There's probably a lot of people out there who don't know that these days I eat mostly vegetarian. I don't shout it from the rooftops like some vegetarians and I don't take a fuss if meat is put in front of me by an unsuspecting host. I will fully admit now - because I know someone I've had burgers with is sure to comment - I am not the world's best vegetarian. But since this week is National Vegetarian Week, I thought it was a good time to talk about why I have chosen to eat mainly vegetarian and how travel has affected my choice of diet. While many people will focus on how cruel it is to hurt animals and to kill them in order to feed our ever growing obsession with steak - that's not my reason for choosing to live this way. I don't dispute it being a good reason, but for me there are just many other important reasons for doing this.
Why am I vegetarian?
It all started when I first went travelling, before I left I was a big meat-eater who loved a steak, but once I discovered the delights of South-East Asian cuisine and their remarkable vegetarian selection, I was sold. A few experiences with some questionable meat and I soon decided to stick purely with the amazingly fresh veggies and tofu - what a discovery! No longer was it the soggy, tasteless meat replacement, but instead a meal all in itself - never have I had tofu as well seasoned, as flavoursome and exciting as I did when I was in Thailand. It really set my tastebuds on fire and made me realise I didn't really even miss meat when I had such amazing veggie options on offer. The rest of my five months in Asia, I pretty much lived off a diet of veggies, rice, noodles and fruit - and to this day I have never felt healthier, happier or stronger.When I reached Australia I ended up travelling around so much and then working jobs with crazy hours so I never bothered to buy meat to cook in case it just went off and was a waste. Instead I would raid the amazing range of tofu and fresh veggies for healthy meals or salads. I've seen a real transformation in my diet over the last three years and it has been a natural transition as I've realised what really makes my body feel good and healthy, I don't need meat to feel strong - I can get my protein elsewhere and I actually prefer the tastes and textures to eating flesh. I feel better for not eating meat - I actually notice the difference immediately after eating a meal with meat and eating a vegetarian meal - meat makes me feel sluggish, bloated and overly full.
But what's a bad vegetarian?
I will admit that I'm not always religious with my vegetarianism - I do have slip ups and when you're travelling it's not always easy to eat as healthily or as strictly as it would be at home. In Melbourne I ate so healthily because I was able to prepare all my own meals but when you're travelling all the time or have rubbish hostel kitchens to work with it can be more difficult. Check out my top tips for staying fit and healthy when you travel here. Plus there is the fact that I don't actually dislike meat - I still enjoy the taste and smell of it and if my mates decide to have a barbecue or someone wants to go for a burger or a steak - if I crave it I'll eat it. So yes, I'm a bad vegetarian and some may even consider me not a vegetarian at all, but I don't really care. The fact is, I've gone from eating meat every day to often not even once a month.
Why should you try this?
It might sound like this is just something I have done purely for my own health reasons, but actually since making this change I've done a lot of reading and watched a lot of documentaries about vegetarianism and the environment. I've steered clear of the usual "don't hurt the baby animals" ones and instead looked more at the effect a carnivore diet has on the environment as a whole. If you haven't watched Cowspiracy (it's on Netflix) then you should definitely check it out - it is the documentary that has stayed with me the most. This one focuses on the effect farming cows for food has on the environment and particularly on climate change - the facts and figures it offers pretty much shows that farming meat has had much larger effect on global warming than pollution and use of fossil fuels which I find both fascinating and scary. This fact is just brushed under the carpet because of the sheer amount of money the industry makes for the economy and the governments.I'm not proposing any huge move to change the world, but I do think that we as individuals can do small things both to help ourselves and the planet. I personally feel that not eating meat has made me feel much healthier and better in myself, and I also like knowing that I am helping the environment at the same time. I don't feel guilty if I slip-up and have a bacon sandwich but I do know I won't do it all the time. Since it's National Vegetarian Week, I challenge you all to just try it for one week. If you can't stand the thought of full vegetarianism, why not just cut back on eating meat every day and just have it twice a week? Even that would make a huge difference - not only to your health and the environment, but also to your bank balance. Give it a try, it's just a week and it could change your life.
