Farewell to fussy friends

For a long time I have idly wondered about writing The Fussy Friends Cookbook, to help people when entertaining those with dietary restrictions.  I’ve certainly had enough experience.  For someone who eats most foods it takes a conscious effort to discover and satisfy the requirements of people who do not.  I have catered to Hindus, Muslims, vegetarians, pescetarians and teetotallers.  I have even found some unusal quirks:

“I won’t eat chicken unless it is breast meat and I can cut it up myself.”

“I won’t eat beef that isn’t from New Zealand.”

“I don’t like vegetables when they’re cooked.”

“I won’t eat cheese if it has been melted.”

“I won’t eat Waitrose Caesar Salad unless I am at John’s house.”

Please don’t think I am complaining.  Most of these “fussy” friends would quite happily have put up with whatever I made, but they would have picked out the things they didn’t like and left them on the side of the plate.  I hate that.  It was far better then that I should exercise my creativity in preparing a meal that suited all the attendant palates.  The culinary contortions required would certainly have made an interesting writing project.

So why farewell?  I did leave these friends behind when I left Hampshire, but it is not the friends to whom I bid farewell, but the book idea.  It’s true that I entertain far less now than I did in Hampshire, at least until I make more friends in Sheffield.  The more compelling reason though is that I have chosen to surpass them all in fussiness, and can no longer describe my friends as fussy without provoking cries of “Pot!” and “Kettle!”  I have decided not to eat meat or dairy products.

I had been fasting for a few days and was slowly re-introducing food. This is best done by starting with juices, then progressing to fruits and vegetables. The complexity of the foods consumed is to be increased gradually, to give the digestive system time to recover. As I was doing this, it suddenly occurred to me that I need not re-introduce meat, milk, coffee, or tea to my diet at all. I am still trying this out now, one month later. Since this diet aligned closely with a vegan diet, I naturally gravitated to that. This includes cutting out anything made using animal byproducts as well. In some countries, even white sugar is made using animal bits! Probably the hardest things to refrain from were cheese and coffee. One because it is so tasty and the other because I had become reliant on it to stay awake!

Just to be clear, here are some things I don’t eat: meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, honey, coffee, tea, or anything made from them.  I should confess that I am not restricting my diet out of a sense of compassion.  Here are some of my reasons:

Modern livestock farming methods are unhealthy.

The BSE crisis revealed that it had become standard practice to feed sheep’s brains to cows.  That should have been enough to make every one of us suspicious.  Even a child would know better, surely?  A slow and stupid child, at that.  Admittedly some cows are reared as vegetarians, but a walk through a pasture will reveal that something is very wrong with the digestive systems of many cows.  No healthy animal should leave long trails of slurry-like dung.  Look at animals in the wild, or domestic animals that are well looked after.  Even the ones that eat meat have healthier looking stools.  Most herbivores have dung that is hardly offensive at all, and I am sure cows should not be any different.

BSE aside, the number of other recent scares that suggest malpractice in animal husbandry is overwhelming.  This includes diseases arising from unhygienic farming and slaughtering practices, such as blue tongue, foot and mouth, bird flu, and salmonella.  A scarier story still reveals the well researched but previously little publicized dangers of recombinant bovine growth hormone.

How many other stories are yet to be told of ways in which farming has led—and has yet to lead—to terrible diseases of animals and humans.

Meat is an inefficient way of providing energy to humans.

More and more authors are now propounding the fairly obvious point that eating grain-fed animals is considerably less efficient that consuming that same grain ourselves.  The per capita grain consumption of the US is four times that of India, due largely to the preponderance of vegetarians in India.  This year, grain shortages are evident, and grain prices are climbing.  This includes wheat, rice, and maize.  This hardly affects the affluent middle classes in the West, but it can make the difference between life and death for much of the world’s population.  In his blog, George Monbiot points out that all this is in a year of record harvests; what will happen when climate change—as it inevitably will—causes harvests to fail?

Water as a resource is becoming more and more scarce.  Many countries are able to offset their water shortages by importing water-intensive products.  As such, the virtual water content of food items is a useful indicator of their relative efficiency.  Although the plants vary quite a lot, nothing comes close to the meat and dairy products:

  • 15,500 litres of water for 1 kg of beef
  • 5,000 litres of water for 1 kg of cheese
  • 3,900 litres of water for 1 kg of chicken
  • 1,300 litres of water for 1 kg of wheat

It is clear that in a world without enough water for drinking and agriculture, eating meat is just plain greedy.

Some of these foods are just addictive.

You might think that the astonishingly high virtual water content for coffee—140 litres for just one cup—prompted me to give that up too.  It played a part.  It was a New Scientist cover story mentioning coffee that first made me think in these terms.  However, the occasional cup of coffee could probably be excused.  I used to drink 2–8 cups of coffee every day.  When I stopped drinking coffee, the initial withdrawal symptoms lasted less than a week.  It took more than a month before I was able to go a whole day without feeling drowsy.  It is only on reflection that I realized how dependent I had become.

Meat falls into a similar category for me.  I think fried chicken is probably the best example.  When I was used to eating it, it tasted really good.  Just seeing it would make me want some, and it was always easy to eat another piece.  Avoiding intense, rich foods like meat, cheese and milk chocolate (plain chocolate is nice but far less enticing) is much, much healthier for me.

Now that I have adjusted my diet, I find my tastes have changed.  I don’t crave unhealthy foods the way I used to, and I appreciate simpler foods much more.  (Have you ever tried raw corn cobs?)  I still eat a lot and don’t exercise enough, but it’s a start along the road to a new lifestyle.  I don’t think it will be long before we all have to make changes—I’m just trying to stay ahead of the game.


  1. Gordon Hutchison said

    Well done Joseph, you are an inspiration…

  2. Joe Chacko said

    Why thank you, Gordon—how very kind! I’m just trying to explain myself. Several people have been asking what my reasons are and I’m not good at concise conversation.

  3. Kuruvilla Chandy said

    How about eating fish?

  4. joechacko said

    I have cut out fish from my diet, too. I don’t suppose the virtual water content is especially high, but I am pretty sure we don’t fish sustainably. We have also been poisoning the seas with factory effluents for many decades now, even in God’s Own Country. I have no desire to eat meat now and—considering the mess we have made of the seas—even less desire for fish.

    Incidentally, my friend Alasdair has recently given up meat. He writes some compelling reasons for not eating fish.

    I have two tins of tuna in the cupboard though, which I’m keeping for my omnivorous brother-in-law when he gets here.

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