Where to Start - vegetarian basics | Viva!

Where to Start - vegetarian basics

Going veggie isn’t brain surgery – it’s simple, sensible and safe. You’re bound to have questions and whatever they are, we have the answers. You can find them here, in our range of well-researched guides or you can call us.




"You don’t need anyone’s permission to go veggie! Do it and help to end cruelty to animals, help the environment, give a boost to the world’s starving and improve your health." Paul McCartney

What is a Veggie?

It’s easier to say what vegetarians don’t eat! No meat, fish or anything from a slaughterhouse such as gelatine and meat stocks. But vegetarians may eat dairy products and free-range eggs. A vegan avoids animal products entirely.

Ready, Steady, Cook

If you think about it – a lot of things in the store cupboard, fridge and freezer are veggie. You could walk into the kitchen right now and rustle up a great meal. There’s fresh and frozen vegetables; pasta, rice and potatoes; tinned beans, tomatoes and sweet corn; flour, herbs and spices, noodles, oil and margarine. This alone will get you going but with a little bit of additional shopping, you’re really in business.

All the old favourite foods are still on the agenda – pies and pasties, pizzas and paella, chilli and chunky chips, burgers and bangers, bacon and brilliant curries. The only difference is, there’s no meat in them. It’s obviously cheaper to cook these dishes yourself but ready-made versions are available everywhere. Supermarkets have a huge range but don’t forget your local health food shop for good advice and really tasty alternatives.

Lazy Daisy

If that’s you then get down to your supermarket or health shop because there’s all kinds of things in tins and packets – all you have to do is open them. There are pots of noodles, curries and chow mein, tins of spag bol, rigatoni and veggie ravioli. Pizzas, ratatouille, veg casserole with herb dumplings, stew – they’re all there. And don’t forget the humble baked bean – they even come with veggie sausages. Then there’s nachos, refried beans and tortillas – not to mention garlic mushrooms, vegetable chilli, provençal and goulash. Eat them on their own or as toppings for baked potatoes.

Mighty Meaty, Matey

The last few years has seen a food revolution. Meat substitutes – usually made from soya or wheat protein – have been used to copy most of the traditional meat favourites. Dishes made from them are now the fastest selling food products of all.

So, if you still hanker after the taste or texture of meat, most supermarkets and health shops sell a wide range of these meat substitutes in the freezer or chiller section. There are grills and nuggets, sausages, ‘meaty’ pies, shepherd’s pie, frankfurters and even very convincing bacon. If you’re still cooking meat for others, some of these will go happily under the grill or in the oven at the same time.

Still one of the all time favourites is burgers – and there are dozens of different veggie ones.

On Stand By

All supermarkets have a big range of own-brand, ready-made vegetarian dishes either chilled or frozen. Health food shops tend to have a more unusual selection. Keep some at the ready in your freezer. Okay, so they’re ‘ping’ meals but some are very good indeed – spinach roll, veggie spaghetti bolognese, mushroom stroganoff and dozens of others.

Gravy Train

What do you do about sauces and gravies? Probably what you did before because there’s vegetable stock cubes of every kind and most gravy brownings are veggie (check the labels). Add water from cooked veg, a splosh of olive oil, herbs and seasoning and you’re in business.

Feel Your Pulse

Pulses – dried broad beans, butter beans, kidney beans, peas, lentils and so on are simple to use and highly nutritious. The tinned varieties are the most convenient as they just need to be heated but the dried ones, soaked and cooked, have more flavour. Add to any casserole or stew, turn them into wonderful patés and terrines or add chopped things (spring onions, garlic, herbs, coriander, parsley, red peppers and French dressing) to make great-tasting, nutritious salads.

Fancy Foreigners

If ‘meaty’ meals don’t appeal then look at the countries who have a tradition of vegetarian cookery – Italy, India, Thailand, Turkey. Get a good cookery book or two and start to live. You’ll be spoilt for choice. Call Viva! on 0117 9441000 for a free book catalogue.

Out and About

If you think that eating out will be a disaster – it won’t. Just about every restaurant in the country offers a veggie choice – some a big one. And the number of dedicated vegetarian/vegan restaurants is growing all the time.

