“How can anyone survive one day without meat?” That was the first thought I had when I chanced upon the concept of “Meatless Monday” on my social media feeds. This was to be one of the many instances when I would read about the growing vegan movement. According to Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Singapore was listed as the second-most vegan friendly city in 2016. More recently, in 2020, a survey conducted by YouGov.sg found that one in twenty of Singaporeans are vegetarian or vegan. Initially when I first read about going vegetarian, I was a sceptic. Is going vegetarain really that beneficial as proponents have claimed?
The Case for Going vegetarian
Before I start, I would like to take some time to define certain key terms. According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, a vegetarian is simply defined as a person who does not eat meat or fish. However, even within vegetarianism, there are many different sub-groups, with vegans having the strictest diet controls (with no animal meat, dairy products, eggs or even animal by-products such as honey allowed) and flexitarian having the loosest restriction (with no dietary requirements except the need to reduce, not eliminate your meat consumption).
Many common reasons cited for going vegetarian include health reasons (a study found that vegetarians were 25% less likely to die from a heart attack), and environmental reasons (the United Nations estimate that 14% of human generated carbon emissions come from meat and dairy production). Others cite animal welfare issues, reasoning that going vegetarian can help combat the cruelty of animal farming. This summary of reasons for going vegetarian is not a complete picture and I have attached several articles at the end of this article should you require more information. Personally, all these reasons did quite hit home for me. Having watched documentaries about the cruelty of factory farming, going vegetarian seemed like a way to liberate the poor chickens that are squeezed into tiny compartments. And so, I began my personal journey to become a three-day vegetarian…
The first thing I did before I undertook this project was to ask for advice from one of my friends who was already a vegetarian for religious reasons.
“If he can do it, then I can do it too!” I thought to myself, which gave me much needed motivation to complete this project. However, this also raised some questions for me. Could the school cater to such a vegetarian population? Was there enough variety in the school canteen? I decided I would find out during my one week vegetarian challenge.
The second thing I did was to seek support from my parents. Surprisingly, they were quite supportive. “You’ll just eat the vegetables and I’ll help you eat all the meat,” joked my father.
In preparation for the challenge, I bought packets of pre-packed vegetable salads and tried to mentally prepare myself for the ordeal. I also did some scouting and noticed that Professor Brawn does occasionally offer vegetarian options. The other viable option for vegetarian food would be the Mixed Rice stall, where students could choose to only order vegetables.
Having done all the necessary preparation, I decided to begin the challenge
Saturday (Day 1): Starting strong…
When I first woke up and had my breakfast, everything seemed normal. After all, I was going to become a lacto-ovo vegetarian so dairy products and eggs were permissible. Having my usual breakfast of Milo with milk and wraps with egg only, I feel surprisingly quite good. “Maybe the meat withdrawal symptoms will only come after lunch,” I thought to myself.
Surprisingly, I was to be proven wrong. With a generous spoonful of avocado yoghurt sauce drizzled over a plate of spaghetti, the flavours of the herbs and spices my mum added into the spaghetti melted in my mouth. If that was not enough, I decided to pair some potato chips (hey, who said vegetarians must be healthy?) with the sauce and it was simply delectable.
For dinner, it was the first time my meat hunger pangs returned. To satisfy the craving (without breaking the challenge), my father brought me vegetarian luncheon meat. To be frank, it tasted worlds apart from actual luncheon meat. This was not helped by the fact that my Mum had decided to cook real luncheon meat that day. As the real luncheon meat beckoned for me to give it a taste, I had to steel myself and not give into the cravings. Oh well, who said going vegetarian was easy?
Sunday (Day 2): Going strong…
Breakfast was not an issue. In preparation for the challenge, I had purchased a loaf of sourdough bread. With eggs permitted in my diet, I decided to pair up the sourdough bread (which tastes really sour) with them to get the necessary protein. Coupled with leafy kale and the crunchiness of some walnuts, the confluence of flavours had a whale of a time in my mouth.
For lunch and dinner, my mum kindly prepared fried vegetarian snacks. The spring roll stood out the most, with the peppery taste adding some spice to my otherwise bland vegetarian diet. To make up for the protein shortfall, my mum cooked a wide variety of vegetables, with all kinds of mushrooms and beans over the past 2 days. Even though the dishes lacked any real meat, the additional flavours of the different vegetables were much appreciated. At least they made the experience more bearable.
Monday (Day 3): Still going strong…
Day 3 was back-to-school day after the weekend. How would I survive being a vegetarian in school? As a precaution, I had packed vegetarian biscuits. It proved to be quite useful. By my lunch time at 2 p.m, the mixed rice was closed and Professor Brawn did not seem to have any vegetarian meals left. To be frank, I was left a bit despondent. Unless one made the effort to go to the Year 5-6 Canteen for the vegetarian meals (which we could not do due to the SMMs at the point of time), there were few, if no, vegetarian meals available in the Year 1 to 4 campus to the best of my knowledge. Having settled my hunger pangs with the vegetarian biscuits in school, I was half-expecting an energy crash. After all, it had been a long school day and without the additional energy provided by meat, I was not sure whether I could survive CCA. Surprisingly, my energy levels remained quite stable throughout the day and I managed to pull through the entire day, meat-free!
Against all expectations, I survived this vegetarian challenge. It is really indeed possible to be an ovo-lacto vegetarian for 3 days. However, to be frank, after this challenge, I am not sure about the feasibility of cutting all the meat from my diet. In fact, reducing, not eliminating meat, seems like the way forward for me. Not all is lost though. One takeaway from this challenge would be the change in my perceptions about vegetarian dishes. Previously I had viewed vegetarian dishes as tasteless or boring, but this challenge has really caused an 180 degree turn in my perception of vegetarian dishes. In the future I am more likely to give more vegetarian dishes a try.
As I purchased lunch for the first time after the vegetarian challenge, I fantasised about my first taste of meat after a full 72 hours. Ordering a plate of fried rice, I was excited to finally satisfy the meat cravings. As I picked up the plate of fried rice, the stallholder added, “This plate of fried rice is vegetarian…” Hastily, I ordered a dumpling as an add-on. Old habits do die hard.
The health pros and cons of becoming a vegetarian: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/becoming-a-vegetarian
The environmental footprint of meat: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/13/meat-greenhouses-gases-food-production-study