Why you should go vegetarian in 2017
No more steak or Sunday roasts? When it comes to giving up meat for a year, Joe Shute is going the whole hog – with the help of a gluttonous mind-trick
The anti-smoking guru Allen Carr patented a celebrated technique of jettisoning cigarettes, whereby readers of his book were urged to puff as much as possible until they reached the end. The idea being by the time you gave up, you were so fed up with the damn things, it was a relief to stop.
In the run-up to Christmas, I decided to put this theory into practice, but with meat instead of cigarettes.
One evening, I dispatched 12 chipolatas with only tomatoes and half a baguette as an accompaniment. On December 25, I swallowed eight bloody slices of venison haunch. By Boxing Day, I was eating cold turkey thickly layered between bacon and chased down with hunks of fridge-cold unseasoned sausage meat.
As the clock counted down on New Year’s Eve, I made one final desperate grab for a party buffet chicken drumstick. That grey, slimy meat was to be my last. For the entirety of 2017, I will go vegetarian.
Now, as I am learning in the world of meat-dodgers, distinctions matter; so let me get those out of the way first.
Unlike many others, I am not going all the way. According to Google, “veganism” was the most searched dietary trend of 2016, and the bone-gnashingly named “Veganuary” is well under way in Britain. But I’m planning a soft Brexit from the world of meat, so my vegetarianism will include eggs, milk and cheese.
Oh, and fish. To some, this makes me a fraud or, at best, a flexitarian – a term coined for part-time veggies who follow a mostly plant-based diet, with the occasional foray into white meat (just so you have a few options when you dine out).
So 2017 will be a rather tentative step into the virtuous circle of lentil and chickpea, in which the NHS estimates two per cent of the British population exists.
I am choosing to avoid meat for a year, for now, because this makes me less likely to fail. And I am deciding not to call myself a pescatarian because, well, it just sounds so worthy and I hope still to be invited to the odd dinner party.
Last week, the animal rights group Peta replaced every single advert in Clapham Common Tube station with posters promoting veganism. “I’m me, not meat” ran the slogan under photographs of glossy pigs and cows.
But difficulty with the concept of consuming another animal’s flesh is not why I am stopping. Nor, in truth, is it a particular concern over animal welfare.
My work as a journalist once took me to an intensive pig farm where sows were crammed into metal pens and ammonia stung my eyes. Last year, I also encountered a pig abattoir while walking through an unlovely stretch of the Northamptonshire countryside. From a distance, it sounded like children at play. Only when we came closer to the green corrugated metal shed did we realise it was animals screaming for their lives.
Still, though, I kept eating bacon sandwiches (and will miss them dearly). It is guilt over what our livestock does when it is alive, rather than how it is killed, that I feel most keenly. There are health benefits to giving up meat – my reasons, though, are environmental.
It is a totally unsustainable situation whereby humans are the most populous mammals on Earth, at 7.4 billion, followed by cows (1.5 billion), sheep (1.1 billion), pigs (1 billion) and goats (860 million). A global livestock count in 2011 recorded 14 billion chickens.
At the same time, the world is on track to lose two thirds of its wild animals by 2020. A key reason for this is habitat loss to agriculture. As well as gobbling up land, cattle herds cause a sizeable chunk of global emissions through the methane they produce.
The United Nations published a 400-page report in 2006 claiming agriculture is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gases worldwide. The report concluded that unless changes are made, the damage done by livestock will more than double by 2050.
Obviously, I am still feeding myself on the dairy industry. But meat, not milk, is the main driver behind the expansion of herds.
Aquaculture has had a similar impact. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, more than 85 per cent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limit by overfishing. The bounceback of North Sea cod gives me greater hope of the oceans’ ability to replenish themselves. Or at least makes me feel better about eating it.
So what will I miss? Steaks, barbecues and jelly-rich pork pies. My wife, only an occasional meat eater, isn’t joining me in going the full hog and I will also miss cooking – and devouring – a Sunday roast chicken together.
Already, though, I am finding satisfying alternatives: halloumi chargrilled with lemon squeezed over the top, a thick lentil dal, baked macaroni cheese – all fill the meaty void. I am also enjoying guilt-free an increased intake of potatoes and nuts. And, perhaps most smugly, I am now thinking more about what I am putting into my stomach and how it will affect my body.
I’ll make it through this year and, hopefully, longer than that. And in the dark days I’ll remember Allen Carr, and that scarfing a dozen sausages in one sitting really wasn’t worth it.
The Telegraph, London
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