For most people, vegetarianism is a choice we make later in life. But for Tammy Fry Kelly and her family, it’s virtually a way of life from the beginning.

Vegetarianism was once something of a taboo life choice, considered to be threatening to one’s health. As we advance in our understanding of food and nutrition, however, attitudes have changed.

Fry’s Family Foods was founded in 1991 by Wally and Debbie Fry from their kitchen in Durban, South Africa. Debbie was a life-long vegetarian, while Wally was a fanatical meat eater, who “would often try to sneak meat on to her plate”, Tammy laughs.  It wasn’t until Wally, a contractor, was examining the final product of a piggery he was commissioned to build that he saw the light.

“He saw the pigs being slaughtered and he decided at that point that he was no longer going to eat meat,” says Wally and Debbie’s daughter, Tammy. Like most born meat-eaters, however, Wally couldn’t simply go overnight from eating meat three times a day to the diet that the rest of his family had adopted.  “We were eating meals of cauliflower and pumpkin, so he decided to start making products in his kitchen that looked and tasted like meat and gave him all the nutrition that meat gave him.”

Much like her mother, Tammy refused to eat meat from a very young age. Despite her parents’ beliefs, she says she wasn’t forced into vegetarianism against her will. “I used to ask my dad questions like ‘What is this?’ and he would tell me the truth because he had no problem with it. He would call it a chicken’s leg. If he called it a drumstick I would say no, and I was horrified that people would even think about eating a chicken’s leg. So I was a vegetarian from probably about the age of two, or as early as I could know what it was that I was eating.”

Tammy applies the same philosophy with her own children, who she says have also chosen to be vegetarian. As she looks around, she sees a lot of people making the same choice.

“People are realising that what you put in is what you get out. They don’t always have to turn to medical professionals for help; they can look at what they eat and change that and therefore change how they are affected by what they eat. And you can see that everywhere, that people are starting to look for alternatives.”

Today Fry’s Family Foods supplies their products to 23 countries around the world. Recent additions to the range include vegetarian hotdogs, which Tammy says are particularly popular for children’s lunchboxes. “The kids can take these in their lunchboxes to school and it’s high in protein. There’s no junk in it, no preservatives in it, the fats are all healthy fats and they can still be a kid, you know, and not be alienated from the other children at school.”

For those looking to transition to a plant-free diet, Tammy cautions: “If you ever change your diet drastically overnight — it doesn’t matter if it’s going from a vegetarian diet to a meat eating diet, or however you change it in a drastic way — there are some things you’re going to lack because your body is used to getting those kinds of nutrients in certain ways and in certain quantities.”

Today, most Australians eat more meat than is recommended by nutritionists. So for those lovers of red meat, the Fry family are pushing Meat Free Mondays, a “day off meat”, as a way for meat eaters to expand their horizons. “We felt that if people can just take one day off meat,” Tammy says, “it will give people the opportunity to explore different types of food and to make their cooking more interesting.”

Whether you agree with the Frys’ way of life or not, Meat Free Mondays sounds like a good opportunity to get creative with veggies. You can visit the Fry Family website for more info and access to free e-cookbooks.