I have mentioned it before and if you’ve read this blog over the last couple of months you’ll have noticed that I’m eating less meat and fish nowadays. In fact my week in Amble, was the most meat heavy my diet has been since Christmas. Ma and I ate meat or fish every day and decided to use the local shops in Amble where they had a fantastic butcher who was clear about where his meat came from, cured his own bacon and made his own (amazing) sausages. It was lovely and I really enjoyed it but at home my meals are generally plant based.
Last week at work someone had assumed that I was a vegetarian*, which was hilarious to me, my favourite food is steak and I could pretty much suck a pig through a straw but thinking about my diet last week, my ‘meat’ eating consisted of salmon at Ma’s on Friday night (seriously any moment now Ma is going to turn orange she eats so much salmon!) and two sausages on Saturday night. I couldn’t hack never eating a steak again but I have been more careful about the meat that I buy and eat and as a consequence I’m eating much less.
I’ve been banging on about this for a while but if you are going to eat dead animals, I feel that you owe it to yourself and the animal to make sure it had a good life, was fed well, not caged or stressed or mistreated. Decently reared meat is expensive, which is as it should be. I also think it’s important to put your money where your mouth is about where you buy meat from. When I was buying meat from a supermarket, I always bought red tractor approved meat, and I don’t buy processed meat or ready meats so the ‘horsemeat’ issues that hit recently didn’t worry me too much because I didn’t eat any of the food at issue. However, one of the things I love about where I live is the run of good, local shops in Northfields and if I don’t use them, I can’t complain when they close due to lack of business, so I’ve started to use the butchers. All of this means that the meat I buy is more expensive. One of the blogs I followed last year was Offally Good, it was set up Lucy who as a keen meat eater started to get worried about how much of the animal we don’t eat and committed to eating offal and game, only offal and game for a year to help balance what she saw as her ‘meat debt’. I’m not sure that I’d go that far but I do think it’s worth thinking about how we eat meat.
The other major reason for eating less meat is money. I know that I’m in a better position than most but all my bills are more than they were when I moved into the flat 5 years ago and the money I spend on food is one of the few places where I can save money, I try not to spend more that £20 to £25 a week on shopping and that covers all my food (I take lunch to work) and boring things like washing powder and rubber gloves! Sometimes I’ve spend £15 before I’m through the grocery section (my brother used to say the government should subsidize vegetables, take all the tax you pay on booze and put it towards giving people affordable fruit and veg and I can see his point!). Beans and pulses are cheaper than meat so they have become what I buy.
This change of eating and shopping habits has led to a change of cooking habits too. Eating meat is easy, cook a slab of meat, add some vegetables and maybe a potato or two and you’re done, it doesn’t require much thought. Making balanced, interesting vegetarian meals requires more effort and creativity. I’ve already written about how my diet has changed and how I’ve learned to love lentils and pearl barley but the biggest change to my diet and cooking is that I eat beans at least a couple of times a week. Where 2 years ago my freezer was full of frozen chicken, meat, fish and pre-cooked meat sauces and chilli, now it’s full of pre-cooked dried beans, soup, bean stew vegetables. I also eat a lot more eggs.
I didn’t change the way I eat for my health or to lose weight. Neither is a bad aim and I believe in the power of diets to change both of those things, but, and I think it’s very easy to do if you are online as much as I am, I’ve noticed a trend for healthy living blogs to be a little neurotic about food and what’s healthy, what isn’t and what you should be eating. I try to avoid that because I think ultimately that is the opposite of healthy. So while, I think my digestion is a little better, I can’t claim that eating like this is making a huge difference to my life, my migraines haven’t improved and my skin didn’t become perfect overnight. What I can say is that my energy levels are the same as before, I sleep about a well as I always did and I don’t feel any worse for cutting down on meat.
One of the things that hasn’t changed is that I’m still not too fussed about buying organic food, as I’ve said before, good farmers won’t pump antibiotics into an animal needlessly and I think trying to eat locally produced food is better for the world than air freighting courgettes from Kenya. I don’t wash fruit and vegetables either unless I can see the dirt, a habit I picked up from my mother, so far, it hasn’t killed me and life is really to short to wash an apple!
Having said that I think that trading in food futures is immoral and is something governments should stop and I think as a society we need to think seriously about GMO and the implications of GM foods. Look wheat is a genetically mucked about with grass, all of our crops at some point have been changed by humans to suit them, corn as we know it couldn’t survive without humans. However, putting animal genes in plants genetic make up just feels wrong. Scientists need to explain better, the general public need to listen better and governments need to keep big companies profit motive in check.
Somewhere along the line this post turned less into an explanation of my eating less meat and more about my thoughts on food and how we treat it. Ultimately, I think that might be my point, that what and how we chose to eat shouldn’t be too complicated, political or harmful to the planet. That it has become all of these, says something about how far we’ve moved away from what’s important in how we live. I don’t believe in some mythical past where food was plentiful and farming didn’t hurt the environment, it doesn’t exist and returning to that sort of agriculture, would leave us short of food. Having said that, the way we run things now is leaving people short of food and children badly nourished. It seems to me that we need to be honest about where our food comes from and the cost of producing it, but doing that means we also need to look at other things, how expensive housing has become and how low wages are. I don’t think that telling people they’re ‘doing eating wrong’ is helpful or fair. I can cook, I have a fully equipped kitchen (except for the Kitchen Aid, damnit!) and I sometimes struggle to feed myself well because it’s so much effort. It’s going to be that much harder for someone without those advantages before we even get into the issues of poverty and food deserts. So while I’m happy to share what, how and why I eat as I do (and if anyone has any questions or wants to discuss this in the comments, go for it) I’m very against being preachy about it. I hope I wasn’t!
*To be clear here, when I say vegetarian, I mean not eating any meat or fish, but eating things produced by animals like honey, eggs and milk. If you tell me you are a vegetarian and then order fish, I will know that you are not a vegetarian but you are stupid because you don’t know what vegetarian means! I once had a boss who claimed to be a vegetarian but ate chicken and fish (I never could take her seriously after that!)