Go meat free for vegetarian week

This week is National Vegetarian Week, which has been organised by the Vegetarian Society. The annual initiative is aimed at spreading the word about vegetarianism and just how easy it is to lead a meat-free lifestyle. Events are organised all around the country to mark the week. Closer to home our resident veggie, reporter Laura Hammond, reveals why she shuns meat as she finds out how local food outlets cater for the herbivores among us.

My name is Laura Hammond and I am a vegetarian.

It doesn't make me a bad person, I promise. I just don't find the idea of eating animal flesh particularly appealing.

If you ask the average person in the street what they think of vegetarianism the response will be disparaging. 'Limp-wristed tree-hugger', is the type of response I normally receive when I tell people I don't eat meat, followed by sheer incredulity.

But I am not alone. In fact, I am joined by almost a quarter of the world's population in my non-meat eating ways, a number the Vegetarian Society is keen to increase through raising awareness during National Vegetarian Week.

The initiative aims to highlight just how easy it is to lead a veggie diet, which is also cheaper and healthier than a omnivorous one. It also removes the pang of guilt many meat-eaters could feel as they walk through a field of lambs or cows.

Victorian novelist Samuel Butler once said: "Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them."

That is one of the main reasons I stopped eating meat. It seemed wrong to treat my family dog so well and yet happily munch on a lamb or chicken, which could have come from the farm up the road. There isn't that much difference between one animal and the next in the grand scheme of things, as I see it.

A lot of the cited bad points of vegetarianism are invalid. It is not unhealthy and unbalanced, quite the opposite in fact, and the food does taste good. It's not all lettuce leaves and lentils.

Vegetarian diets are often criticised for being limited and dull, but that does not have to be the case. There are hundreds of excellent vegetarian recipes out there, you just have to be willing to open your

mind to the world of pasta, pulses and meat free living.

The diet can be limiting if all you can cook are omelettes or a hearty serving of vegetable lasagne, but once you accept that a meat-free diet does not just consist of meals minus the meat, and stop thinking you have to exist on nothing but vegetables, it becomes a lot easier.

Out of the kitchen it is even easier to follow a vegetarian diet. Cafes, pubs and restaurants in Belper offer a great choice of veggie food.

Fresh Basil, on Strutt Street, has a good range of food, from vegetarian chilli wraps to delicious homemade soups.

Sam Jackson, joint owner of the deli, said: "It's as important to cater for vegetarians as it is for anyone with other dietary requirements.

Having listened to customer feedback we introduced a wide range of dedicated vegetarian produce."

At one time if a vegetarian wanted to eat out there was a basic choice between dishes such as vegetarian lasagne or cheese and broccoli bake.

Although both nice, things have moved on a little now.

Indian restaurants, such as Elaichi and Bengal Blues, have a vegetarian section on the menu, and pubs offer varied choices for those who do not eat meat.

A lot of work goes into making food veggie-friendly. Surfaces have to be clear of meat, separate chopping boards have to be used for meat and vegetarian food, and new utensils must be employed.

But with the number of vegetarians in the UK increasing by around three per cent every year, it is becoming more and more necessary to cater for people who do not choose to eat meat.

A spokesman for the Vegetarian Society said: "Veggie food is different, it's often the cheaper option, the greener option, the healthier option and it's always the best choice if you care about animals.

"Try being different for a week. It just might be the best choice you ever make."