How hard is it to give up meat? Two journalists decided to find out and tried it during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. They recorded what they ate in a diary. Here’s one of the stories.
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“But you’re a meat lover!” mum pointed out when I said I’d signed up to go on a vegetarian diet for a full week.
“Okay, fine. Maybe not so much a meat lover. But you do love your chicken,” she added when I denied it.
Darn it, mum had a strong case against me. Poultry has always been the main staple in my lunch and dinner menu. Here’s the thing: I’ve never cared much for greens.
But the timing couldn’t have been better, really – it coincided with the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. Hailing from Penang, mum had observed the rituals as a young girl and she thought it was high time I was exposed to this legacy.
The Taoist festival requires devotees to go on a strict and very “clean” vegan diet beginning on the eve of the ninth lunar month in the Chinese calendar. A “clean” diet includes a change in the set of cutlery and omission of onion, garlic, dairy products and products derived from an animal.
For the purpose of this challenge, I decided to only observe the vegan diet for the first three days.
A quick search on the Internet revealed a plethora of benefits from consuming a vegetarian diet – lower risk of cancer and diabetes, less chance of heart disease and low blood pressure.
Besides, I also read that being vegetarian makes you happier and less stressed too. Sign me up please!
I am not happy, at all. In fact, I am famished throughout the day and easily irritable. But then again, it could be because in my haste to attend a movie preview, I’d skipped breakfast that hazy Tuesday morning.
By lunch hour, I have wandered for a good half-hour on an empty stomach looking for a place to satiate my hunger. It’s not easy staying disciplined with savoury aromas wafting through the many restaurants. I finally find a restaurant – opposite a steakhouse – that called itself “a vegetarian connoisseur”.
A good 15 minutes later, I am served the fairly unremarkable Claypot Vege Chicken Rice. The rice is dry and for its mediocre seasoning, the dish is quite frankly overpriced.
For dinner, mum cooks up a simple vegetarian bee hoon garnished with chunks of carrots and celery sticks. Ugh, celery…
It’s official. When you’re a vegetarian, eating out is a pricey affair. At a humble stall located in a neighbourhood morning market in Manjalara, economy rice with three dishes set me back about RM8.
For dinner, mum whips up stir-fried long beans and tofu. “It’s so much cheaper eating at home, right?” she teases as she served the dish.
By the third day, I am beginning to get the hang of the no-meat diet. Since I am still following the Nine Emperor Gods Festival vegan diet and it is a work day, I bring a pack lunch to the office.
Breakfast is just bread and black coffee while for lunch and dinner, I have sweet and sour mock duck meat made from wheat gluten.
The taste of chicken is beginning to seem foreign now. As a matter of fact, I’m beginning to think it’s possible to completely omit meat from my diet. I have vegetarian pau for breakfast. I have the same lunch and dinner – a simple meal of braised tofu in ginger-infused sauce.
“Tosai ah? That’s only available after 3pm lah boy,” came the waiter’s response at a nasi kandar restaurant. Everything else on the lunch menu isn’t vegetarian-friendly.
I’ve sent my car for service at an industrial area in Shah Alam. Apart from being more expensive, I find that vegetarian options are also harder to find when you’re out and about. Alas, I only have a piece of bread once I get home later in the evening. Dinner is vegetarian curry and rice.
It is a very lazy Sunday. I stay in and improvise on yesterday’s vegetarian curry by having it with noodles. That is my breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have to decline friends’ invitation to an all-you-can-eat Korean buffet. Looks like being a vegetarian is taking a toll on my social life.
After trying it for a week, I find that the challenge is not so much about keeping away from meat. Rather, it’s the limitation of meatless culinary options. And that could be a problem when you’re planning to eat out – or meeting friends, for that matter.
Do I feel any different? Honestly, I can’t tell. Slipping into my favourite pair of jeans is much easier. But then again, that could be because I didn’t snack as much. Dried seaweed isn’t my idea of an appetising snack.
I end my little challenge with a meal of vegetarian chicken curry. I guess I do miss chicken, after all.