When I was 15 years old, for some reason I suddenly decided to stop eating meat and become a vegetarian. It wasn't for the reason a lot of people turn 'veggie' - that I didn't agree with eating animals which many people think is not a very nice thing to do although it had never bothered me enough to turn me off eating them. It was purely that overnight, I simply went off meat.
The last time I ate meat was when I was 15. I remember distinctly that I had chicken and that last meal of chicken turned me off meat for 12 years. I can't really explain tell why this happened but I just recall that the thought of eating meat turned my stomach and I couldn't stop thinking about it.
The next day I announced to my parents that I had decided to become a Vegetarian. Food is a big thing in my family so my parents weren't particularly thrilled. The instant thought from my father, as the main cook in our household, was that he would have to start cooking my meals separately so it was going to turn into a lot more work for him in the kitchen. However they didn't try to change my mind and allowed me to start my journey as a vegetarian.
My sister had also taken the vegetarian route a few years earlier but it was short lived as the smell of bacon cooking when she had a hangover proved to be too much of a temptation. I guess my parents thought I may do the same and I know they never expected me to be a vegetarian for 12 years. I don't think I would have ever imagined that I wouldn't eat meat for so long either, but once I became a vegetarian, I really enjoyed it.
I was never much of a cook at 15 but I understood I had to start becoming more inventive with my meals, especially when my parents' meals largely consisted of meat as a base. I started to take an interest in cooking and learnt a couple of staple dinners with help from my father, vegetarian Moussaka and vegetarian Lasagne, which I mastered quite well. When I went to university at 18, I took these recipes with me and started a recipe file.
Collecting cookery books became a bit of an obsession and every christmas or birthday, I always received a new 'veggie' cookbook from my family. I realized how versatile and interesting vegetarian cooking could be and really didn't miss meat at all. I have to state at this point that I was still occasionally eating fish (some may have called me a 'Pescatarian') but a couple of years later I gave that up too as I think I felt I was never really a true vegetarian when I ate fish.
I guess the only time that I ever missed meat was at christmas as I used to get jealous, not of christmas dinner, but of the turkey and stuffing sandwiches the next day. I love sage and onion stuffing and my leftover nut roast or nutty mushroom bake never quite worked with stuffing. Sometimes at University when I was working in a sandwich shop part time, I used to make tinned salmon and stuffing sandwiches because I loved stuffing so much and was envious of people ordering chicken and stuffing rolls.
My not missing meat lasted until about 4 years ago. Whilst I was a vegetarian, my immune system seemed low and I would catch colds all the time. I had a really good diet and ate a lot of fruit and vegetables, protein, nuts and seeds and also supplemented my meals with vitamins. I know this doesn't happen to all vegetarians, as I have lots of veggie friends who rarely get ill, but the lack of meat in my diet seemed to make my body weaker. It personally just didn't suit my body. I started eating fish again about six years ago as I thought this might help my immune system. Also, on a trip to Paris I dined in an extremely 'posh' restaurant and after lots of persuasion from one of my friends, the lemon sole became too good not to try.
My health did seem to improve a little after re-introducing fish to my diet but there became something in my body that was calling out for meat; at christmas I actually found myself sniffing ham baked in Coca Cola that my sister had made from a Nigella Lawson recipe. Inexplicably I had a craving to eat a piece of it but somehow managed to resist. The same thing happened with a roast chicken dinner my father had cooked and that's what eventually made me cave in.
We were staying at a country cottage for the weekend and my Dad was about to serve the roast chicken, having made a vegetarian alternative for me but I decided that I wanted to eat chicken too. It smelt so good and my body was literally being drawn to it like a magnet. As I hadn't eaten meat in 12 years I was a little scared that it would perhaps make me sick and my stomach wouldn't be able to cope with it. Surprisingly the complete opposite happened; it tasted SO good that I couldn't stop gorging on it and it is now probably one of my most memorable meals. I will always remember the day I started eating meat again and how funny it seemed that the first meat I ate again was chicken which was the very meat that had caused me turn vegetarian 12 years earlier.
For the past few years I have limited the type of meat I've eaten and would generally only eat white meat. I still ate a lot of fish and would often still choose a Vegetarian option in a restaurant. It took me a long time to want to try any other meat but I slowly introduced pork into my diet and rediscovered my love for bacon sandwiches.
It is only in the last year that I have started eating beef and lamb. For a long time the thought of eating red meat still put me off and made my stomach turn. However, I eventually began craving that too. Becoming a food blogger really helped as I felt like I couldn't dine at all these amazing restaurants and never try the steaks, lamb tagines, beef curries and duck stir-fries. Who wants a food blogger who only eats chicken and pork? As a food fan myself I knew I had to broaden my dining experiences. Other 'foodies' who raved about how amazing the beef was or how the lamb was the most succulent lamb ever, made me finally decide to take the plunge.
I had my first steak about three months ago. I was in an upmarket steak restaurant near London's Smithfield Market and I made the decision while I was perusing the menu. I quite fancied the salmon but I thought, how can I review a steak restaurant and not have steak? I felt really brave when I ordered it and was worried I wouldn't like it, but I needn't have. It was delicious. At home a couple of weeks later I said to my fiance, shall we cook steak and chips for tea? His eyes literally lit up as he'd never eaten steak and chips with me in the nine years we've been together.
Whilst I will continue to enjoy eating vegetarian food (I am reviewing London's The Gate restaurant later this month) and will always be a supporter of people that are vegetarian (and understand their despair in restaurants with a limited veggie menu), I don't think I would ever exclude meat from my diet again. Even though I did so for 12 years and it's been an interesting journey re-introducing meat, from a health perspective I don't think it did my body any favours and it just wasn't for me. Also, I don't ever want to be caught sniffing ham or drooling over a roast chicken again. Well, at least one of those may be doable.