I think I've been vegetarian for about two years and two months. I say 'I think', because there wasn't really one specific day that I swore off meat - I slid towards it after reading that eating less meat would be better for the planet. I started with Meatless Mondays and then went to 'less meat than that' and finally just decided to see how long I could last on a vegetarian diet.
My family didn't make the same pledge, so in all honesty I thought it might last from July until Christmas when I imagined it would just be too weird to have a plate full of meatless trimmings. And then Christmas rolled around and it wasn't. I piled on the roast potatoes and felt like a winner - they've always been the best part, right?
I don't make a habit of going around telling everyone I'm a vegetarian (I write in an article telling everyone I'm a vegetarian) although it's remarkable how naturally it feeds into conversation sometimes. It's also remarkable, to me, how many people react with a "oh I could never do that. I wouldn't know what to cook!" And then I remember that I felt that way - that Meatless Mondays once felt like my options were pasta or... pasta. And even then, I'd sometimes eat the pasta thinking that some chorizo pieces would really make the dish just perfect.
As I transitioned from 'one day a week without meat' to 'maybe three days a week if I can manage it', I did what we all do in this day and age when faced with an issue that must have a solution that we just haven't thought of yet: I turned to the Internet. And now, with the help of many food bloggers, I'm someone who rustles up Sri Lankan mango and jackfruit curry on a Thursday night, or Moroccan chickpea and tomato stew. Butternut squash and leek risotto. Vegetable pad Thai.
It's made me love cooking. I want to try new things. Before I went vegetarian, the idea of eating banana peel would have seemed entirely mad - but now I'm pausing at the recipes for BBQ 'pulled pork' banana skins and wondering what I could do for a dessert with all the actual bananas I'd leave over.
I went from having a solid, but possibly slightly boring, base of knowing how to cook pasta, chilli con carne, a chicken fajita dish and anything that just involves heating up the oven and letting it do all the work, to having a recipe notebook because there are too many things I've tried and loved and wanted to do over and over again. No more do I walk into restaurants and immediately choose the thing I've always chosen because I'm a creature of habit - I see if there's anything new, interesting, with potential to replicate at home.
People ask me on occasion if I miss meat, and the honest answer now is no. Mostly.
I've spoken to other vegetarians (and former vegetarians) who miss bacon, chicken nuggets, a perfectly cooked steak. But I've never craved anything enough to seriously consider eating meat again - if I had, I would have just eaten it. For me, the chicken nugget substitutes are enough. I'm convinced that with some brands I wouldn't even be able to tell the difference between them and real meat. I liked bacon, but when it comes to fried breakfasts the bacon isn't as important to me as a hash brown or three. And my last meat meal - I think - was a very very excellent steak, so I peaked. Why go back if it risks not being as good?
My family still eats meat. My friends still eat meat. I do believe that eating less of it is one of the ways we as individuals can do something to benefit the planet, but I'm not upset that for some people, going the full veg is never going to happen.
All I want people to know, on this World Vegetarian Day, is that if it's something you're considering but haven't taken the plunge yet because the recipes seem too daunting, or the effort seems too great, it's easier than I ever imagined. And with great Peterborough restaurants like When Polly Met Fergie offering a whole menu of vegan brilliance, and supermarkets jumping on the bandwagon to cater for their customers, it's only getting easier.