A greedy girl makes a decision
It’s been six weeks since I decided to stop eating meat and fish. I had been increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that farmed meat is one of the leading causes of climate change and after a few days at Bluedot festival listening to scientists talk about the inevitable warming of the planet and learning that current fish stocks will not last beyond the next 30 years, I decided to do my bit and stop contributing to market demand.
I enjoy eating meat and fish - I was never one of those squeamish meat-eaters who couldn’t bear to see whole pigs hanging in the butchers. No, I was a nose-to-tail fan. Give me foie-gras, black pudding, tartare de boeuf. I would happily shuck oysters and suck the roe out of prawns. I would never cook a chicken without making stock with the carcass and I’m one of those savages that eats the strip of fat off a sirloin.
The fact I was a greedy, adventurous-with-food kind of person was a big part of how I thought of myself. I come from a Sardinian family of big eaters, and I can’t imagine a trip there without first imagining the food. My nonna was a fantastic cook and the way she whipped up exquisite multi-course meals twice a day for her family of ten kids in a tiny galley kitchen was nothing short of miraculous. My memories of her are all food - sliced tomatoes covered in salt drying in the sun on her roof, figs plucked from the tree in her patch of garden, bowl after bowl of malloredus, ravioli with orange, lemon and basil ricotta, sliced courgettes fried in batter.
With my limited Italian, food was a huge communication tool for us. “Ancora?” she would half shout at me, squeezing my arm, and the answer was always “Yes, more.”
One of my favourite memories was the first time my husband met her, I think we must have been in our very early twenties, still at university. After a long journey we were starving and she was happy to feed us. I didn’t tell him that pasta was just a first course, and the secondo - the main course - would follow. Giggling to myself as he politely ate yet another bowl forced on him by a small Sardinian lady, I watched his eyes widen in equal parts wonder and terror at the pile of meats and salads that came next.
I like to think I’ve inherited a small part of her skill, but I definitely have inherited her enthusiasm to watch people eat and enjoy their food.
So, I’m kind of sad about this choice I’ve made. Like pretty much everyone I know, I had been trying to eat less meat for a while and probably would only have it a couple of times a week max. But I think the constant negotiation I was doing in my head to justify why I should eat it was exhausting, and perhaps it’s better to just make a clear boundary and declare myself vegetarian.
Strangely enough, I am mourning the meals I will miss cooking as much as those I will miss eating. What better way to spend a Sunday morning than braising meat for a stew or scoring lines into the fat of a piece of pork belly ready to roast in a hot oven? Our lives really are a series of rituals.
I am trying to get as excited about soaking pulses. Last year we started getting a weekly organic veg box from Riverford and the anticipation of not choosing what is coming is dulling the blow of vegetarianism somewhat. I also bought Anna Jones’ The Modern Cook’s Year, which is very good and has introduced me to the world of fritters and flatbreads (better than it sounds).
Have I missed meat? Not in the first month. I have dreamt about mackerel more than once and I definitely miss the salty umami goodness of anchovy in a pasta sauce (answer: more capers) and the texture of meat (portobello mushrooms are my current substitute) but it didn’t seem all that hard initially. And while I would really love to sink my teeth into a pan-fried duck breast, I think I can hold out a bit longer, although I admit, it's getting harder.
For what it’s worth, I am well aware that the UK’s environment is suited to small-scale meat farming and it’s potentially the most sustainable way to manage the ecology of this island. But unless a lot more people turn their backs on mass-farmed meat then I think simply abstaining altogether is more impactful than choosing local, organic meat.
However, I do have a caveat and that’s holidays. I genuinely can’t picture a holiday that doesn’t involve sampling the local cuisine, and if that involves meat or fish, then fuck the planet, I’m eating it.