“We started in a small way – just the one vegetarian meal of virtue a week.”
I was quite excited to receive a short notice commission from the Sunday Star Times on Friday. I have written for various publications over the years, but never one of the Sunday national papers. The topic was our move to heavily reduce the amount of meat we eat and it had to be a tightly written piece because it was not a high word count.
Unlike most publications I have written for in recent years, the Sunday Star Times uses professional photographers and while I loathe being photographed, it was part of the deal. The editor wanted some photos of me weighing up vegetables in one hand and steak in the other. I pointed out the photographer would need to bring the steak and, shamelessly, assumed we would be left with the meat. We are not totally vegetarian so I requested ribeye, not the cheaper rump. Nor the even more expensive fillet though I see this was labelled ‘ribeye fillet’ so I am not even sure what that is. I had a lucky escape in that it was not me that ran full length of the page pretending to chow down a raw slab of meat. It was mentioned but I have my limits and clearly they chose to use somebody much younger, less wrinkly and way more trendy than me for this lead photo.
But I was truly shocked at the price of steak. $25.20 for three pretty small pieces. That was a revelation to me after buying very little meat for the past couple of years or more. But it tasted good that evening.
I set up a vegetable and fruit display – all home grown – which the photographer was quite impressed by.
This was the copy:
It was the dried bean mountain that tipped us over into vegetarianism. We were of the Woodstock hippie generation. Forty years later, husband Mark returned to his vegetable gardening roots. He wanted to see how far he could push self-sufficiency again. The dried soya beans, Borlottis, favas and even common Greenfeast were mounting up much faster than we were eating them.
Instead of talking about nuclear winter, the oil crisis and carless days of the 1970s, our talk was now of lowering our own personal carbon footprint, cutting out plastic and packaging and knowing what was in our food. Environmental matters remain the starting point but now driven by climate change, modern industrial farming and the pillaging of our fisheries.
At the same time, we started noticing the information recommending a lower intake of animal protein as we age. Alas, we are ageing.
I figured I could cut back our meat intake and that was preferable to giving up cheese. We started in a small way – just the one vegetarian meal of virtue a week. These were mostly based around dried beans, but one weekly meal was never going to make inroads on the bean mountain.
I cook. Mark grows vegetables and does dishes. It is a fair division of labour in our household. The vegetarian meals became more frequent and I found the recipe book ‘River Cottage Veg Every Day” by the inimitable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Hugh will never know it but he became our soul brother across the world. His loose approach to meal planning and recipes fitted our lifestyle like a glove.
A few months down the track, most meat had gone from our diet and we didn’t miss it at all. I was now cooking a meat-based meal maybe once a fortnight and there it has stayed. What had happened was that I stopped thinking of meat as the starting point for a meal. Instead, I start thinking from whatever vegetables we have in abundance and then add in extra protein and carbs to balance the meal. We don’t miss the meat, though we will still eat it when we are out.
We describe ourselves as “semi-vegetarian”.
I have even phased out most bacon now. Second daughter flying in from overseas for Christmas requested ham on the bone. I found what may have been the last free-range, small ham on the bone in New Plymouth. But I did not feel the need to buy any other meats for the occasion. Dried beans did not, however feature on the menu that day.
My little piece was part of a double page spread, the first of a three-part series looking at the environmental impacts of meat. I found the chart detailing the average New Zealand meat consumption interesting. Overall consumption is declining but lamb sales have collapsed. I think this is a damning indictment of the lamb industry and its failure to adapt to changing eating styles (particularly the decline of the large Sunday roast). Now that we eat so little meat, when we get the occasional craving, it is red meat we want and I try to buy lamb or free-range pork rather than beef because the environmental footprint of NZ lamb is way better. Never have either of us have felt a craving for chicken and I am sure the increasing chicken consumption is entirely to do with good marketing, the low price points and repackaging the meat as a quick-cooking convenience food. Ethically, I think the factory farming of chicken is a big issue even if its environmental impact is lower than beef.
While ethical eating is not exactly a hot button topic in rural and provincial NZ, it is interesting to see how much traction it is getting in our larger urban areas.
The link to the main feature on this topic in the Sunday Star Times is https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/food-wine/100735629/the-average-kiwi-eats-20kg-less-meat-amid-concerns-over-sustainability-of-agriculture