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.

ALSO READ: Meatless meals

“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!

Day One

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…

This Claypot Vege Chicken Rice kicked off the writer's vegetarian challenge.

This Claypot Vege Chicken Rice kicked off the writer’s vegetarian challenge.

Day Two

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.

Day Three

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.

Day Four

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.

On the sixth day, the writer had vegetarian curry noodles.

On the sixth day, the writer had vegetarian curry noodles.

Day Five

“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.

Day Six

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.

Day Seven

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.