In 1981 I made my first miso pate. I was working as the ‘cook’ in a new wine bar in Newcastle in the north of England and determined to have some vegetarian food on the menu. It soon became one of the most popular starters. I’d just returned from living in France and Belgium and cooking for a diplomatic family who ate a lot of red meat. Obviously too much for my system as I rarely ate it again afterwards. This was my initial foray into vegetarian food.
In the following years I became less of a meat-eater and more of a pescatarian. I started reading labels on the food that I bought, and with that knowledge I started to reduce the amount of processed food and foods with additives in my diet. I then spent three years in Tanzania during a time when processed foods were unheard of – and why would you even think about them when the markets were full of freshly grown produce and abundant seafoods from the oceans?
By the nineties I was primarily a vegetarian although I still ate fish and seafood. I was living in South East Asia and there was an abundance of fresh vegetables and amazing fruits, although not necessarily the ones I was used to. I remember amongst the many dinner parties that were so much a part of the expat lifestyle, being asked if it was possible to put on a vegetarian one that everyone would enjoy. How could I not take up the challenge?
It’s strange that when a new concept in eating is first embraced, those that choose to try out the ‘new’ food or style of preparing and eating the food will do so for various reasons – it’s healthier, it’s trendy, it’s what everyone is talking about etc etc. So to many Westerners vegetarianism was associated with ‘hippies’, regardless of the fact the millions of people around the world are vegetarian through not only dietary choice but also through poverty, religion or culture.
So when I had my vegetarian dinner party – which of course was a resounding success – I realised that for some of those present, they had never really had a vegetarian meal in their life, unless of course you can count baked beans on toast.
Now I’m into raw food and I really love kale. I can get more excited by a plate of kale chips than regular potato chips. The texture of zucchini pasta doesn’t bother me in the least, although I found it strange the first time I ate it. Yes, the smell of freshly baked bread still has me salivating, and I will still eat it smothered in butter, yet I find that I’m healthier eating a diet of mainly plant based foods. I used to think I needed the seafood to ensure I had enough protein in my diet, but the farming of salmon has questionable practice, the levels of mercury in some fish is exceedingly high and overfishing is turning into an environmental catastrophe for some species.
Food has always played a large part in my life. I love food. I love the social side of it and having never lived in poverty, I love that I can choose to buy what I want. I’m pleased that over the years it has become easier to buy organic and seasonal produce and it has become easier to go out for a vegetarian meal without being offered pasta or more pasta … I once asked why vegetarians were expected to survive without any protein, save a dusting of parmesan cheese – presuming they weren’t vegan – and the confused looks of those I asked gave me the answer: a lot of people don’t really think about what they are eating and what it contains.
The latest buzz word is ‘sugar’. For so many years people have been oblivious to how much sugar was actually in their diet … but that I will save for another post.