It must have been about 9 years ago when I first cut meat out of my diet.
I was trying to loose weight (a common theme in my adult life). My sister had borrowed a Marilu Henner book from a friend. The book suggested some pretty extreme measures to turn your life around and promised not just weight loss but boundless energy. Now Marilu was looking pretty good on it and desperate dieters will go to desperate lengths in the name of slenderness, so I gave it go.
The new regime involved cutting out meat, dairy, caffeine, sugar and chemical additives, which I must admit did seriously restrict what I was able to eat! Cheese and chocolate were the hardest sacrifices.
I actually stuck at it for a long time. I convinced myself that carob coated peanuts from the local health food shop were a delicious alternative to a creamy bar of Cadbury's chocolate and I did have an enormous amount of fun experimenting with non-dairy cheese alternatives. It was the day I made a dairy-free 'cheese' sauce out of little more than pureed potato and carrot that I finally realised that there really isn't a good alternative to a lovely bit of extra mature cheddar!
The thing about Marilu Henner's book was that it did make a lot of sense. It opened my eyes to what I was indiscriminately putting into my body on a daily basis. The more I looked into farming and food manufacturing methods, the more determined I was to have a more mindful and aware attitude.
The whole family were involved in the changes, reluctantly swapping their white bread for wholemeal and their cow's milk for soya. I remember when the children first tried soya milk - they complained bitterly that it was a funny brown colour. Years later and they still prefer soya milk, complaining that cow's milk is too white!
Instead of buying the supermarket cheap meat, I would go to farm shops (of which there are plenty in rural Shropshire) and buy what we affectionately called 'happy meat'. It was more expensive but there was an honesty about it. After a while, it slowly dawned on me that I didn't actually want to eat meat anymore. The vegetarian food I was experimenting with was far more appetising to me. After one last chicken tikka masala at an Indian restaurant with a friend, I made my commitment to vegetarianism.
I never expected my children to follow my example but they all turned away from the meat dinners I was still preparing them in favour of the food I was eating. As a family, we joined the Vegetarian Society and VIVA, bought the merchandise and displayed the car sticker! Our memberships may have lapsed but our commitment to the meat free diet is still as strong as ever.
My new husband has embraced our lifestyle and my 2year old has never known anything other than vegetarian. All my children are strong and healthy and wonderful.
It can be difficult sometimes. I resent paying the same for a plain cheese pizza as one loaded with pepperoni and spicy sausage. Our local Wetherspoons sometimes runs out of the veggie options. I have had some pretty revolting offerings as alternatives to roast dinner when we have been at functions and parties. The special offers at supermarkets often neglect the meat free aisle. The meat free aisle is more of a 'blink and you'll miss it' space frequently invaded by fish fingers! I hate being a nuisance to my meat eating friends and family, especially my parents-in-law who find it all a bit confusing.
Difficulties aside, I have never looked back from the decision to become vegetarian. I thoroughly enjoy cooking and eating and celebrating food, and although my weight does still fluctuate, it does so about a dress size 10-12 rather than my pre-veggie body of 12-14.
I recently bought a Grow Your Own Mushroom Kit so the children could witness the growth cycle of one of our shopping basket essentials. I leave you with a photograph of the wonderfully alien fungi.