Rewind back to 2013 or any year before and the thought of a nut roast as the centrepiece of my Christmas meal bordered on blasphemy. I would give it similar short thrift as other usurpers like quorn, tofu and seitan (or Satan as I assumed it was spelt). Indeed, before turning vegetarian in 2014, I regarded any meal without meat as incomplete. Beef, chicken or turkey was always the main event, and the vegetables were just making up the numbers. I'd often have a peperami in my coat pocket in the event of an 'emergency' (such as being served three bean chilli). Once, when a vegetarian friend invited me to dinner, I packed some sausage rolls for the toilet breaks.
As a self-proclaimed alpha male, meat-eating was central to my masculinity. Rare steaks, chicken wings and bacon rolls were badges of pride. The very mention of a meat-free meal was enough to make me reach for my coat pocket. Suggesting it for Christmas Dinner - the biggest meal of the year - would drive me to panic mode.
I could write a book on the social and psychological reasons that made me (a lifelong animal lover) construct an identity around sausage rolls, but I'll forgo that pleasure for now. What matters is that here in 2016, after a lot of research, soul searching, and experimentation I am genuinely excited about my nut roast this Christmas Day. And far from being the unfulfilling, emasculating experience I once feared, I know it will be many times better than the Turkey I once ravished.
Why exciting? Well, of course, there are the ethical reasons. In particular, the knowledge that I won't be saying words of compassion over an animal that never knew compassion in its life. Turkeys are treated as brutally as all animals raised for meat and profit - whether it's being housed in cramped conditions, overfed, 'beaked', unnaturally inseminated or (in the best case) having their lives taken away prematurely.
But although ethical reasons remove guilt, they don't generate excitement. The excitement is because of the taste. The recipe I used last year is packed with herbs, vegetables and of course, every manner of nut. Together they generate a brilliant combination of tastes and textures, that meat simply can't. I remember reading a book a few years ago which made the point that meat in itself doesn't actually taste of anything. It's the seasoning, curing and accompaniments that gives it the taste. But with a dish like a nut roast, every ingredient brings a unique individual taste to the table. Supported by vegetables and gravy, you have a fantastic meal.
I can honestly say that far from being the unfulfilling sacrifice I once feared, last year's Christmas dinner was one of the best meals I had ever tasted. I can't wait for this year - my mouth is watering already.Suggest a correction