Eating meat-free has massively grown in popularity over the last few years. Increasing environmental worries, documentaries such as Seaspiracy, and our ever-growing concern for our health have caused many of us to look inwards and consider our personal impact. Choosing to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle (or a variation thereof) is one way in which this is possible.
However, statistics confirm that there is a significant generational divide between those choosing to reduce the amount of meat in their diet. Many of my own friends – that is to say, people in their twenties – are vegan, vegetarian, or at least moving towards something similar.
Amongst the older generations, it is a different story. My dad, for example, holds many views which are arguably stereotypical for a man of his age: dinner should consist of meat and two veg, vegans are confusing, burgers should not be made out of beans, to name but a few.
I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever seen him eat a meatless sandwich. I just don’t think it’s something he’s ever considered. Having said that, he is also incredibly open-minded and in convincing him to go without meat for six weeks, I aimed to make a small step in debunking the preconceptions he had around a meat-free lifestyle.
Vegetarianism requires a significant, laborious lifestyle change.
Whilst it’s true that many of those who cut out meat spend a long time planning and preparing meals that are suitably balanced and protein-sufficient, this is not always the case. In fact, I spend no more time doing so than I did when I ate meat and I’ve survived so far.
To prove my point, I told my dad that we wouldn’t be having chicken as part of our Sunday roast. Instead, he could choose a nut roast, vegetarian sausages, or Quorn chicken. He was willing to admit that swapping out meat was incredibly easy – even going as far as to say that the mushroom and leek bangers were tasty.
Cutting out meat means cutting out choice.
For me personally, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The array of meat alternatives is now so vast that there is a divide between those who are meat-free ‘for their health’ (gaining protein from sources such as beans and legumes) and those who do so ‘for the animals’ (instead opting for ‘facon’ and ‘ch*cken’).
Illustrating this to my dad was difficult; normally when we choose sandwiches from the supermarket he goes straight for anything with ham. This time, however, he lamented that was supposed to be a veggie. After browsing the selection for a while, Dad picked up a cheddar ploughman’s, something I’ve never once seen him opt for.
Much to my smugness, he actually really enjoyed it and confirmed to me that it was great to have something a bit different. I can’t deny that it did limit his selection slightly as he was unable to have quite a few of the sandwiches on offer. However, it did expand his choice in a slightly different way by encouraging him to try other things.
Dishes without meat just aren’t as tasty.
My parents use meal preparation kits, which suit their busy lifestyle. Although my dad was crestfallen at his inability to have beef chilli last month, there was still a good variety of meals to cook when the vegetarian filter was applied. These came packed with flavour and free from both meat and the paranoia of my Dad accidentally giving them salmonella – but don’t tell him that.
I wish I had a photo of the look of shock when my Dad realised that meat-free mince is actually delicious. The same can be said for a ragu made from lentils, or a pastry covered in mushrooms and pesto. It may not be the same as a steak but that doesn’t make it any less tasty.
Vegetarianism has to be all-or-nothing.
This is without a doubt the most important misconception to debunk. While it’s true that the numbers of vegans and vegetarians have increased, it’s the flexitarians that have seen the most exponential growth. According to a recent Euromonitor report, they now make up 42% of consumers.
There’s no point in opting for something vegetarian if you’re craving meat – you’ll only end up caving later on. Denying yourself entirely of things you really want ultimately just means that your attempt will be unsustainable.
For example, I’m not going to force my dad to watch my brother eat a meat feast pizza while he has one with mushrooms on. We don’t order takeaway every day and if it enables him to be a bit more vegetarian the rest of the time, I fail to see an issue.
I’m not writing this to make fun of my dad, quite the contrary: for someone who ate meat without a second thought, he made a valiant attempt at giving it up. At the end of the day, many people love the taste of meat. You don’t have to give it up entirely in order to help the planet, your conscience, or your health. I’m a big supporter of the phrase ‘everything in moderation’.
It is possible to take a more flexible approach to vegetarianism no matter how old you are. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing or a hardship and if it could help the planet, meat-free meals may just be worth a try.
Words by Eleanor Shearwood
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