I do it nearly every day and I enjoy doing it but some people don’t like to do it.

I will only eat food I have prepared from scratch

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Chris had said himself that not all the experiments would work and week three’s experiment wouldn’t work for me because Chris was speaking to the converted it was something I already do. Here’s my story of only eating food I prepare from scratch.

At the end of 2014 I decided to try to have a meat free diet for the following year. This was a strange concept for me because I was a meat eater all my life and enjoyed the humble sausage immensely. I used to argue with people telling them we are naturally carnivores, we have fangs. So what changed my stance?

I had already questioned eating meat when I travelled along the motorway and felt sick at the sight of sheep packed so tight into a lorry that they couldn’t move an inch. My health had also been poor in 2014 with constantly feeling low with colds, man-flu (it does exist, honest) and the real flu threatening me on a weekly basis. This terrible year for my health had followed the previous year when I was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and having a 30% lung capacity. The nurse also said no matter what I did this wouldn’t and couldn’t improve – she was wrong as I’ve since proved. You’re probably thinking that I was a heavy smoker but I wasn’t, I’d never really smoked in my life. The only cigarettes I’d ever smoked were the odd ones offered to me at a student’s party or from “cool” people I met on the odd occasion through the road of my life. These cigarettes were the ones with an herbal-hoppy aroma, I’m sure you know the ones I mean. My total smoking career was no more than the odd rolled-fat cigarette on a very, very rare occasion which could be counted on two hands excluding thumbs and a few fingers missing.

My health had always been poor. I was born with terrible asthma and spent the first three and a half months of my life in hospital. My dad told me the only reason that they let me out was because it was Christmas Eve and snowing. He collected me from the hospital. I suppose that’s the reason I’ve always seen him as a working class hero whom I love dearly. The seed of my love for him was sown when I was a mere baby.

This terrible asthma did not stop me from running around the streets playing chase and playing football. I loved playing football, I could run all day. I led a normal childhood in that respect. I would suggest I even spent more time on the streets than most other kids because I’d had extra time indoors through asthma attacks when I was very young. The only problem was if the chest did get tight I was knackered. The older I’ve get the more control I’ve had over it to a certain respect but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something that I’m aware of on a daily basis. The truth is it’s the only thing in life that scares me.

Anyway 2014 was so bad I decided I needed to drastically improve my health and I started by changing my diet. I needed more vitamins inside me and I decided on the simple idea to eat more vegetables. I knew my plan wouldn’t work by just putting more vegetables on my plate because I would get fed up loading my plate with extra veg. So I decided to cut meat out of my diet to force myself into Veg Country. My health and immune system was so bad with constant colds it was an easy decision to make. I wasn’t suggesting for one minute that meat was causing the problem I just thought that cutting meat out of my diet would force me into eating more vegetables.

I decided to give myself a year, 2015, to discover a meat free diet and if my health didn’t improve I would have the biggest fry up known to man on the 1 of January 2016. I envisaged a plate stacked high with different sausages and bacon and the king of the fried breakfast; black pudding and tonnes of it. To be honest for a man with my background and character it was hard to admit to being a non-meat eater. I was a bit apprehensive about what people would say or think about me. After a few months of realising it was an experiment that could possibly give my immune system a boost I stopped caring about what other people thought or said – I was doing it for me. My anxiety about what people would think about me was due to my hatred of ‘labels’. I hate it when people stick a label on another person or pigeon hole them into a category as if we are all alike – we aren’t and I still refuse to call myself a vegetarian. I’m a man who eats a meat-free diet. If someone wants to put a label on that then they’re showing the world their narrow minded view of people.

I knew 2015 was going to be a difficult year because I loved eating sausages. Our local butcher sells fantastic sausages. Thinking about their taste makes me salivate. As for black pudding I agree with a friend of mine who once said an English breakfast isn’t an English breakfast unless it’s got black pudding on it. 2015 was going to be difficult but it was worth giving it a go if I was going to receive a bill of good health.

I bought a series of books with simple recipes and felt my way around this new world of vegetables. I made variations on my usual diet; curries, lasagnes, chilli, etc. I couldn’t understand people who just swapped meat for Quorn; I didn’t see the point so made the decision not to do so. Then I began to make other meals I’d never attempted before. It was all exciting and everything was from scratch.

