Vegetarians and vegans may no longer be viewed with the sort of suspicion reserved for naturists or members of the Flat Earth Society, and yet we are still largely a nation of carnivores. Meat is at the heart of many great British culinary traditions: the bacon sarnie; the Sunday roast; sausages on the BBQ; lamb at Easter; turkey at Christmas; cold cuts; hot pots; pork pies; Cornish pasties; Scotch eggs…it’s a very, very long list.
Too long, in fact, for the good of our nation’s health. Meat can be high in fat, especially saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels and the risk of coronary heart disease, so too much of it really isn’t good for us. This love affair with meat isn’t sustainable, for the body we live in or the planet we live on.
By contrast, the more veg you eat the better. It can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer…and here we go again, another very, very long list. Food writer, Michael Pollan, is a little more succinct with his words: "eat food, mainly plants, not too much". Why? Because vegetables are the foods that do us the most good and our planet the least harm. We should aim for 5 to 10 a day, and ‘eating the rainbow’ (a variety of colourful fruits and veg) is an easy way to get the complete range of nutrients your body needs to thrive.
The win-win here is that diets centred on a diverse range of foods from plants with animal products eaten sparingly, is not only healthy, it also has a lower environmental impact. Meat is typically the most greenhouse gas intensive part of our diet.
Non-dairy protein (which is almost entirely meat) already accounts for 57% of the impact of all food and drink on our climate, so it’s affecting our planet’s health hugely. That’s because meat production is a phenomenally inefficient way of converting nature’s energy into fuel for humans. Animals are fed on cereals that could be used for human consumption and those cereals are grown on vast swathes of land that could be used for growing other crops. For every 100 calories of grain fed to animals, we get only 12 calories of chicken, 10 of pork and just 3 of beef. It doesn’t take a mathematical whizz to see the problem there.
So, we’re faced with a challenging question: how can we eat healthily every day without contributing to global warming? There is one obvious answer: to eat more veg. We’re not saying banish the bacon buttie…it doesn’t have to be about vegetarianism or any -ism; it's more about eating more vegetables, and as a result, a little less meat.
There are loads of ways of doing this: simply use more veg than you might otherwise (serve four veg up with your roast as opposed to two); go large on the garnish (pile on the spring onion or fresh herbs, don’t hold back); sneak veg into recipes so no one notices (a bit of beetroot in that chocolate cake); swap in a vegetable where you might usually use something else (courgetti as opposed to spaghetti).
Alternatively, why not give Meat Free May a go? Back in May 2016 we launched our first Meat Free May, urging customers to do a “veggie swap” and try, say, our Roasted Vegetable Lasagne instead of the usual Lasagne Al Forno, or instead of the Chilli Con Carne, to try the Chilli Con Veggie. We now celebrate Meat Free May every year, but we’ve also set ourselves a series of planet nourishing goals to have reached by 2025, one of which is for sales of meat-free meals to be a whopping 30% of our savoury total.
If you want to #bemoreherbivore, but not entirely, and a month without meat feels simply a step too far, then Meat Free Monday (as opposed to May) is another good idea. It just helps break the ‘meat as a default’ habit.
And we are creatures of habit, particularly when it comes to what we eat, so fair enough to presume that making the shift could be tricky. But when veggie food tastes as good as it does these days, and mouth-watering veggie recipes are so easy to come by, then it’s more of a shift from duty to desire. A veggie-based meal isn’t so much dreary deprivation as delicious indulgence. One mouthful of our bestselling Roasted Vegetable Lasagne is all the proof you need!
So, why not give it a go? In the words of the entertaining VEGPOWER children’s ad (ITV 2019, have a peek if you get a minute): “it’s crunch time”. Or if you’re more of the Lennon era, it’s time to give peas a chance.