Thursday, April 03, 2008

Try A Vegetarian Meal Challenge

wartime poster save scraps to feed pigsIt's often said that if you're really concerned about your impact on the planet - in terms of carbon emissions, pollution, sustainability and so on - you should become a vegetarian. For example says:
The best thing that any of us can do for the environment is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

It's also argued that it is inefficient to grow crops to feed to animals to eat their meat, milk, eggs, etc, rather than just grow the crops to feed the people. Greenpeace USA says:
It takes up to 10 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. ... The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people — more than the entire human population on Earth.

But I'm not totally convinced. Just east of where I live is Derbyshire, a rocky county of low mountains and fells. It's sheep-rearing country, because nothing else can thrive there. Dry-stone walls separate the fields, not because they look picturesque, but because even hedges won't grow reliably on the thin soil and the wind-blasted hills. If you didn't farm sheep there, you wouldn't farm anything.

In the book The New Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency, John Seymour strongly advocates keeping a cow on any smallholding, even one as small as a single acre, primarily because of its fertility-generating properties (he means dung). Pigs are also prized by smallholders as the rapidest of compost-making systems. You put food scraps, vegetable trimmings, windfall apples and so on in one end of the pig, and within 24 hours fertiliser comes out of the other end. And you get to eat the pig. It's a win-win situation.

Of course, most of the meat you buy in supermarkets isn't produced this way. Too often it is produced intensively. They call them farms, but really they're much more like factories. And they do produce horrendous amounts of pollution, they rely on enormous quantities of grain and soya and water, and the animal welfare is non-existent.

So I'm not asking you to become a vegetarian. I don't think it's necessary, and I don't think you would do it anyway just because I asked you. I'm asking you, this month, to have a vegetarian main meal once a week. Don't give up meat, but do eat less meat. If you know somewhere you can get well-produced meat, perhaps from a farm shop or a farmers market (don't assume all farm shop or farmers market meat is well-produced - talk to the butcher and ask lots of questions) then please use that rather than the supermarket.

I'll be posting lots of simple and tasty vegetarian recipes this month. Please email me your favourite vegetarian main meals. And I'll be talking about the environmental impact and ethics of meat eating. If you're up for the challenge of eating four vegetarian main meals in April, please vote in the poll in the right-hand sidebar.


Serena said...

Hi Melanie

Good choice for the challenge. Me and my boyfriend watched dispatches three years ago about intensively reared meat. We vowed to eat organic meat only and as we are students we couldn't afford it everyday. So we mainly have veggies meals during the week and meat at the weekend. It makes meat a real treat. Will email you some recipes.


Anonymous said...

we do veggie meals at least three times a week, often more. one of the best ones is this one (, veggie moussakka. its wonderful in its own right, never mind as a veggie "substitute"!! We also have thai green veg curry (although not strictly strictly veggie as it has fish sauce in it), refried beans with tacos, boston baked beans, and veggie pasta. I try to save meat for the weekends, when we have bacon for breakfast on saturday and something nice for dinner on sunday. thats not to say we don't have meat during the week; we sometimes do. more that i try to keep it veggie during the week to put the saved cash towards the weekend. :) works for us!


Anonymous said...

Hi Mel.

I remember when you, Ed and I were living in Aberystwyth and I became exclusively vegetarian for a year so that the three of us could eat together.

I actually became intolerant to the smell of meat, but that's another story!

Anyway, my experience of cooking veggie has, I think, directly led to my enjoyment of cooking today. I honestly think that I would never have learned to cook, and how to comibine fresh, basic inredients in a tasty way if I hadn't had to cook for the three of us.

I am ridiculously excited when my Bhuddist, veggie friend, Jane, comes to tea, as it's the only opportunity I get to revisit some of those delish recipes! Andrew doesn't like them :)

Ive already done poached eggs Indienne, and ratatouilli in the last few days. Have I got to start again and count from the 1st of April??


Anonymous said...

I tend to do a stir fry every week, with the idea that it's veggie - but then I get some prawns out of the freezer. Or, as this week, use up the last of Sunday's roast in it.

I shall make a proper effort again.

Artela said...

We don't have meat at every meal, never have, however it's not a conscious "have a not-meat" meal thing. Recipe for our favourite on its way to your email box :-)

Yodood said...

Vegetarianism is admission of the truth that humans are no more exceptional to the rest of the animal kingdom than Americans are exceptional to the human race. We eat fruits and vegetables at their peak of ripeness, after which they die anyway — no killing or exceptionality involved.

Anonymous said...

Great idea, Melanie! And nicely balanced presentation. I've been vegetarian for umpteen years, but we love animals and raise a few chickens for their (unfertilized) eggs. I know they have a great quality of life since I see it daily with my own eyes!

Tia said...

I was a vegetarian for 9 years (until my 1st pregnancy-when the meat cravings were too strong for me to resist). My children & I eat 2 or 3 veg. meals per week. I like teaching them that a meal can be wonderfully fulfilling, & filling without meat on the plate. It also saves money as organic meats are super expensive and that is the only kind I buy.

Jo said...

Here is a link to a really good veggie recipe. BBC Good Food reckon that one quarter of this lasagne will give you all five portions of your five-a-day too!

We also eat a lot of vegetarian food - because we like it, because it is often cheaper (which means a few more pennies in the coffers towards buying that smallholding we would like to live on), because we don't like or approve of factory farmed meat. I don't want to do without meat entirely but would like to see a happy medium somewhere so that the animals lead reasonable lives before ending up on my dinner plate. Ideally, I'd like to rear my own so that I KNEW that they had been well cared for.


Wendy said...

Just found your blog through turkey feathers...
We always have at least one vegetarian meal a week, and we have 5 hens, so we eat a lot of eggs...
Great blog with lots of good ideas!

