AH YES – IT was around about this time last year that I was sitting on my vegetarian throne looking fairly smug at the carnivores who’d just learned they’d been unknowingly eating Desert Orchid’s cousins for quite some time. Granted, many people I’ve spoken to weren’t, in reality, too fussed by the prospect of eating horsemeat at all, but rather miffed by the fact that manufacturers had told a few pork pies (or should that be horse pies?) and gone on with that microwaveable masquerade. Yet whatever it did to the food industry – temporarily and permanently – it certainly got more people thinking a bit more carefully about where their meat really comes from. It might have been enough to even convert people to a life of legumes and leave the lamb behind, too – something I’d done some time ago.
I’ve never been a big red meat eater, perhaps tainted by memories of my school lunches in the 1990s, and have lived on chicken and fish as my main source of flesh for most of my life. I stopped eating chicken when I came to university, mainly in an attempt to save money, and since we’re now surrounded by such a far-reaching variety of international fruits, vegetables, nuts, cheeses and grains, I’m not overly tempted to go back. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll get stuck in when trussing up a turkey and can deal with the fact that venison is just a codename for Bambi. Handling, cooking, serving meat doesn’t bother me; it’s the eating bit I’m simply not too keen on. I did, however, eat said trussed turkey at Christmas 2012 and guess what? I thoroughly enjoyed it, too. That is the essence of flexitarianism, if you weren’t familiar with it already. Tipped to be one of 2014’s biggest ‘dietary trends’, it’s as it sounds: flexible vegetarianism. In a nutshell, most of the time it consists of a predominantly vegetable-based diet, with the occasional bit of fish thrown in, and on special occasions – or rather when I feel like it – pork or poultry. It’s not all Fifty Shades of Green and obscure Latin American grains people can’t pronounce, though. We still eat pizza, and birthday cakes, and cheese fondues and Chinese buffets, so it’s not as difficult as some hardcore carnivores might think. It’s not strictly a diet diet with a view to lose weight and all the rest of it, but simply the conventional way of eating minus the meat. Indian or Mediterranean diets – incidentally two of the world’s healthier cuisines – are ideal models to follow, and working alongside the seasons can help, too, since Britain alone provides a plethora of produce to pick and choose from. And if you’re anything like me, will be glad to know most desserts can stay on the menu.
Of course, that’s not to say following a completely meat-free diet is a healthy way forward. Any dietician (or die-hard vegetarian) worth their salt should tell you that protein has to come from somewhere. The usual arsenal of eggs, nuts, Quorn, etc. can do the trick, not to mention the occasional BLT you can allow yourself once in a blue moon. I’m not advocating any sort of faddish diet here, since people can and will eat whatever they like, but this flexitarianism thing isn’t a bad option.
Red meat certainly has its place on the table of the Western diet, but for all its richly-marbled virtues, much recent research tells us that a diet heavy with red meat has clear links with cancer, heart disease and a shortened life expectancy. It also says that substituting red meat with chicken or fish, and having one or two more vegetarian meals in the week, can help avoid that unpleasant-sounding trio. There are hard-boiled carnivores shaking their heads at the thought, I’m sure, and not everyone will be persuaded. Flexitarianism does, at least, provide a halfway point for those who truly cannot let a bacon sandwich out of their lives. Who knows? You might find it makes you appreciate that BLT even more.
And yes, yes, I know I’d probably make a pretty bad caveman. Or Argentinean.