Tick, tock, tick tock. That’s the meat clock talking. Only 5 days to go.
It’s National Vegetarian Week. I learned that on Monday when into my inbox at Cork’s 96fm popped a press release from Dee’s Wholefoods, a Cork company that makes vegan ready meals, burgers and sausages that are pretty tasty in comparison to the usual cardboard.
Oh great, I thought (with no small amount of superiority) we’ll get a listener to volunteer for it. Some steak-guzzling sausage hog who never ate a leaf of spinach and cringes at the sight of a chickpea. That’ll make great radio.
After a weekend spent doing yoga and kayaking in West Cork (I had to do something while himself was on his stag, and I figured going somewhere with no phone reception was wise), I was full of the joys on Monday, and possibly also full of karmic peace. So, like an eejit, I volunteered to go off animal flesh for the week in solidarity with one of our listeners.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt; it’s also probably the strongest force known to man. It makes you want whatever it is you’re being denied… even if you were never that bothered about it in the first place. I’m not really a big meat eater in general, and have regularly gone without meat for a few days at a time without even noticing. But tell someone they can’t have something? It changes everything.
Meat-free Monday is good for the environment (farting cows are a huge source of greenhouse gases), your pocket, and a bit of a post weekend detox, so we often do it anyway. But as I walked to the bus past all sorts of grimy fast food joints, the smell of gravy with dubious origins wafted from a fried chicken shop, the fish sang their watery song from my favourite chipper, and even the chorizo bubbling on top of a pizza in the local pizzeria was assaulting my senses. Suddenly, meat is everywhere and I am totally in its thrall.
I arrived home on Monday already planning a lovely veggie dinner of spaghetti with spinach and lemon. And a few chickpeas for protein. Then some fascists, sorry, vegetarians, on Twitter pointed out that Parmesan – a key ingredient of this tasty recipe – has animal rennet in it. I added more butter instead. It wasn’t the same, and a nagging voice in my head, which sounded remarkably like a rumbling tummy, kept telling me how nice it would’ve been with a bit of smoked salmon.
Apparently, willpower is like a muscle, and if you don’t use it often enough, it goes a bit, well, floppy. So Christians who strictly observe Lent, Muslims who strictly observe Ramadan, and athletes who regularly train in the rain, hail and snow have a better chance of dieting successfully, giving up smoking, etc. That, at least, is according to the Stanford University health psychologist Dr Kelly McGonigal.
Unfortunately, her findings also indicate that our willpower, like our muscles, gets tired. Which explains why so many of us start the week on Mondays eating rice cakes and low fat spread and finish it inhaling 18 inch pizzas smothered in garlic mayo.
“As with physical exercise, using your self-control muscle may be tiring, but over time the workout increases your strength and stamina. So what starts out difficult becomes easier over time. New behaviours become habits, temptations become less overwhelming and willpower challenges can even become fun,” McGonigal told the Stanford blog, Scope.com.
This does not tally with my new findings (in a sample study of one person, carried out over five days so far) that the more I am denied something, the more I want it.
As for my yoga loving, hippy, newly vegetarian personality? Well… it’s, eh, irritable. It might be nothing to do with the lack of meat but there is definitely less of a spring in my step, and people are suffering. Well, the dog, who is looking at me balefully because my leftovers are no fun anymore, and himself, because I’m snapping more than usual, are suffering.
Maybe meat is murder, but if I don’t get some soon, there could be murder of a different nature entirely.
As for how my denial muscle is going? Next month, I hope to give up sorting out world peace. You can thank me when we start seeing results. Tick, tock.
From The Herald, 21 May 2014. Recipe post coming shortly!