SMART CHOICE Reducing your meat and dairy intake while supporting your local butcher is better for the environment and your health.
In the last few years, January has been dubbed ‘Veganuary’ in an effort to encourage people worldwide to try eating more plants and less meat. I prefer the term ‘plant-based’ eating to veganism, as I am not a practicing vegan (it has just been recognised as an ethical belief system by UK courts), but I do really love to eat as many different plants as possible.
The environmental benefit of eating less meat is based on the fact that growing plants (vegetables and fruits, grains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds) as primary food for humans nearly always requires significantly less land and water for an equivalent, or even higher, amount of protein per kilo.
Recent environmental reports have highlighted that modern production of meat and dairy leads to excessive deforestation, water pollution, extinction of other species and loss of biodiversity, as well as requiring high levels of energy to process, package, transport, display and store fresh or frozen products, not to mention the waste associated with unsold goods.
The good news is that any reduction of processed meat and dairy is beneficial both for the environment and generally for health. The idea that traditional eating is meat and two veg is a bit misguided, as meat was more of a luxury or seasonal item just a couple of generations ago, prior to refrigeration and when people reared and slaughtered or milked their own animals. We have just recently become used to having meat available to us at all meals, from any restaurant, café or even petrol station.
To reduce meat consumption, it helps to think of it as a treat rather than a cheap staple item. Buy better meat—locally reared, direct from the farmer or reputable butcher, which is fresher and encased in less packaging. Try using meat more as a flavouring rather than the star of the show, such as in a stew with hearty vegetables, a topping on pasta or rice dishes, or in a stock.
Healthy plant-based eating incorporates a wide-range of different whole foods, as opposed to processed, pre-packed convenience foods (so, I’m definitely not promoting fast food ‘veggie’ burgers and chips!). Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein and essential fats and are filling.
There are many delicious grains besides wheat, which we could all stand to eat a bit less of, such as various types of rice, oats, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, millet and polenta; they provide fibre and bulk to your meals and most are gluten-free.
Locally grown seasonal vegetables and fruits are also the best sources of dietary fibre and vitamins, and growing your own is a good way to find varieties that your family loves, to expose yourself to fresh air and beneficial bacteria in the soil, and to cut down on transport miles and food waste. Try also foraging wild foods, such as nettle, wild garlic, elderflowers and berries, blackberries and sloes, which are prolific in this part of the world.
McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.