This weekend past we hit the one-month mark of our foray into meatlessness, which began on March 9 (Ash Wednesday) during our trip to Yangshuo. As of this past Sunday, there are exactly two weeks left of Lent, meaning two weeks left until Sean and I can eat meat again.
Yay! Right? Except…
…lately we’ve been reading up on healthy eating, vegetarianism, recipes, and such, and are very much tempted to keep going with this for at least a little while longer, if not for the long run (!).
The thought of becoming vegetarian both excites and scares me — excites, because I never imagined I could do it, but now I think I can; scares, because “becoming vegetarian” implies something permanent… like converting to a religion, getting a tattoo. Part of me keeps thinking that if I go vegetarian and later decide I want to turn back or make an exception, that is somehow much worse and more hypocritical than not taking that step/making the leap in the first place. Also, it might be easier to do here, but what about when I’m travelling? When I’m back in Hong Kong with its charsiu and roast goose, and Vancouver with its salmon and sashimi? Would I be able to resist? Why should I force myself to resist?
At the same time, the prospect of actually making a small contribution to the world — and larger contribution to my health — appeals to me very much. Although I was raised Catholic and do loosely follow a set of what might be called Christian ethics, I have long been living without a firmly, deliberately established set of principles to guide my actions. This is the first time in a while that I’ve found myself really convinced about something — namely, that significantly reduced meat eating is a necessary (though not sufficient) step to improved health, solving the food crisis, saving the world… and so on. Even though I admittedly haven’t read much first-hand research about this stuff, from what I have read and seen the argument makes a lot of sense to me, and I am eager to embrace the idea by putting it into practice.
The question is: should I take the leap into full-blown vegetarianism, or is “significantly reduced meat eating” (ideally, one meaty meal per week) enough? Is the latter still a cop-out? Most vegetarians/vegans would probably say yes.
A meatless month in Shanghai
Has it been difficult so far? Most people I’ve talked to about this “experiment” have asked me that. The answer, generally, is no. It hasn’t been that difficult in that I haven’t been craving meat. Also, because we had already been eating meatlessly at home for a year and a half, we’ve ended up just eating at home this past month even more than we usually do.
It’s been fine at work as well, even though I have had to turn down some offers of food and invitations to lunch (not great for bonding in a new workplace). I’ve found refuge mainly in Subway’s veggie delite and City Shop’s soups and breads and salads, though there are other (more expensive) meatless options around my office.
On the few occasions that we’ve eaten out with friends this month, it’s still been OK. Even though menus are generally meat-heavy, we’ve had Chinese, Indian, Thai food without any problems, and our friends have on the whole been pretty receptive to our needs — even though I can’t help worrying that I’m inconveniencing them in some way. We don’t mind seeing people eat meat, or occasionally having to pick around meat bits to get at the veggies… if we did, it might be a different story.
I did have one uninspiring meal of 金银菠菜 (spinach with egg) on rice at a HK cha chaan teng, which was when I realized Hong Kong cuisine is not vegetarian-friendly. At all.
But the toughest meal so far was probably dinner at our friend’s house on Saturday — tough in a “face” sort of way. She and her mom had made like 8 different dishes, including lots of veggie dishes, but also jiaozi, which I love. When we told her we weren’t eating meat, she pointed to another platter of dumplings and said, “These ones don’t have meat. They’re shrimp. You can eat these!” But no, I couldn’t. And… I felt bad about it. Like I had offended them, or at least disappointed them. I have never been one to be picky about food, especially home-made food, because I think it’s rude. And it made me think of my parents and grandma, who are wonderful cooks, and having to refuse their food the next time I visit. I could probably do without xiaolongbao for the rest of my life, but wouldn’t it be ungrateful, even hurtful, to turn my nose up at my (grand)parents’ expressions of love?
So I’m still undecided about the future. It’s been a great month — a little gassy, but great — and I feel cleaner in a way. I’ve been having truly delicious meals, I’m always full (though the focus now must turn to portion control!), and my coworkers’ charsiu on rice doesn’t appeal so much to me anymore. But can this last forever?