Many traditional Italian dishes are vegetarian anyway – parmigiano (aubergines), pesto, Napolitana (tomato sauce), arabiatta (tomato with chilli) and spinach & veg served in pasta parcels. And of course, there are pizzas galore (choose a veggie or vegan topping). Don’t be afraid to ask what’s vegetarian if it’s not marked.

Indian restaurants have some great vegetarian dishes but often they’re called ‘side dishes’ – aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), tarka dhall (lentils with garlic), brinjal bhaji (curried aubergines), vegetable balti, bindi bhaji (okra curry). If you can find a South Indian place, almost everything will be veggie. Greek and Turkish restaurants can often have a good choice of dishes listed under ‘mezzes’. Some Chinese aren’t bad either – ask what’s veggie – usually there’s everything from veg chow mein to veg sweet ‘n’ sour. Thai can be excellent – try a dish such as potato and peanut curry in coconut sauce with ginger or garlic rice.

"There was once a vegan called Steven, Who just would not kill for no reason.
He would not eat cheese
and not eat meat
And hated the fox hunting season…"

"I’m right behind Viva!" Benjamin Zephaniah – poet and Viva! Patron

Healthy and Happy

What’s so important about meat? Not a lot, really! It plays a big part in causing cancers, heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, diet-related diabetes, gall stones and other diseases. Most vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters and live longer. No argument, no dispute – it’s a simple statement of fact. Giving up meat is one of the most sensible things you can do. And what do you risk by dumping meat – absolutely nothing!

The three things in meat you don’t need are saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein. There is less of all these in the average veggie diet. Those that are there come mostly from dairy products. The fewer animal products you eat, the healthier you are likely to be. Food poisoning is a massive problem and new strains of bacteria have become resistant to anti-biotics. More than 95 per cent of food poisoning comes from animal products so avoiding them cuts your risk.

Health is covered at length in Viva!’s guide, The Healthiest Diet of All. Written by Dr. David Ryde MRCGP, it’s easy to read and has more than 130 scientific references and costs £1.50 (inc. p&p)

"Being vegetarian has nothing to do with austerity – I use the best of everything. But it’s about principles as well. I feel strongly that I could never hurt an animal and now I don’t have to!" Pam Ferris – actress and Viva! patron

Nutrition for Novices

A good vegetarian diet – based around complex carbo-hydrates such as potatoes, pasta, rice and other starchy foods, with a good mix of fresh fruit and veg, grains and pulses and some seeds and nuts – provides you with more of all the nutrients you need and less of those you don’t need. Whole foods such as brown rice and wholemeal bread are far more nutritious than the processed, white varieties.

Far from being a great source of nutrients, meat is seriously lacking. There’s no fibre, calcium or complex carbohydrates and there’s no (or very little) vitamins A (betacarotene), C, E, D or K in meat. A (betacarotene), C, and E are the vital antioxidant vitamins that protect you against disease – and they are found almost exclusively in fresh fruit and veg. As for warnings of iron deficiency – it’s no more likely to afflict a veggie than a meat eater. However, it’s important for everyone to have iron-rich foods in their diet – green leafy veg, baked beans, dried fruit, cocoa and lentils are good sources. As for protein – vegetarians get more than enough.

If you want to know more, send for Viva!’s guide, Nutrition in a Nutshell. Written by nutritionist Dr Chris Fenn and edited by Michael Klaper MD, it costs £1 (inc. p&p).

Q&A - frequently asked questions

Q:   Is it healthy?        
A:   Yes – very.
Q:  Will I get the right nutrients?
A:  Yes – plenty.
Q:  Where will I get protein?
A:  In almost everything you eat.
Q:  Does age matter?
A:  Not a bit.

Q:  Isn’t it a ‘second class’ diet?
A:  No – it’s the best.
Q:  Am I more likely to become anaemic?
A:  No.

Q: What will I eat?
A:  Masses of good things.
You’ll find plenty more ideas in Viva!’s L-Plate Vegetarian and L-Plate Vegan – 36-page guides to going veggie or vegan. They cost £1.50 (inc. p&p) each. If it’s recipes you’re after, Viva! patron Pam ‘Ma Larkin’ Ferris has written a 28-page starter guide for just this occasion. Great recipes and cookery tips to take you from breakfast to dinner time. Just £1.50 (inc. p&p).