To meat or not to meat? That it the environmental question: 28th April-4th May

posted May 8, 2012, 6:12 AM by Dinner Lady   [ updated May 15, 2012, 4:51 AM ]
I am surprised that we are still eating meat at all.  Every week we give praise and thanks to the chicken, pig or cow (lamb seems too pricy) who gave its life in honour of our Sunday roast. At the same time, we debate whether it felt pain (probably), sadness (not any more), pleasure at feeding us (the boys thought this was likely) and wondering how it might have died (old age, speculates Maths Geek, while The Naughty Knife shouts "with a knife, cut it with a sword!", although as Maths Geek naively pointed out,  "only the animal knows"). Despite all this talk, and a sad sniff from The Naughty Knight as he mourns the dead beast, we all tuck in with great gusto, this often being the culinary highlight of the week.  Given our utter delight at our weekly roast, my frequent yearnings for rare steak and Maths Geek's addiction to pork sausages, why does the Four and a half bellies challenge, like so many "ethical eaters", include a reduction in meat eating? 

Longstanding reasons for abstaining from meat include concerns about animal welfare and a feeling that animals have rights. While I think animals should be treated with respect, and free from cruelty,  I personally do not think that a pig, chicken, cow or lamb has equal rights to me. I do not see anyone arguing for their Rights to an Education or Rights to Free Speech, which are uniquely human.  A compelling, although not necessarily logical, personal reason for me to give up meat is this: I am simply too squeamish to slaughter an animal, and I sometimes wonder whether one should only eat what one is (hu)man enough to kill. 

More recently, a meatless diet is promoted as part of the environmental debate, as the amount of meat consumed by the world's expanding population has increased exponentially.  Meat production, however "happy" the animals are, damages air, water and land environments and compromises food security.  In his book Just Food, James E. McWilliams, who I think provides interesting counter arguments to some ethical food trends, is adamant that in order to secure food for the future and protect the environment, we need to stop eating meat or reduce our intake to once a month at most. He urges us to do this, arguing that a vegetarian diet would do more for the environment than reducing food miles.  Reading his book, and other literature, was sobering to say the least and I am tempted to go vegetarian as a result of it.

And yet.  My hesitation is the knowledge that my willpower is not great, I would simply cave into the aromas of sizzling bacon, or the sensation of a beautifully rare steak melting in my mouth. As a species we are predisposed to eat meat, although maybe not on the scale to which we have become accustomed.  If I were to go vegetarian on environmental grounds, surely I should go a step further and become vegan, as much of the damage happens before slaughter. And veganism is just too big a jump for us at the moment.  And surely, if the consumer supports farming techniques that reduce the harmful environmental effects of rearing and slaughtering livestock, it will be OK to eat meat. Sadly, McWilliams says not, at least not in the amounts that the world's population would like to consume. 
Vegetarian cuisine in the West has evolved significantly since the days of my youth when lentil mush was unappealing to the eye and stodgy in the stomach.  When I was a teenager, my vegetarian Sunday meal was a spoonful of cottage cheese and a couple of walnuts on the side of the roast potatoes and vegetables.  A sort of less appealing replacement rather than a rethink of how one might cook.  This is no criticism of my mother, who was at least trying to accommodate my ethical stance - most mothers of my friends did not.  These days there are fine dining vegetarian restaurants and cook books and my mother cooks up a mean dish of black eyed bean patties.  I know we could eat well as vegetarians.

Waste not want not

Rotten or gone off - 1/4 kiwi

left on our plates - 2x 2tbsp PB's lunch, she was off her food as she had a cold

left overs I have forgotten to use up - none!

Finally, a much better week, waste wise. Am proud, and will be asking Maths Geek for a sticker or smiley face.  


May 2012
Local supermarket      £10.50
Butcher                £15.00
Vegetable box          £19.40
Supermarket            £112.43
Local grocer           £2.62
Organic vegetable box  £19.40
Total May so far       £179.35