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Celebrating the meat-free diet
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With World Vegetarian Day coming up on October 1, Kate Fraser reflects on her meat-free practices. (Note: No animals died in the making of this story).

October 1 is World Vegetarian Day. How widely it will be celebrated is anyone's guess. In many parts of the world, a vegetarian diet is a given because of religious or cultural practices, and meals on October 1 will be as any other day: grains, pulses, fruit and vegetables; no meat, fish or poultry.

Even for those who adopt a vegetarian diet on philosophical or ecological grounds, there is surely something joyless about the thought of celebrating an event that didn't exist until 1977 and only came about because the North American Vegetarian Society sought "to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism".

As a celebration, it has all the joie de vivre of a compulsory three cheers.

Having said that, let there be no doubt that vegetarian food has lost its stereotypical image of brown rice and beans.

Talented food writers, chefs and home cooks have won the day, tossing the self-righteous and their cure-all bean-sprout bakes out the door.

Specialist vegetarian food writers such as Rose Elliot and Nadine Abensur produce excellent recipe books that are celebrated for their good tastes as much as the vegetarian content.

Mainstream authors Claudia Roden, Ruth Rogers, Rose Grey, Donna Hay, Thomas Keller, Camellia Panjabi, Raymond Blanc, Kylie Kwong and Charmaine Solomon include so many interesting vegetarian dishes in their books, they have spread the message that "not only is this food good but, contrary to what you might think, it is easy to make".

If evidence is still required that vegetarians get their fill of fine food, check the menus of the many--and usually busy-- Indian, Thai, Chinese and Korean restaurants around town. In most instances, vegetarian dishes dominate.

I won't be out celebrating the joy of vegetarianism on October 1 but the dinner I cook at home will reflect its influence.

Without any deliberate intentions, my kitchen is no longer dominated by meat. I have slipped smoothly into a daily dinner regime of two days fish, two days vegetarian and three days meat.

Meat dishes vary between offal (kidneys, liver, tripe), whatever is a good buy in beef, pork or lamb cuts, and chicken at least once a week because it is cheap and cook-friendly.

Fish meals depend on what turns up in the home-delivered chillybin, and on vego days we eat pilafs or risotto, chickpea and rice curries, vegetable and lentil messes and stir-fried anything.

Our vegetable consumption has gone up as our meat consumption has gone down, but whether it is because I like vegetables or whether I use them to add texture and flavour to bland grains and pulses, I am not sure.

I think it's more about discovering new ways of cooking and eating. In more or less the words of Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), "the discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star".

A happy World Vegetarian Day to you all. May it be a day to discover a new recipe.

(Agencies via China Daily September 28, 2007)

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