|Processed meat sludge|
“Why don’t you eat meat? Is it for ethical reasons? Do you like it? If you were dying of hunger would you eat meat? I love meat. Vegetarian food is awful. I’ve never met a healthy vegetarian.”
These are the kind of questions and statements I’ve had to put up with for years, so, intolerant of boring conversation and fatigued by fatuous argument, I avoid answering.
Today is hashtag meat-free Monday but it would be saner to make Monday, or another day, the only day in which we eat meat. I say ‘we’, but I haven’t touched meat in 33 years nor would I.
The horse meat scandal induces a sensation of schadenfreude in me. Somewhat cruelly, I have chuckled at your discomfort. What the hell do you expect? You eat cheap unidentifiable pink sludge formed into patties or sausages or scooped into frozen TV dinners, and you think what? That this is food?
There are several lessons to be learnt from this scandal. Don’t eat processed food. Don’t eat cheap meat. Don’t let multi-national supermarkets beat down suppliers. Shorten the food chain. Eat local! Eat more vegetables and fruit! Value cooking from scratch. Teach kids to cook.
In short, all the stuff that food activists, suppliers and writers have been banging on about for years. To the point that people have tuned them out. More guilt-tripping they think with a sigh. Just like all that eco-bollocks we are supposed to feel bad about. Life is hard enough.
Cheap food is also a feminist issue because it’s us that cooks it. When you’ve got in from work, picked up the kids from the nursery, the school or the childminder and you have unpacked the shopping done en route or in your lunch hour and the kids are hungry and you are tired, what do you do? You reach into the freezer and pull out a pack of food that merely needs heating up.
Jamie can repeat ad nauseum that it’s just as easy to cook something from scratch in the same amount of time but that still requires creativity and effort. The message isn’t getting through. Cooking is only easy if you’ve done that dish a million times. I can cook a pasta with a tomato sauce (not from a bottle) in 15 minutes start to finish with my eyes closed.
But we are now several generations from the last generation (post-war?) that always cooked fresh food albeit badly. The habit has been lost.
Most of the foodie world, that is chefs, critics and bloggers, have had a downer on vegetarians: they don’t get a good press. The food is brown, tasteless, not worth the money, even strips you of your manhood. (Food again is gender based just like everything else. Men eat meat, women eat cupcakes).
It doesn’t help that there are few good vegetarian restaurants. For decent and cheap veggie food, you must eat Indian. In Brighton we have posh and expensive Terre à Terre, in London Vanilla Black, of which I have also heard good things. The vegan raw restaurant Saf, closed down in Shoreditch, unfortunately only the lunch place in Kensington remains. I’ve never been to any of these restaurants. As this blogpost says, if vegetarians don’t support vegetarian restaurants, they can’t stay in business.
Amongst supper clubs, there are some vegan and vegetarian options. I call The Underground Restaurant a ‘pescetarian’ restaurant, for while I never cook and serve meat, I do sometimes serve fish. In fact I must admit I’ve kept the fact that I don’t serve meat somewhat secret. I don’t make a song and dance about it. I figured if I serve a delicious, umami-rich meal and simply don’t mention that there is no meat, perhaps people won’t notice. If I say I run a vegetarian supper club, am I chasing away potential customers?
I don’t feel entirely comfortable about serving fish either, although I do occasionally eat fish. Sometimes when I’ve received a delivery of beautiful creatures from the sea, I feel sad. I look at their silvery muscular bodies with admiration, then I look at their dead eyes and feel guilt. But I like the taste of smoked salmon, taromasalata, caviar and pickled herring. So I’m a hypocrite.
And while I could easily give up all fish, I would find it tougher to give up dairy (butter! cheese!) which also has many issues: cruel factory farming, wrenching calves from their mothers, forcing cows to lactate, not even for their own children, their entire lives.
I haven’t even gone into the environmental reasons of why meat eating is a bad idea. Those animals you are eating, use up an awful lot of land, for grain, for grazing, for water. This is an inefficient use of land of which, obviously, there is only a finite amount, which could be used for growing crops to feed the world, specifically the poorer majority of the planet. Less meat, more food for everyone.
So my answer to the first question, why don’t you eat meat? is, I don’t like the idea of eating animals. I’ve always been suspicious of minced meat and it’s origins (since I was a child). I feel cleaner not eating meat. There is no cross-contamination in my kitchen and food hygiene is a doddle. I can’t stand the idea of dripping blood from flesh, of eating body parts from dead animals. The bottom line is I think eating other animals is rather discourteous. This sounds kind of loopy but I also think we don’t know enough about animals, they are probably more intelligent than we know, maybe they even talk to each other. It’s rude to eat other species. If you start thinking about animals in this way, soon you will not like the taste and texture of them either.
We are not perfect. It’s difficult to live a virtuous cruelty-free life. But if you are going to eat meat, eat the meat of properly cared for animals, rarely.