Shelley Bridgeman reveals why she has become a secret pescetarian.
I became a pescetarian last December, not that "pescetarian" is a word I exactly bandy about. It sounds too pretentious and too fussy, so if I really have to explain how I eat these days I tend to, oxymoronically, call myself a "seafood-eating vegetarian". Of course, a bona fide vegetarian doesn't eat anything that has a face but since I've known self-professed vegetarians who regularly consume chicken - and yes, we all know that's not a vegetable - I'm not too bothered. Most importantly, it's a description people can readily grasp.
My relationship with meat has long been uneasy. Over the years I've tended to use beef mince at home - not for budgetary reasons but for the fact the meat is so altered that it's easy to forget it once belonged to a living, breathing animal.
I'd happily cook mince meals like tacos, lasagne or spaghetti bolognaise but I was squeamish about dealing with undisguised chunks of animal flesh. I don't think I've cooked a steak since 1997. And although I loved making chicken fried rice, I'd always ask the butcher to slice the chicken breast or thigh so I didn't have to become too intimate with the flesh myself. Uncooked whole chooks reminded me of headless newborn babies and I couldn't get them into the oven and out of sight fast enough when it was time for our monthly roast.
The deciding factor that finally converted my growing discomfort over eating meat into full-blown pescetarianism was my daughter's love of animals. I dreaded dealing with her eventual realisation that we eat the farm creatures she adores. I could so easily imagine her confusion and dismay - and frankly I could think of no suitably intelligent way of defending the act. It is barbaric, almost unconscionable, if you actually think too much about it.
As a society we blanch at the prospect of eating horses or dogs, yet we're culturally programmed to feast on cows and sheep. It's incoherent, to say the least.
So I turned pescetarian because of my 7-year-old - yet I haven't told her about my current dietary peculiarity. Being a typically fussy eater who curates the hell out of her food and even prefers different foods being served on separate plates, Katie certainly doesn't need any fresh ideas on how to increase her level of food foibles.
The Saturday I decided to delete meat we had dinner at Soto, a Japanese restaurant in Freemans Bay. I scanned the menu for vegetarian options and, not being crazy about tofu, quite simply decided that I'd probably starve if seafood was out of bounds. So fish and prawns became my new best friends and a reluctant pescetarian was born.
It somehow feels healthier to have cut meat from my diet. If the health experts warn you against eating too much red meat isn't it logical to presume that consuming no red meat is even healthier? Of course, you could run a similar argument with alcohol but I've no plans to kick my chardonnay habit any time soon. Regrets about ditching meat? I have a few. I used to create the most delicious hors d'oeuvres consisting of figs, mascarpone and prosciutto in filo. I still haven't found a substitute that marries the textures and flavours so satisfyingly. And this was the first winter that my husband wasn't encouraged to make the Edmonds Cookery Book's beef casserole with dumplings. I missed that on cold, wet Sunday afternoons.
Katie's not the only person unaware of my recent conversion. Despite sharing a home and having dined with me almost every evening since my pescetarianism took hold, my husband has no idea that meat has become untouchable for me. It's made for some interesting exchanges. While five of us were deciding on communal dishes to order at Asia de Cuba restaurant in New York, one of our dinner companions told me he didn't eat seafood. Fearing we'd end up with meat-laden dishes, I quietly confessed to him that I ate seafood but not meat.
He commented to the entire table: "What a difficult bunch we are. One of us doesn't eat seafood and one of us is a vegetarian."
Later that night my husband said, "I couldn't work out who was the vegetarian. I thought it was the woman across the table but then I saw her eat the beef. Who do you think it was?" Hmmm, wouldn't like to say.
At Matamata A&P Show the other week Kevin returned from the refreshment stand and offered me a bite of some meat and pastry delicacy. No thanks.
At Indian restaurants he still asks if I'd like our usual beef vindaloo. Uh, no, I wouldn't. And the significance of the fact that the Shahi Cafe's vegetable kofta curry (spinach and potato balls in a cashew nut sauce) is now our takeaway staple also seems to have eluded him.
People find it difficult to believe he hasn't worked it out from the meals I'm dishing up at home.
In fact, little has changed in that department. We used to have meat only once or twice a week anyway, so it's meant only a subtle change in our eating habits.
It's quite understandable he hasn't registered. He didn't notice when I had Botox injections in my forehead either. Clearly he's too busy to bother with such details. Homemade dinners and his wife's wrinkles just aren't top-of-mind issues for him.
I didn't deliberately set out to keep it from him. If he hadn't noticed within a month or two I'd definitely intended to reveal all. Initially there was probably a degree of self-protection in my being tight-lipped about it. If I'd ended up abandoning my new diet regime there'd be no one able to accuse me of fickleness or lack of commitment.
But then, because Kevin remained so delightfully unaware of the situation, the feeling of subterfuge became addictive. The longer he didn't work it out for himself, the more inclined I felt to keep it a secret. I wondered whether I could spin this out for six months or even a year. Will he ever notice? I'll keep you posted.