If you can’t face the idea of full-time vegetarianism, think about being a veggie mid-week.
If you do even the most cursory study into what you, personally, can do to save the planet and benefit your health at the same time, it becomes uncomfortably apparent that you should probably give up meat.
All in all, meat is a pretty bad idea. Animal fats are the biggest cause of coronary heart disease in the west. Cows and pigs bred for meat use up a huge amount of land that could be put to agricultural use. Obtaining meat involves slaughtering the animal, to its inevitable suffering. Acres of Brazilian rainforest are lost every day in order to put land to meat production – mainly for populations that are already obese.
Well, we all know the math.
The problem for the average Brit is that our whole cuisine is founded on meat. And most of us enjoy meat. There is something about getting your gnashers round a nice juicy steak that a carrot burger just can’t match. But at the same time, most of us don’t relish the idea of the animal suffering so that we can eat it. So we do that fancy mental two-step that enables us to carry on doing something we know at heart is morally reprehensible.
Our Christian heritage is also a problem. Unlike some other religions, there has never been a moral imperative in Christianity to avoid meat in the modern era. Fish on Fridays is an idea long-gone, and for many centuries, access to meat for many people was so rare in any case that choosing to avoid it was not an issue. People ate meat whenever they could get their hands on it.
That situation is markedly different in other parts of the world. Jains in India, for instance, abstain from all meat and fish on the principles of non-violence. They also don’t eat eggs; honey; any vegetable that ‘bleeds’ like blood when it’s cut; root vegetables, in case insects are killed when they’re harvested; or after sunset – in case insects are fatally drawn to the lamplight. One way or another, I sometimes wonder what Jains actually have left to live on.
However, the rich tradition of vegetarianism that results from these strictures, and is found elsewhere in the East, particularly wherever there is a Buddhist tradition, results in a fabulous vegetarian cuisine – something we lack in the west. Eating veggie meals becomes positively enticing when a big Thali is laid out before you.
I would therefore advise anyone who wants to cut down their meat consumption to look to other cuisines for vegetarian inspiration, especially Indian. And if not Indian, then Mexican, or Spanish, or French, or Italian – all of these traditions have excellent veggie meals, such as pizza, ratatouille, chilli, guacamole etc, which are eaten simply as part of the cuisine, not as poor substitutes for meat-based meals, as so much British vegetarian cuisine seems to be.
You could start by having one veggie day a week. In this house, it’s usually Wednesday – the mid-week meal – and we’ll generally have something like a ratatouille or a non-meat chilli, or a chickpea curry.
Even if you never progress further than this and remain a meat-eater the rest of the week, you have just dramatically reduced your carbon footprint – and that’s something worth aiming for.