When you've grown up in a meat-and-two-veg kind of family it takes quite a 180 to go beet-and-two-veg - unless you're captivated by an ethical reason, for example like not wanting innocent animals to suffer, or helping reduce the strain carnivores are putting on the world's eco-system. Or if, like Angie Palmer, Director of Branding and Communications for GR8 Leisure Concept (FINDS, Robata Zawazawa, Cafe Roma, g.e, The Luxe Manor and Knight of Wyndham), who went cold turkey on eating meat, fish and dairy three years ago, you're persuaded that it will help you u-turn away from a serious medical issue.
I wonder how many people were aware that October is vegetarian awareness month? And how many made an effort to eat less or no meat? If it wasn't for GR8 I would likely have missed the news entirely, and I didn't end up doing anything about it until, ironically, I was mid The Dukan Diet. Think Atkins minus the heart attack. And when veggies are forbidden fruit, they're all you want. So their veggie skewers set lunch at Robata Zawazawa, extended beyond October, while exactly what the French doctor didn't order, sounded like the best thing since also forbidden sliced bread.
Robata Zawazawa is a hidden robatayaki restaurant between Wyndham and LKF, with a degree of peace you wouldn’t expect for the location. Sitting under a cloud of lanterns at high tables Angie and I tucked into the set lunch, which started with a sectioned bento box of starters – crunchy lotus, eggplant, omelet, cucumber salad and seaweed. Beautifully presented, two of the sections included ‘meat’, a tangy beef tongue and fish. The usual me would have been secretly delighted, but sitting next to vegan Angie I began to understand how much of our world is focused around meat.
She explained to me how going vegan for her was a life changing experience. Her nutritionist told her she could transform her diet, and therefore health, in increments, and get better in increments, or she could just do it. Jumping straight in, with a support network and numerous sources with tips on how to get around shopping, cooking and travelling she discovered it wasn't that hard to eat a plant-based diet. However living entirely meat-free throws up some curve balls; clothes, purses and shoes are often made wholly or partly with leather, and meat products are often hidden in foods, even wines and beer.
The skewers arrived next, alongside miso and rice. Stars of the show were the grilled asparagus and crunchy bean curd pockets, caramelized on the outside with natto beans. Kudos to Chef Nakano.
As we grazed, we chatted, and the combination of veggie food with veggie gossip made for an illuminating lunch. Angie talked about how well she felt, how she believed in the diet in terms of her health and the environment, and how her grocery shopping takes her mere minutes with much of a supermarket out of bounds.
She's not a born again vegan, but she is passionate about her plant-based lifestyle, and listening to her I almost found myself thinking about abandoning meat. But then the thought of the upcoming turkey Christmas dinner set off alarm bells, a really great burger, cold-soothing chicken soup, bacon... Fish and seafood would be even harder.
Angie explained how she thought to herself, "Why not? I'm not losing anything but a little pleasure." But how tricky would being invited to friends' homes for dinners be? How bad would restaurant food envy get? For me, more research is definitely needed.
There is a wealth of information online, with www.thechinastudy.com offering up a compelling introduction to Dr Colin Campbell's work, the American Dietetic Association taking a radically different stance to the FDA's beleaguered food pyramid http://www.adajournal.org/article/S0002-8223%2809%2900700-7/fulltext, and Maggie Q among other celebs advocating a plant-based diet on www.earthlings.com (which Angie warned me was shockingly graphic - I still haven't conjured up the courage to watch it yet).
I'm clearly not ready yet to save the animals, the world and my health. And when you put it like that it sounds bizarrely churlish and, frankly, idiotic. Back in the cruel, but real world I consider taking the increment route - doing meatless Mondays, taking weeks off eating meat at a time, and upgrading to a month if possible in the future.
Why is giving up eating meat so hard? Is it all about selfish pleasure? I guess need a really great reason that I whole heartedly believe in to give up meat and fish, and what I'm beginning to realise is that the reasons are all out there, but I'm afraid to find them. Until then, I'll see if I can gradually skew my carnivore state of mind, choosing the increment path unlike Angie, but profiting from the veggie and vegan dishes her company's restaurants are putting out there.