Lynette Fay: It's mostly out of habit that we eat as much meat as we do in Ireland

Food and cooking is providing much comfort to people as we try to make it through this pandemic. Having the time to cook has made me rethink how and what I eat

Lynette Fay – I have unintentionally and accidentally become a semi-vegetarian. Picture by Press Eye/Darren Kidd
Lynette Fay

LENT begins in a couple of weeks. I have already decided that I will not be ‘doing’ Lent this year, and will presume that is permitted, given the way the world is at the moment.

Last year, my then-14-year-old step-daughter announced to us that she was going off meat for lent. She was pescatarian for six weeks. I didn’t think that it would last – none of us did. I was the ‘Evil Step Monster’ who made a roast chicken one Sunday thinking that she would give in. She didn’t. She is still pescatarian and has adapted well to a meat-free diet. She takes great pleasure in reminding us that she stuck at it.

I remember when I was a teenager, a few girls in school talked about being vegetarians. When we went to the Gaeltacht in the summer, there was always at least one girl out of the 10 or 12 staying in our house, who declared herself vegetarian at the start of the three-week course.

Cue Bean an Tí (The woman looking after us for three weeks) frantically wondering what on Earth she was going to cook for the ‘vegetarian’ during that time. It was usually a rock-hard veggie burger for breakfast, dinner and tea.

When I look back, I couldn’t understand why anyone would not want to eat meat. A life without ham, lamb or steak? I couldn’t contemplate it.

Fast forward to the start of 2021. I can honestly count on one hand the number of meals containing meat that I have eaten so far this year. We didn’t over do things at Christmas but for some reason I decided to give meat a rest, never thinking that the rest would last this long. I have changed how I eat, and I feel much better for it; we all do. You can’t argue with that.

Last week on my radio show I spoke to a local woman, Laura, who successfully completed Veganuary. Just over a year ago, she had reduced the amount of meat she ate but still tucked into a steak from time to time. After some research and soul searching, she made a decision to try Veganuary. She did and is going to stick at it.

While I understand the ethical arguments in favour of eating only a plant-based diet, I’m not sure that I could eradicate cheese or the occasional steak from my diet. It was enough to go without certain types of cheese when I was pregnant.

Laura didn’t pontificate about how everyone should embrace a vegan diet. She simply related her experience and I found it fascinating. On the same show, I also spoke to chef and restaurant owner Tony O’Neill who, working with Discover Northern Ireland, has come up with great vegan recipes which are easy to make and could be enjoyed by the whole family. Well, within reason...

I think that we eat so much meat because it’s been a lifelong habit. Growing up, no dinner was complete without meat, veg and spuds. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think that we never thought there was an alternative – at least an alternative that wasn’t a veggie burger that tasted like cardboard.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve used what little spare time I have to try out new recipes. This usually happens at the weekends. I realised that I had a library of recipe books gathering dust in the cupboard, so I’ve put them to use. It has taken a lot of work and effort but I’ve come up with about 20 meals that are easy to make, don’t take much thought, and everyone likes them. Now to teach everyone else how to make them!

Being able to rustle up a meal from seemingly bare cupboards is definitely a skill. It’s my favourite challenge in the Celebrity Home Cook series currently running on BBC 1. Regardless of what’s on the plate, I live for the day when I’m never again asked ‘What are we doing for dinner’.

Food and cooking is providing much comfort to people as we try to make it through this pandemic. Having the time to cook has made me rethink how and what I eat.

If I were to put a label on it, I think that I have unintentionally and accidentally become a semi-vegetarian. I’ll avoid the label for now, and keep trying out new ways of eating and trying to stay healthy.

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