“I’ll have the risotto, please,” I say. For the third consecutive night. This northern Italian rice dish is now a frequent feature in my choices at restaurants, despite the fact that before coming to university I had not even sampled its delights. For risotto has made its way firmly onto my culinary landscape by sheer virtue of the fact I am vegetarian. And it would appear that it’s the only thing many restaurants can think of that doesn’t contain some form of meat. But, of course, I shouldn’t complain. After all, it was my choice to give up a life of easy menu choices, ‘normality’ and an apparently endless amount of protein.
Truth be told, however, I feel better. I believe I am making a healthy choice, for both myself and the planet. My skin is clearer and I have almost certainly reduced my personal carbon emissions by not consuming meat. These are just two examples of how my life has changed, positively, since giving it up.
As time has advanced, eating vegetarian has become easier and, in fact, second nature.
However, it was not always this way. Vegetarianism was my new year’s resolution and even at the start of university, I had never dreamed of not eating meat. Just last year, I too was a member of the bacon brigade, that particular subset of carnivore that espouses, with almost religious zeal, the joys of the pork product. “But bacon” is perhaps the most frequent ‘argument’ is hear when I tell people that I’m a vegetarian, and yet I do not find myself overwhelmed by the compulsion to consume the greasy pink strips of flesh. Admittedly, in November, my first attempt at vegetarianism failed when, faced by unappealing meat-free options in my catered halls, I rather sheepishly opted for a Cornish pasty. However, in 2016 my resolve has been unwavering and I’ve pressed on with my diet. As time has advanced, eating vegetarian has become easier and, in fact, second nature.
Crucially I discovered, after my lapse, that vegetarianism was about planning, which for me, in catered halls, involved looking ahead on the menus to avoid days with meat-free meals I didn’t like and instead ordering a veggie takeaway on that day. For most, of course, it involves considering what you’re going to cook and how to make meat-free recipes that are just as good as anything with meat in it. More and more people are doing this, and the rise of meat-free Mondays is encouraging in many ways.
Awareness of meatless Mondays, as it is called in the US, doubled between 2010 and 2013, and Meatless Monday’s Facebook likes have grown from 35,000 in July 2012 to over 180,000 today. Moreover, in the UK, YouGov polls consistently show that around a fifth of those surveyed have reduced their meat consumption in the past year. However, a report in dietary behaviour from the Eating Better alliance suggested that reports of increasing numbers of meat-reducers had little quantifiable evidence in the UK. Whether or not the numbers back the rise, the importance of the growth of a broader trend towards meat reduction is good news.
The introduction of a small change into people’s diets puts forward the idea that you have a distinct choice in what you eat. People often declare that eating meat is not a choice – that it is so normal and natural that to not do so would go against every fibre of our being. Well, perhaps it was natural for Neanderthal man to hunt and kill for food because of the distinct lack of an Aldi down the street, but for John Doe from Wherevershire to consume beef, pork, lamb, chicken, cod, prawns and duck, all within the space of one week, is distinctly unnatural. Our ways of farming, to cope with demand for meat, have transcended ‘natural’ methods to the point that I doubt our ancestors from 150 years ago would recognise today’s agricultural sector as ‘farming’. Normality, furthermore, is not a particularly secure benchmark. Many things have been, and continue to be, normal that are distasteful in some way. Change is such a constant that to cling to what is ‘normal’ is a weak argument at best and unjustifiable at worst.
The importance of the rise of meat-free Mondays is that it makes people think about what they eat. By a simple break to the regularity of everyday diets, there is an element of consideration brought into food, specifically into why we eat the way we do. For some, perhaps this might lead them to question their carnist existence and to research the (considerable) impacts of meat consumption. For others, it is a change that they put no more thought into, but one which still carries a huge weight. A study conducted into the rise of meat-free Mondays in the US has found that the vast numbers that give up meat for just one day a week make more of a difference than all the American vegetarians.
Things are changing, and as developing countries feel the prosperity that the West has enjoyed for some time now, there is an increasing market for animal products. This means it is even more crucial for the developed world to consider our consumption, because the current system is wildly unsustainable. There is much talk about climate change, but desperately little, at least amongst the public at large, about the role that what we eat plays in this.
for John Doe from Wherevershire to consume beef, pork, lamb, chicken, cod, prawns and duck, all within the space of one week, is distinctly unnatural.
According to a study conducted by UN, the livestock sector contributes 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is perhaps a low estimate, and other studies, such as one by World Watch, suggests the rate could be as high as 51 per cent. To put this into perspective, raising animals produces more greenhouse gases than all of the world’s planes, trains, automobiles and boats. Meat production is guilty of this in many ways, but the key reasons are the methane and nitrous oxide produced and the levels of deforestation. Methane and nitrous oxide have 86 and 268 times more climate change potential, respectively, than carbon dioxide. But it’s not just these other greenhouse gases. Industrialised livestock contributes to roughly 75 per cent of deforestation, so if you want to save the rainforest, vegetarianism is also a great way of doing this. I could have filled this entire article with statistics about the environmental impacts of the meat industry, but I sense you get the idea.
To end positively, during my six months of vegetarianism I have discovered a whole new world of dishes, now amongst my favourites, that I would have previously considered unpalatable. I have also discovered a community of people where there is somehow a strong bond between those who go without animals or animal products. Most importantly I am doing my bit to curb climate change, and if we all took part in meat-free Mondays, you could do the same.