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested in this challenge.

I have a teen dd that wishes to be a vegetarian. But we raise sheep on land & have a freezer full, plus I get beef off a friend...

I also have a kid who is allergic to wheat, eggs, diary, to put it mildly I have really been struggling to accommodate food allergies & vege meals.
I think I need to look into vegan meals???

Anyway I will be watching your menus & hope to try some - as we all love our veges.

Love Leanne NZ (I pop in daily but don;t comment much)

Anonymous said...

Hi! I found you through Leanne and thought folks here might like to see my menu and recipes for a month's worth of vegetarian recipes. Each week features 5 complete meals, 2 of which can be cooked in under 30 minutes if you make rice ahead of time. Others take around 45-60 minutes.

Rebecca said...

I think this is a great challenge! I have been a vegetarian for many years without any thoughts of going back. I know this is a more efficient way for me to eat, but I know that is not true for everyone everywhere.

Many farm animals are able to eat things that we can't and therefore reduce waste and provide food at the same time. Your mention of pigs is great - but also cows eat grass (well at least they should if the CAFO's weren't making them eat corn) which grows with just sun and water and we can't eat it anyway. I don't advocate that everyone become a vegetarian either, but I do think that most people in the developed world could easiely cut down the amount of meat they eat - and probably most wouldn't even notice.

Thanks for bring awareness and I look forward to trying the recipes you post!

Anonymous said...

Under recent legislation it is actually illegal to feed kitchen scraps to pigs - just in case they have come into contact with meat in the house and cross contanmination could occur.

Stonehead has a fascinating article on his blog regarding the regs for keeping pigs as he has recently had an off the cuff visit from an animal welfare officer

benjymous said...

That's pretty much how I eat already - we only have meat two or three times a week for evening meals, and don't feel "hard done by" in any way

Anonymous said...

Can you include recipes that can be made entirely via microwave?

Anonymous said...

We had creamed parsnip soup for dinner this evening. I've already posted the recipe on my blog and all you'd have to do to make it vegetarian is leave out the garnish of crispy bacon pieces.

One of the things that amuses is the misconceptions people have about us. We keep pigs and chickens that we eat, and I also shoot pigeons and rabbits for the pot. A very large number of people think that makes us raving carnivores.

In actual fact, as largely self-sufficient crofters meat is very much a treat and only features in about a third of our meals each week. And even then it's only in small amounts most of the time.

I'll use 250-300g of mince in a pasta sauce for example that will feed three people for two nights. A 2kg, bone-in roast pork joint will last us at least six meals and often as many as eight.

But meat is a luxury for us so most of the time we eat lots of vegetables, fruit, pulses, oatmeal, barley and bread. Oh, and eggs. Lots and lots and lots and lots of eggs. (It's the school holidays here so most of our egg customers are away. I used to love eggs. Sigh.)

I'm not sure which post WGA is referring to as the council animal welfare officer has visited a few times over the past two years (no problems and I've blogged on those visits). We did have an Animal Health officer (Scottish Executive) visit this week and I blogged on that too.

Irish Sallygardens said...

Hi Melanie

Since we began producing our own meat here on our smallholding we have infact radically reduced our meat consumption. I'd say that more than half our meals are vegetarian. Meat is now a true delicacy and a very special treat.

There are other issues to consider as well. In terms of our health, eating meating every day is not what nature intended for us and there is evidence to show that to much in our diet can cause cancer. On the flip side we have to think about where the protein alternatives come from ... most beans are grown half way across the globe, often on land cleared of forestry to make way for agriculture.

That reminds me. I must get the French beans planted today!

Thanks for another great post.
ps I recently put up a lovely recipe for nettle soup (which is bubbling on the stove as I type!)

Frankie said...

If you own a copy of Bill Sewell's 'Food from the Place Below' you will end up eating veggie a lot more than one night per week.

Anonymous said...

I do try to have a veggie meal each week, I assume you mean 'dinner' as my lunches are usually veggie ie cheese n crackers, salad, soup type of thing. I have to say tho' that a life wothout bacon just isn't worth living! After watching dispatches about pig farming a few years ago I can't bring myself to buy really cheap bacon anymore.

Anonymous said...

My personal take on this challenge will be to get hubby to accept one veggie meal a week, and I mean fully veggie.

He's so meat-oriented that even my cauliflower cheese has to include bacon (which does make it extra yummy), while I used to be vegetarian. He also hates lentils, chickpeas, pasta, rice, couscous, beans other than baked, at least half a dozen veg (aubergines, courgette, peppers..). So many yummy foodstuffs are rejected without even a taste test!

So our veggie meal will probably be an omelet or baked beans *head!desk*

just Gai said...

I try to cook vegetarian meals a couple of times a week. Favourites include macaroni cheese, Spanish omelette (tortilla), dhal and rice, chick pea stews and pasta with pesto and pine nuts. We like meat and I don't see us ever giving it up altogether, but I do think we should try to eat less of it. And what we save on buying more meat should be put towards buying better meat, ie organic and free range.

Allie said...

I've been doing this on my site too! I put up or link to a veggie recipe every Monday. I think it's a great way to make a difference without going vegetarian if you want to help, but aren't ready to go "whole hog." Sorry, I couldn't resist. :)

Unknown said...

I really appreciate your statements and the challenge! It's so true that the *methods* of meat "production" are the root of the problem and not necessarily that humans eat meat. We just eat too much of it--and thus there is inflated market demand. Local is definitely best, esp since the agricultural sector contributes to ~25% of greenhouse gas emissions! I have been learning about all this stuff through volunteering for the Meatless Monday project ( which advocates exactly what you are challenging here: just cut out meat once a week to start, and see where you get.

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