Aka a non meat eater (but I eat fish).
I have been pescetarian since I was four years old. Initially it was because I hated the taste and texture of meat but as I grew up, I also realised where meat came from and decided to label my non meat-eating habits as vegetarianism. The initial few years were a huge battle with my family – I was coerced, tricked and forced into eating meat that I didn’t want to eat, with mixed results. Some of it made me physically sick (lots of funny stories about this) and all of it made me upset and put me off meat for life. But most of all, the fight to be able to choose my own foods made me incredibly aware of what I was putting in my body.
For many a meal is not complete without meat. I learned to cook for myself when I was around 12 because I didn’t want to be stuck with salad, vegetables and bread for every family meal. What I found was an incredible variety of cuisines out there – so many societies have amazing foods without any animal products at all, let alone without meat. A very happy side effect of giving up meat was an interest in different cuisines, experimenting with cooking and an inability to accept that vegetables are boring.
In this article I’ll try to outline the reasons I’ve stayed pescetarian for 17 years, and why you too might like to cut down on your meat consumption. I’ve never tried to turn anyone vegetarian, and I think that the idea that people have to have labels, such as ‘vegetarian’, ‘vegan’ or ‘pescetarian’ is the reason a lot of people don’t do anything to reduce their consumption. Every little helps, and here’s why:
I’m not saying good quality meat is bad for you in any way, but if you reduce your meat consumption to purely fresh, free range meats, you’ll be cutting out all sorts of crap from your diet. Processed meats have been linked to cancer (let’s be honest, what hasn’t) and are in the same WHO (world health organisation) class as asbestos, tobacco and alcohol. They’ve also been linked to heart disease. It’s often really difficult to find out what’s in processed meats. If you’re eating meat to up your protein intake, chicken nuggets and burgers likely aren’t the best way as they’re often filled with water, low quality off-cuts of various meats and bread/corn. For your health and extra protein you should try to buy the most expensive meat you can afford and then eat less of it (and enjoy it more). Go for meat on the bone if you must buy it – bacon, sausages, burgers, smoked meats, salami and hams are all no-goes for health reasons. In the same way that low-fat chocolate wouldn’t satisfy chocolate cravings, low quality meats encourage you to eat more of the dissatisfying stuff than the high-quality, tasty ‘real deal’. In addition, if you give up meat you’re more likely to eat more vegetables to fill the space, which can only be a good thing!
This is a no-brainer but I know it’s often not enough for some people to go veggie. If you don’t think about it, it’s not happening, right? Sadly, I think a lot of people have the attitude that ‘everyone else is eating meat, so it’s probably ok’. What annoys me most is that people don’t think for themselves – when we’re younger, seeing an animal killed would upset us. Our desensitisation to what we’re actually eating is a key reason I think a lot of people eat meat. Watching programmes about the reality of it opens your eyes to some of the blatant cruelty that goes on. Pigs, especially, are incredibly intelligent (on par with dogs) – if you wouldn’t eat dog (and I don’t know many people who would), you probably shouldn’t be eating pigs. For this reason, I think it’s important for people to not eat meat they couldn’t kill themselves and to know exactly where the animal they’re putting into their body comes from. I believe there is no excuse for people not to eat free-range meat. If you have to eat meat, know where it comes for and go for something local and free-range. Nothing else will do.
As Sir Paul McCartney once said “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian”.
Raising animals for consumption requires massive amounts of land and water. This land could otherwise be kept as forests or used for crop growth: when compared to staples like potatoes, wheat and rice, beef requires 160x more land per calorie, and produces 11x more greenhouse gases. Agriculture produces around 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from the upkeep of beef cattle. Meat rich diets produce 7.2kg CO2 a day, compared to veggie and pesce diets emissions of 3.8kg and vegan diets’ 2.9kg per day. Of course, these are not set figures – if you decrease your meat (especially red meat) consumption then you will decrease your CO2 It’s a sliding scale that everyone should aim to be at the lower end of. In addition, grain fed cattle have a far greater environmental footprint than grass fed, so always go for grass fed if you MUST buy it. It’s the same thing about buying the best you can afford and eating less of it!
Meat is expensive! You can reduce your yearly food bill by around 15% by cutting out meat, not to mention that in restaurants, the vegetarian foods are (almost) always cheaper. As a student this has been a godsend for me, and I always find that restaurants always put more effort into their vegetarian foods, using interesting spices and mixes of ingredients, whereas often in meat dishes they’re a lot plainer. Not an entirely biased opinion, as it’s been shared by a lot of my friends!
As you can see, there are so many reasons why I cut out meat from my diet and have kept it out, and why you probably should cut down too. The main reasons people don’t are:
- A) Laziness – finding new recipes, brands, products etc DOES take time and thought, but it should be fun and interesting.
- B) ‘I need meat for protein’. As a sports-person, of course I know how important protein is for muscle maintenance and growth, but meat is not required by the body. Protein comes from countless other sources, both vegetarian and vegan. In addition, a lot of the meat people eat really isn’t high in protein at all, because of artificial fillers companies use to increase the weight of the meat (often water and salt).
- C) ‘A meal isn’t a meal without meat’ – I think this excuse is the worst, as it reflects the way we’ve been raised in today’s society. There are so many amazing cuisines around the world that have high protein, healthy diets without meat. Believing that a meal is only complete if it contains meat is a sign of people’s ignorance of the world and the amazing foods out there. Just look at Asia – some of the best food in the world contains no meat whatsoever. One of my favourite veggie recipes is this veggie lasagne.
I really hope this article has given you some inspiration and maybe the push you need to think about what you’re eating. If everyone reduced consumption of red meat to once a month or less and cut down on all other meats, the world would be a better place, filled with more conscious consumers. Have you made a change to your diet recently? Did it involve cutting out some meats, or animal products entirely? I’d be really interested to know what you think!
- Best no-nonsense article EVER: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/becoming-a-vegetarian-without-giving-up-meat
- Food, inc.
- Before the Flood – DiCaprio!