We are eating less meat now than we used to ten years ago, by about 17%. That sounds a lot but what it translates to is 17g of meat a day less per person. Not even a whole slice of ham!
An Oxford University study has reviewed UK food consumption and its impact on individual health and global environment, recommending we do more! Or rather less – eat 30% less meat by the next decade.
It is all the usual problems: obesity, cardiovascular health, gas emissions and sustainability. I believe we all, except butchers, agree that it’s a good idea to cut down on meat in your meals. Processed meat adds to the obesity epidemic; too much red meat is linked to bowel cancer and heart disease and that’s before we think of environmental impact.
But how to do it? How can meat eaters reduce their steak intake and what can we eat instead?
That’s the biggest problem as surveys show almost half of dedicated carnivores wouldn’t mind a few meat-free meals a week. It’s just that meat is so easy: roast a chicken fillet and all you need on the side is salad. Vegetarian meals need thought, ideas, planning and usually a bit more effort.
And the major mistake we make when trying to give up meat is thinking that it needs to be replaced in a straight swap with something else. And therein arrive beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, nuts and seeds – all hippie food which, let’s be honest, not many meat-eaters actually like very much.
The plant-based meat replacements are in my view a huge misunderstanding. They are all so ultra-processed they probably have an environmental impact of a herd of cattle and the health index of a Big Mac. I really don’t see how eating those Impossible Burgers or Beyond Sausages benefits us or the planet.
What to eat then if you want to reduce your meat consumption? The answer is very easy: don’t look for replacements but rather eat the vegetarian dishes that you like. It will never work otherwise, however many times you try to persuade yourself that chickpea casseroles are DELICIOUS.
If it’s not about going full veggie – and it’s not, we’re talking about cutting down – there’s no risk of not getting enough protein. So if you have a dinner of pasta or potatoes twice in a week, I’m sure your hair won’t fall out.
A handful of ideas then: pasta first! Who doesn’t like pasta? And personally, I actually prefer pasta without any meat in the dressing because otherwise it just feels too much – pasta is calorific as it is. Cabbage lasagne or chunky vegetable lasagne can rival the best meat ragu. And for a quick dinner, consider penne with wild mushrooms, seasonal now, or fennel and gorgonzola fettuccine.
Rice comes next and I apply the same principle to it: better with just plant additions. Brown rice with mushrooms, or perhaps Persian rice with broad beans are filling and satisfying dishes. And fried rice doesn’t have to have meat or shrimp in it either.
My favourite Sunday lunch for a long time has been simple roast potatoes with just lots of vegetables. A classic Sunday roast with the meat omitted – and I never go hungry after that! For a more elaborate potato dish, you could make latkes or a potato babka.
Pastry is the next meat free solution: Greek spanakopita, spinach pie, surely doesn’t need recommendations but try also filo snails, with mushrooms and spinach. A leftover pizza dough ball will make a great cheesy sweetcorn tart – or simply skip the ham from pizza and make it Sicilian.
And lastly, the meat we do eat should be produced as locally as possible. Importing meat is much more damaging than cow farts, so consider this next time you pick up a suspiciously cheap lamb joint in the supermarket.
Dive into my vegetarian section for more ideas. Stay well and keep cooking less meat!