I've always been a health conscious kinda gal and liked to keep track of what I was putting into my body - from the food I was eating, to how much water I was drinking, to the beauty products I chose. As someone who has annoyingly sensitive skin prone to allergic reactions, eczema and flare-ups, it's important for me to use the most natural products available and to avoid overly-processed foods. Travelling gave me the opportunity to take full control of this and to really reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, I always ate very healthily at home and exercised plenty before travelling, but going solo meant every decision was up to me and that I was able to try out different lifestyle choices that perhaps I didn't have as much opportunity to pursue before I went away. Starting out in Asia, my diet changed dramatically as I gorged on the delicious fruits available and cut out meat almost completely, replacing it with tofu or other vegetarian options. It was something that happened very naturally and I found that I didn't even miss meat. Throughout travelling I never gave up meat entirely but I very rarely ate it, and I almost never cooked it - watching more and more documentaries about the farming industry made me stand by my decision.Likewise, away from European beauty standards and living in a much more relaxed backpacker culture, I found myself living months on end without wearing make-up. I never wore that much to begin with, but never quite felt comfortable leaving the house without at least a bit of mascara or concealer. Asia changed all that, the humidity and the heat made make-up pointless unless you wanted it sliding down your face, and we all know that everyone looks better with a tan anyway. I was confident and happier since travelling, I was comfortable with the way I looked, and more importantly I just didn't give a damn. I liked rolling out of bed and straight to the beach, I liked applying sunscreen and a dash of coconut oil to my skin, and more importantly, my skin liked it. I didn't have spots or patches or any sign of irritation, the one thing I did have was a big smile on my face. I can tell you that my happiest moments in the last few years have all happened when I've been barefaced except for a smile, with messy hair that smells of the ocean. It just shows you, once you take all the clever advertising and society pressure away, when you really get back to basics, whats really important - health and happiness.Being more aware than ever of the importance of knowing exactly what we are putting in our bodies, when Time Of The Month contacted me to ask whether I wanted to review their organic range - I jumped at the opportunity. Starting out back in 2012, the company was founded as a way of empowering women to make their own choices about their gynaecological health while offering them products that were made of the purest and cleanest materials. Founder St. John Burke said: " I was motivated to develop a brand I'd be happy for my daughter to use." Your vagina is the most absorbent part of your body, and sanitary products full of harsh chemicals can be absorbed into your blood stream and cause problems with your immune system and hormones, with links to reproductive issues and cancer. We refuse to use sun beds for fears of skin cancer and regularly check for lumps in our breasts and yet we still use products in our most intimate area that could cause severe health problems on a daily basis. But it's not something we think about because it's never talked about!Did you know that tampons and towels have been around since the 1930's and that most are still made from the same man-made materials used back then? So for almost 100 years we've been using the same products to deal with our periods - think how many versions of the iPhone have been released in the last six years alone. So if we can update our phones that often, why haven't we found a healthier way to deal with our periods? For some women, moon cups have provided a better option, but for many girls that method just doesn't appeal. The average women is using up to 17,000 tampons in a lifetime, so for those who prefer traditional methods, perhaps it's about time we started looking at healthier, more organic options. If not for our health, then think about the damage your time of the month is doing to the planet - every tampon you're currently using takes six months to biodegrade, while the plastic applicators take a further 25 years to break down, and don't get me started on pads which take a whopping 500-800 years! TOTM offer a fantastic range of 100% biodegradable tampons which dissolve naturally in landfills and unlike many other brands, they only use natural, organic cotton that has not been genetically modified or treated with chemical fertilisers or pesticides.I don't know about you, but doing my bit for the environment is pretty important and if it helps keep me as healthy as possible at the same time - we're onto a winner! I trialled out a selection of TOTM's products to see whether they would marry up to the standards I'm used to, and the truth is they far surpassed them. When you open the tampons and sanitary towels you're not overwhelmed by that chemical smell you get from high street products, yet the absorption rate is just the same, if not better than the products I would normally use. I was also really impressed to find that TOTM run a tailor-made service to suit your period, they'll deliver your chosen products directly to your door each month to fit with your cycle, or you can choose a one-off delivery. TOTM really puts women's health at the heart of things, and makes times of the month as hassle-free as possible - isn't that what we all want? I loved the way they were delivered to my home and having a regular delivery would stop you from getting caught out each month. After all that drama about the tampon tax, it's clear that female health is less of a priority to our government but that's why we need to make it more of a priority personally. TOTM exists to empower women to make real decisions about what is being put into your body - its a luxury that generations before us didn't have. Let's take advantage of it and take control.
How has travel affected your health? Have you become more health-conscious since travelling? How do you feel about the sanitary products available and knowing what you are putting in your body?
