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Meat-Free Diets Are Becoming Increasingly Accepted

04/06/2013 12:32 BST | Updated 04/08/2013 10:12 BST

Being vegetarian used to be something associated with a small group of people that were mainly animal rights campaigners. Now though, things are changing and more people are turning to being vegetarian or vegan because of other benefits and considerations.

There are a lot of people out there sharing exciting recipes and making people consider their choices, while some people still make remarks about salad and that being all that vegetarians eat, I bet I can tempt you with a bacon sandwich, or them saying they think you are silly for making that choice.

Paul Abbott (@Paul_Poddington) became a vegetarian 18 years ago, and now, in his 40's he's still not regretting a thing. While people are shocked to hear he is a vegetarian he said "I always was uncomfortable with meat, increasingly process meat that looked like it had never been near an animal" and for him it was an effortless step.

For some people knowing where the meat comes from, how the animal is slaughtered and prepared is enough to put them off. This was the case for @AppleBlossomBe a vegetarian for over 20 years and attempting to be vegan for almost two when she listened to a Radio 4 programme.

It's still all very vivid for her, she described it: "the way chickens were factory farmed, pumped with growth hormones and antibiotics so their legs couldn't support them put the tin hat on it for me".

It isn't just the environment that these animals are living and killed in that puts people off, for some people it's just the idea of eating a dead animal. Molly Pike, 20, and a student at university became a vegetarian at the age of 8.

She said "I always loved animals as a young kid and one day I decided that it made no sense to love animals and eat them too".

Being a vegetarian or vegan can be because of very different reasons, and the reasons why have spread over the last few decades as people have been able to see what is happening in factories, get scientific facts and consider cost and other cultures food more. It is slowly becoming more accepted in society and easier to get suitable products and meals in restaurants.

Paul said: "it can be just a dietary choice, rather than a lifestyle replete with stereotypical associations".

There are still people that view becoming a vegetarian as an ethical decision and something that is personal to everyone and that should be accepted by people around them, rather than mocked.

Molly said: "Ultimately, it's an ethical decision I've made and if we're pals you really should understand that. I feel like I've made the right decision and I can't ever see myself eating meat or fish again."

@AppleBlossomBe said there has been a noticeable change in what is accepted in the food world. She said: "It's less weird now for people to be vegetarian, and there's always a veggie meal option in restaurants" but she does still find that being vegan is difficult when going out.

Most vegetarians and vegans are asked about why they have made the choices they have, and in doing so they have a chance to make somebody else consider how they feel about meat and fish.

@AppleBlossomBe feels she "has definitely made other people think although I don't preach but will state why if I'm asked".

For some, including Molly, they feel others should perhaps be encouraged to give it ago, because if you haven't tried it how do you know if you like it or not. She said: "I'd encourage anybody to try vegetarianism, if only for a clean conscience."

For some people it is difficult to give up meat. There are as many reasons for people to keep eating meat as there are for people to give it up.

Meat seems to be the simplest solution to some people's kitchen concerns. David W Casper (@PereLebrun) said: "I'm not a great cook & meat is filling & easily available"

A lack of ideas is also part of the problem, because while it is becoming more common, new vegetarian ideas are not very well publicised and expressed. A vegetarian cook book has helped Sarah Graham (@SarahGraham7) to eat more vegetarian dishes in the home, but she expresses the difficulties faced when living with "an avowed meat eater" where "he does most of the cooking!"

During May several people took up the Meat Free May challenge. A challenge arranged by various societies and companies to promote a meat free diet and some of their products.

Dan Van Heeswyk (@SoupTuesday), a food blogger, happened to decide to give up meat as a kind of experiment, without originally knowing that it was meat free May until he started tweeting about it.

Interestingly he gave up meat not because of the treatment of animals, but to see if he could: "cook interesting and varied meals without meat and also to see if a meat-free diet was a cheaper alternative".

For him, he never considered it even being a full time thing because of loving meat too much, but it has lead him to try new things that he will include in his diet in the future, including cassava, taro and some vegetarian curries. Because of the fact that he would normally eat a lot of cheaper cuts of meat, including offal, he said: "it certainly wasn't any cheaper than a diet with meat in it, especially as all the exciting veg is quite expensive".

The attitude that Dan faced though and the perceptions he raises, shows how some people are still very judgemental about other people's food choices. He said that people were shocked when he said he has stopped eating meat for a while "as if I had just confessed to drowning kittens or something"

"The plain fact it that I enjoy meat too much to give it up for good. And lots of vegetarians seem awfully judgmental and sanctimonious and would hate to be lumped in with them"

But like all the devoted vegetarians and vegans he would certainly encourage people to give going meat-free a go for a while to at least "see it as an experience to broaden your culinary horizons" but he also reminds people that eating meat is just as healthy, especially as he didn't notice any health benefits "a varied diet can include meat as long as it's balanced, and you will be fine".

I myself have given up eating meat, not for most of the views that are expressed above, but because I do not actually enjoy the taste of meat that much. Some of the best meals I have eaten have included meat, but that is often on a special occasion. I felt like I no longer needed to or wanted to eat meat, I feel slightly uncomfortable with killing animals but that doesn't really have much to do with it at all. For me, it is more about considering the fact that I would rather see fruit and vegetables grow in a field and get a much higher yield from it, making it cheaper and able to feed more people than seeing a few animals take up a large amount of space.

Personally, I feel healthier, I don't feel as sluggish and bloated after a meal and I seem to be enjoying meals a lot more, especially when it is something new and exciting.

Considering the amount of meat you eat is certainly important, eating too much red meat has been proven to be bad for people, so if you don't want to give up meat because you enjoy it consider more white meats and fish, perhaps even consider having a meat-free day.