Food blogger Rebecca Nittolo reveals her lifelong bloody battle with her meat demons...
As a teenager, other than a two-day ‘sponsored vegetarianathon’ that my burger-loving friend Fi and I thought would be a great way to raise money for charity, I still remained a steadfast carnivore. In fact, no meal was complete in my opinion without crispy-skinned chicken, a juicy t-bone or a herb-smothered chop.
Then, uni days arrived. I soon realised that I couldn’t actually AFFORD to eat a banquet of meat every night. Come 7pm each evening, I’d miserably open a tin of tomatoes and stir it through my pasta, longing for some tiger prawns or sizzling bacon to be thrown in to give the dish that extra flavour.
When I graduated (minus a few pounds from the steak starvation but plus a few from the extra beers), my sister and I moved in together. Despite the fact that we’d grown up on the same diet, she now lived a virtually vegetarian existence, only eating meat about one day a week. “Chickpea broth for dinner?” she’d smilingly suggest, only for me to make my best I’m-going-to-vomit-face and snatch some diced pork out of the freezer.
Then I met my Australian-Italian husband, who invited me to visit his family in Aulla, a little town in the Ligurian mountains. As his uncle Rafaele ranted about local dogs barking and the price of electricity, his gentle wife Arianna would quietly concoct bubbling pots of tomato sauce made from gnarly, local fruit and fashion imperfect homemade gnocchi to serve with garlicky pesto. Sure, there were lots of cured meats on offer, but Arianna’s finest food never contained so much as a speck of meat. I was a carnivore converted.
As soon as I returned from my tasty trip, I found myself craving Arianna’s simple yet sweet pasta e fagioli (beans) and pizza with just tomatoes and mozzarella on top. From that moment on, I ditched the naive attitude that a meal is not a meal unless it contains part of a dead animal.
A delicious meal is all about using the best ingredients, not about filling those 1980s quotas of meat, veg and carbs. I’m so happy that there is a growing focus on local, quality produce in Australia. In these current financial and eco-conscious times, ethically-reared meat just isn’t as affordable anyway. Now, I love nothing more than serving friends a creamy wild mushroom risotto or a smoky roasted vegetable kebab. I might never be a fully-fledged veggo, but I now appreciate that being a herbivore certainly doesn’t make you weird.
Growing up in the green pastures of England, it was hard not to be an avid meat eater. Even as a podgy child, as I missed my mouth while feasting on roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, bangers and mash and shepherd’s pie, I’d ask myself: ‘Why would anyone not eat meat?’