I can count on one hand the number of times I've eaten meat this year. One (probably the most memorable) was a beautiful piece of lamb at my wedding, a dish I had chosen to have on the menu just 6 months earlier. Another was a pretty terrible turkey sandwich at a diner in Newport, when I had no other option. Just thinking about that sandwich makes me shudder! And this pretty well sums up how I feel about meat now. I don't want to eat meat unless I can feel good about where it came from, how it was treated while alive, and if I can rule out other options for the meal. Hence, less than 5 instances of meat-eating in the last 10 months. This comes from a life-long carnivore who ate turkey in all its forms (sliced, ground, bacon) for all meals of the day only a few years ago.
Plant-based diets are a hot topic of conversation, especially recently here in the UK, thanks to a beloved celebrity chef and real food campaigner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (pictured above). Hugh famously wrote a book called The River Cottage Meat Book in 2004, covering everything from simple carnivorous recipes to outlining ethical and moral standards for choosing meat. He was already ahead of the game then. In the last year, however, he's taken it further, actively campaigning for food issues such as wasteful fish discarding and now the overconsumption of meat. A new book and tv series, River Cottage Veg, shows Hugh finding exciting and delicious vegetarian recipes through his own knowledge and the help of others. He has gone completely veggie (as well as giving up alcohol and caffeine) for 5 months so far, maybe simply to prove his point and show he's serious, or maybe for life.
Not only has Hugh brought attention to the plant-based way of eating, there have been a number of documentaries in the last couple of years highlighting this point. Planeat, a small-budget doc that came out earlier this year, follows the same general storyline as another film, Forks Over Knives. Both show how cutting out meat and fish from your diet can help not only your own health, but the health of the planet. A further film, Food Inc, shows the brutal reality of the American meat and dairy industries, how factory farming has hurt the nation's farmers and their land, and destroyed the health and wellbeing of an entire population.
Veganism is proving more popular than ever as well, with the likes of Alicia Silverstone, Bill Clinton, and other celebrities and ex-presidents (okay, maybe just the one) extolling the diet's virtues in books, interviews, blogs, and recipes. Vegan bakeries and recipe books keep popping up (however I'd argue that this has less to do with veganism and more to do with food sensitivities to dairy and eggs) and delighting the masses with their sweet treats. Mark Bittman, one of my all-time favorite food writers, used a "vegan before 6" approach to lose weight and stay healthy while traveling (and eating) for work.
The McCartneys have started a campaign called Meat-Free Monday. Rather than going vegetarian 8 days a week (HA!) like Paul & co, they are encouraging everyone to have just one vegetarian day each week. They outline the reasons why (everything from reducing pollution to animal rights) quite succinctly on the MFM website.
So, it's on our radar.
And now we're approaching the festive months of November and December, with two traditional holiday meals that typically center around meat. I'll be avoiding turkey this Thanksgiving and Christmas, instead preparing some wonderful vegetarian options. It wouldn't be the first time! Last year, I made an individual stuffed acorn squash (shown above) for Phil on Thanksgiving. I also baked a nut & mushroom loaf for Phil's family as part of a mini Christmas feast. However, I still ate the turkey. Why? Because of tradition, because of a lifetime of eating turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, because everyone else was. And this year, those reasons aren't good enough for me.
It's a challenge for anyone living in our carnivorous western world. So how can a meat-eating person feel good about their meals without changing their entire diet? Choose wisely, I'd say. Here's how.
- Organic. Yes, it costs more. Yes, it's not as easy to find in the shops. This is because the corn- and soy-based feed, containing all manner of antibiotics and hormones, that is fed to animals in factory farms is much cheaper to produce in mass quantities. By going organic, you're cutting out the nasty stuff. At the very least, you're not unknowingly eating chemicals and hormones. That's surely worth the extra pennies.
- Grass-Fed. A step further than choosing organic beef is to try and find the grass-fed varieties. "Organic" doesn't necessarily mean "grass", so make sure your beef was enjoying its normal stroll through the fields before winding up on your plate.
- Local. Supporting those huge, scary factory farms keeps them going and puts the little guys out of business. That's a given. Have a look into the area where you live to find out if there are any smaller farms around that sell their goods direct to the consumer, or via a farmer's market. This goes for everything from meat to eggs to milk. We have a great stall at our local market in Barnes where Phil has been buying unpasteurized, or raw, milk each week (to find out more about where you can get raw milk in the UK, Natural Food Finder has a fantastic guide).
- Home Delivery. Living in a city, or miles from an organic farm, can have it's drawbacks to eating ethical meat. But I'm starting to notice an upswing of home delivery services, not just in the form of fruit and vegetable boxes, but meat and fish too. One such service here in London, Field & Flower, provides grass-fed, free-range meats to the masses throughly a monthly box scheme. You can feel good about the meat you're eating without ever having to leave your house!