Veghacker: Why I'm Not Eating Any Meat In November

It has been far too long since I undertook a food challenge for Lifehacker. So I've decided that during November I will adopt a vegetarian diet and give up meat altogether.

Sandwich picture from Shutterstock

This is not due to any sort of ethical awakening. I enjoy meat. I've made my peace with how it's produced. It's more because I'm curious about the claim you often hear from vegetarians: that you feel better when you eliminate meat from your diet.

I think the idea lodged in my head when I read an interview with actress Joanna Lumley (of Ab Fab and general fabulousness fame). Lumley makes a good case that browbeating people is less effective than appealing to their vanity:

I'm a vegetarian and I long for people to eat less meat, but the thing to do is not to go, 'Eat! Less! Meat!" It's to say I am fit as a flea and I'm 63, I haven't eaten meat for 40 years, and I never get diseases, I'm never ill, and I'm full of energy. So how's about that?

I'll be interested to see if this holds true for me. The scientific evidence for the benefits of vegetarianism is mixed, in part because many studies have looked at people who aren't just vegetarians, but are also teetotal non-smokers. I don't smoke, but I have no plans to give up wine in November.

I'm also curious to see how difficult it is to stick to a meat-free approach. There are already some good vegetarian recipes in my repertoire (and I'll be trying out some new ones). At home, I don't think it will be a big challenge.

However, I'm travelling for work for a fair chunk of the month. My usual lazy on the road takeaway options aren't going to be possible. (That might also result in my feeling better, I suppose). I'm conscious that you have to plan carefully to ensure decent iron levels when you're not eating red meat, so that will also come into play.

I'm not doing this specifically to lose weight, but I am going to weigh myself once a week. Kotaku editor Mark Serrels, a man who is physically incapable of starting his day without weighing himself, threatened to pelt me with rotten eggplant if I didn't. Given my fondness for carbs and cheese, I'm not at all sure the number will go down.

I'll post about what I've been eating and how the experience is going roughly once a week here on Lifehacker. I'm also planning to tweet using the hashtag #veghacker. If anyone has tips or recipes to share, let's hear them in the comments. Meanwhile, I need to go and buy a lot of tomatoes. A lot.


Comments

    I don't know about others but I feel pretty damn good when I eat meat.

    It's a small suggestion, but since you pointed out that your Iron levels might decrease it might be helpful.
    If you decide to supplement Iron into your diet, try to take it with something containing Vitamin C. It helps with uptake into the bloodstream, and can otherwise waste some of the huge does you get from a tablet. Avoid just taking it with orange juice though - it's basically as bad as soft drink.

    Good luck!

      Dry fruit/nuts often contain iron. So does Milo, and many legumes. There are many Iron foods you dont (or often cant) take with Vitamin C (eg orange juice) because you'll probably end up puking with that mix in your stomach.

      Last edited 31/10/14 4:23 pm

      Avoid just taking it with orange juice though - it's basically as bad as soft drink.

      Thank you! Somebody who gets it! The amount of "you should drink juice" lectures I've had to endure is just terrible.

    "The scientific evidence for the benefits of vegetarianism is mixed, in part because many studies have looked at people who aren’t just vegetarians, but are also teetotal non-smokers".

    How do you get that out of the linked article? Here's what it says:

    "The JAMA study builds on a growing body of evidence that shows vegetarians have a lower risk of some chronic diseases such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and diabetes"

    "Importantly, the researchers said the findings were not influenced by the participants’ gender, age, BMI or smoking status."

    It does not mention teetotallers; it says that vegetarians may "tend to limit alcohol consumption". At very best, you can say that the evidence is incomplete: we need more study. To say it is "mixed" is to suggest that some studies show that being a vegetarian is good for you and some find that it is not. But the article linked mentions no studies in the latter group at all.

      It must be opposite day at Allure Media, just like every other day of the week.

      If you missed the bits about Seventh-Day Adventists in the linked article, it's probably beyond me to teach you how to read.

    I use to lot like vegetarians, I use to find their self limiting ways annoying.........then I had a vegan stay in my house for a month. Turns out everything I do hurts animals. So now I don't mind vegetarians. At least they eat cheese, eggs and milk so you can make an omelette without getting a lecture.

      eggs
      Many vegetarians that I know (or actually all the vegetarians that I know) dont eat eggs. If you've ever cracked open an egg and some blood was there, thats the reason why.

    Just make sure your diet still contains all the essential amino acids. Some (e.g. lysine) are deficient in many vegetables and fruits. The full range can be obtained by including dairy, eggs, legumes and/or quinoa.

      Exactly! All animal protein are 'complete' proteins where as vegetable proteins are 'incomplete'. Which means that you need to mix and match the right combination of plants to have a meal that is complete in amino acids. I guess if you are still going to eat eggs and milk (and not go vegan) then this may be less of an issue.

