right. That’s where commercial veggie sausages fall down. They either try to emulate the look and taste of meat – as with Quorn – or are overtly vegetable. Either way, for me, they all fail miserably on both taste and texture. I think I can do better.
Anyway, this isn’t going to happen for a week, as I have some beef in the fridge that has to be eaten first, but watch this space for progress reports…