Food - for some it is merely part of surviving, of living from one moment to the next, and fuelling all your endeavours along the way. For others, it is a constant quest for new mouth-watering flavours and alluring aromas to tempt the palate and excite the senses. As a bit of a foodie, I'm always searching for a new lip-smacking experience and as you can imagine, I was in my element when the team at Jarrolds department store, in Norwich, invited me along to join them for their food blogging event to mark the opening of their new bistro restaurant, Benji's. Offering a whole new dining experience that is a step above that of the other three restaurants and coffee shop within the store, the restaurant has a fabulous menu designed to entice even the fussiest of eaters. The restaurant has such a sophisticated feel and the fine decorative touches really make it feel warm and welcoming, as well as exclusive and a real treat.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed with champagne and canapés - a warm greeting if ever there was one - with the intricately designed snacks artfully arranged on platters decorated with flowers. Each platter showcased the fantastic array of flavours evident throughout the menu, with some delicious battered smoky barbecue chicken served with a fiery sweet chilli sauce, plus a wonderful goats cheese and beetroot stack (cheese provided by local Fielding Cottage), and finally some crab towers that were packed with flavour. All of these delectable delights left us wowed by the combination of flavours that perfectly complemented the other tastes. Shortly after the introductions, we were treated to a cooking demonstration by the head chef, who has years of experience working in top London hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. He swiftly whipped up a treat for the nose and the eyes with pan-fried sea bass on a bed of artichokes, samphire and salsa verde, with seasonal vegetables. It smelt absolutely divine, and looked so simple to prepare, although I'm sure mine would not look half as presentable as his. Reflecting the constant changes to the menu, this dish will only be available for a couple more weeks as samphire goes out of season. Using only local produce and producers, the restaurant's menu is dependent on what is available within Norfolk.
After the demonstration, we headed downstairs for a look around the deli and home-ware department, both of which had us all drooling over treats - both of the food and kitchen-ware variety! We moved between the shelves, checking out everything from chocolate pasta to parsnip and chilli chutneys, lusting over everything from Emma Bridgewater mugs and egg cups, to Artisan mixers. We were lucky enough to have a demonstration of one of the Sage by Heston Blumenthal smoothie makers, which was so easy to use and made the tastiest ginger, apple, orange and kale smoothies - a perfect palate cleanser before we headed back upstairs for our dinner. On the walk back upstairs, I finally got to indulge in that dream of having a department store closed just for you and yes, I did feel exactly like Topshop's Chloe Green, it was great to wander around the shoe department without any shoppers in my way!
There are not enough words in the English language to do justice to describing the amazing spread that awaited us back in the restaurant, with multiple platters lined up and packed with the most incredible selection of seafood, meats, vegetarian and even floral treats! I can't list everything that was there, but you'll be able to see from the photos the delicious piles of scallops, smoked salmon and mackerel, prawns on the fish platters. On the vegetarian plate, there were various raw vegetables, plus roasted aubergine and peppers, hummus and an onion chutney, with pitta and even edible flowers! Over on the meats platter, there were piles of chicken with peanut and barbecue sauces, mini sausages with a tomato sauce, terrine which went beautifully with an apple sauce and much more. It's making my mouth water again just thinking about it - and I haven't even added the photos yet! The food was accompanied by a great range of wines and soft drinks, for those of us who were driving, plus plenty of foodie chat about our favourite restaurants and dishes - thanks for the recommendations guys!
Shortly after, the main came out and although we already knew what it was, we once again marvelled at the beauty of the colours on the plate, before tucking in excitedly. It was an amazing dish, so tasty and I would really recommend trying it before it disappears off the menu! I'm a big lover of seafood dishes anyway, but this was a particular treat and I loved the sea bass - one of my favourite fish - with the salsa verde, it really enhanced the flavour, as did the delicious artichokes. It was so lovely to sit round with other bloggers who love food and local produce as much as I do, and how better to finish the evening than with a selection of the very finest local cheeses and chocolates?
We had a fantastic talk by Sam Steggles of Fielding Cottage, a family business based in Honingham who create their very own goats cheese, meat and skin care products. We tried two types of delicious cheeses, the Norfolk Mardler and the Wensum White, and I have to say the creamier Wensum White was my favourite, with a texture rather reminiscent of Brie - one of my absolute favourite cheeses. This was followed by one of the creators behind Dolce Momento, a company with a passion for the tastes of Brazil who develop an exciting and varied range of gourmet brigadeiros, cakes and treats. The chocolates were gorgeous in appearance and you really could see why them were such a hit at weddings with such stunning presentation. And the tastes were truly out of this world, with an amazing chilli and cinnamon one, plus delicious milk and dark chocolate treats - all sweeter and gooier than the average ganache thanks to condensed milk, good taste and a lot of love. A perfect end to an amazing evening.
A huge thanks to the team at Jarrolds for inviting me along, I had the most amazing night and loved meeting all the other bloggers. I look forward to more events in the future, but in the meantime, you guys should all get yourselves to Norwich and check out this amazing hidden gem - have fun working your way through the menu and enjoy the fact that you are eating local and supporting local businesses. They're much more important than eating out at yet another boring, soulless chain restaurant!
Have you eaten out at Jarrolds - what did you think? Will you be checking out the new menu at Benji's?