        Not quite true.... soy, quinoa, chickpeas, black beans, pumpkin seeds, cashews, cauliflower, pistachios, black-eyed peas are all complete proteins, just to name a few.

          That's true. But for plants like quinoa, you need to eat a whole lot more because its protein content is low.

      http://nutritiondata.self.com/

      This website is great for getting nutritional information, just search the food on the top right.

    I've been the worlds worst vegetarian for the last 4 years or so in that I don't buy meat but if someone puts some in front of me I'll happily tuck in.

    It’s more because I’m curious about the claim you often hear from vegetarians: that you feel better when you eliminate meat from your diet.
    It'll take you more than a month for your taste buds, stomach, mind (okay basically your whole body) to adjust to the point where you "feel better".

    Also a vegetarian diet often excludes eggs and seafood. And if youre a bit hard core, then you'll avoid anything with animal rennet (mainly cheeses's....unless you go to the supermarket and find the non-animal rennet ones), and gelatine (pastries, sweets, etc). Curious to know to what extent your experiment will extend to Angus?

    If you succeed the next challenge is to go vegan!!

      Nope.

        Pretty disappointing response Angus. I did a similar thing, tried veganism for a month (for science!) and found I loved and it stuck.

        Give it a go, its nowhere near as hard as you might think, and the experience you'll get it much more illuminating than just skipping eating steak.

          I eat a lot more than steak, as it happens. Glad you enjoyed the vegan experience, but I'm simply not tempted.

    When I went vego there weren't a lot of quick and convenient options I could find, but Subway was a quick fallback.

    I think actress Joanna Lumley seems to be the perfect candidate to spearhead nursing projects in West Africa against Ebola...

    It's still very easy to eat rubbish as a full vegetarian. Simply eliminating meat does not mean you'll feel any physical benefits. I know a certain particularly fat, unhealthy vegetarian that manages to live of junk food and fast food somehow and miraculously dodge vegetables.

    Personally I eat a mostly vego diet. I'll eat meat maybe once every few months, at most, and only on social occasions. I do think my body feels better and 'cleaner' without meat, but I'm also open to the possibility of that being a psychological thing. It's also an ethical thing for me, so either way I'm driven towards that direction anyway. I have no issues with meat eaters - each to their own etc etc.

    But yeah. Good luck with this experiment, I'll be following with interest. Just be mindful about what foods you choose. I guess it'll be tricky trying to keep it controlled if you just want to compare how you feel against your usual diet, minus the meat. You wouldn't want to change too much, right? Otherwise if you're totally swapping it with a whole new, veggie/nutrient packed, balanced diet (with more focus on it than normal), you're probably more likely to feel better than normal - especially if you're used to take aways etc?

    Perhaps I'm overanalysing this now... lol.

    As someone who has been vegetarian (almost vegan) for over 40 years, my advice is to not stress too much about getting the correct balance of all your daily nutritional needs. Just eat a good variety of healthy plant based foods and you will be ok. Lots of foods are fortified with added vitamins and minerals. Bottom line is, it is actually pretty hard for you to develop any sort of deficiency within a month unless you are doing something horribly wrong.

    I chose a plant-based diet six months ago for health, environmental and ethical reasons.
    I miss the flavors at times but the greatest benefit has been reducing my GORD (gastro oesophageal reflux disease) medication to almost zero. It still flares with increased alcohol intake.
    The greenhouse gas and water usage reduction and no animals killed are also nice.

    Sometimes steamed vegies can get a bit boring. I find this is a good sauce for all sorts of steamed vegetables, not just the broccoli and cauliflower listed. Also, you can sub peanut butter for the sesame paste and cider vinegar for the rice wine vinegar. And I usually only add half the sugar, but your taste may vary. :)
    http://www.food.com/recipe/eating-well-green-white-jade-salad-359631

    I love your food challenges and will watch again with interest. As a vegetarian myself, it became easier over time, and I definitely felt better as well. It was hard for me to adjust, but I removed meat from breakfasts, than from days, and eventually it just went away all together. It's cheaper, I am healthier for it - and I am making a huge difference for the planet.

    We probably have at least 2 meals (dinner I mean) a week that are 100% vegetarian and most lunches and breakfasts are mostly meatless (maybe egg). I am a big fan of mixing it up - then again I also crave and need a steak every now and then and we do eat a lot of fish and chicken.
    Good luck with it Angus!

    I find these month long personal experiments with qualitative metrics a bit iffy. It's putting a helluva lot of faith in your own bias-ridden, poor analysis making, N=1 brain.

    Then again, as long as you take that into consideration, more power to you. For a lot of these things it's not like we can do much better.

    As others have said, you can have an overall poor diet whether you are a meat eater or not. I guess if you want to test vegetarianism and 'feelings' you should probably try and keep the overall quality of your diet the same...somehow.

    I have a great deal of respect for vegetarians/vegans who do it for ethical reasons. I tend to be unfairly derisive of people who do it for health reasons.

    Last edited 11/11/14 10:37 am

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