Eating a meat free diet meant almost every meal I prepared was from scratch. Sometimes cooking from scratch can be time consuming but you do get a sense of achievement out of it and after a short time you can spot a nice bit of veg by touch and you instinctively know the shelf life of a nice piece of veg too. Don’t laugh but it’s like you connect with food like never before. You experiment more too. For example in the past I would have bought a precooked lasagne or if I had the time I would make one from scratch with minced beef. But now on a meat free diet I have made different variations of lasagne using all different kinds of ingredients. I could have lasagne all week but with different variations of it so no lasagne was the same as the previous one. It’s the same with most dishes. You will be surprised how much tastier meals are cooked from scratch too.

The experiment was exciting and the food was so tasty it blew my mind. When I went to visit my parents I celebrated their wedding anniversary by cooking them a roasted butternut squash curry. I showed my dad how to cook it from scratch and left the spices he needed if he wanted to attempt it himself. My dad loves curries, the spicier the better. I once watched him demolish a ‘devil’ of a curry with ease. I asked him if it was hot and his reply was; “Yes, it’s not bad.”

I tried the same curry a few weeks later and it was the hottest thing I’d ever tasted. I finished the plate at the expense of a big red face and my tongue on fire for hours. Ouch!

When I was making the butternut squash curry my dad didn’t look too impressed with the raw ingredients and I think he thought the curry sauce would be tastier and easier coming out of a jar. As for the roasted butternut squash he’d never heard of it. He kept on asking me where the meat was. He looked a bit concerned when we sat down to eat it. He even said once more, “Butternut squash?”

He took one mouthful, then another and then he turned to me and said, “This is really nice.”

He meant every word and scoffed the lot. Since then he has told me he has made the meal for himself a few times. On a recent visit to see me we walked around the shops on his quest to buy garam masala which he’d run out of.

I’ve probably made more meals from scratch this year than the rest of the years put together. But I’d be kidding if I said I didn’t miss sausages and black pudding because I do miss them. But my health has been superb almost all year. I once got a cold earlier in the year and it lasted five days then was gone completely. The same type of cold on another year would have taken a week to come out, would have stayed a week and it would have taken a further week to get rid of it. Not anymore.

Apart from heat stroke on holiday (that’s another story) my health has been superb. There’s been a couple of times when I might get the early stages of a sore throat but it lasts no more than a day, half a day in fact. And it’s weird not seeing the sore throat develop into a cold. Doing exercise twice a week has helped my immune system too. This year has probably been my best year for health for a very long time and this is in part, I believe, down to eating more vegetables, adding plenty of garlic to my food and preparing food from scratch. My promise that I would eat a huge plate of sausages and black pudding stacked against bacon and all the usual suspects on an English breakfast has been put off for another year. I’ll go into 2016 meat free once more. If my health stays the same or gets better (like I believe it will) I might never taste the humble sausage and black pudding ever again (a tear wells in my eye at the thought).

In saying that I would ask you to give a meat free diet a try or at least try substituting meat for vegetables on a few dishes. Cook a meal from scratch and substitute chicken in a curry sauce for a roasted butternut squash cut into mouthful chunks or cauliflower. Substitute minced beef in a Bolognese or cottage pie for green or Puy lentils. For chilli con carne substitute minced beef for mixed beans. Try different beans that you’ve not tried before. Experiment with different vegetables and don’t be scared to add vegetables you’re not keen on. For example slice celery thinly and add it to a Bolognese. Try mixed peppers in a lasagne instead of beef. I could suggest ideas all day but it’s best to experiment yourself.

If you don’t do it already, whatever you do, you will find that preparing food, meat free or not, from scratch gives you a tremendous feeling of wellbeing and achievement. You will be surprised how easy it is – get stuck in its great fun.

That’s all the positives I can give you but there is one drawback; it can be time consuming. I usually get a two hour break so I have more than enough time to make what I want from scratch but for anybody in a job with a limited amount of time for a dinner break my suggestion is find time on your days off and make a big batch of chilli, curry, a pasta sauce or whatever you want, freeze it and defrost the day before you need it. That said the benefits of eating and preparing food from scratch are immense and something I do almost every day of the week and thoroughly enjoy doing and will continue to do so.

In all honesty I didn’t have to do week three’s experiment but it was a reminder to me that I AM doing somethings right in my life. And for that reason I did get something out of it.

Mark Cuddy

Someone who learned to wake up