While the big push right now might be towards electric cars and Green Home Grants, sometimes it’s the easy to lose sight of the simple things we can do to really save the planet.
And while recycling and reducing waste are laudable, the perennial list-topper remains changing our diet – avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.
The report, published in the journal Science, shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
And the argument about needing meat for your nutritional needs doesn’t cut it - Beef results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases per 100g of protein, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.
But while going vegan might be a step too far for many of us, cutting back on meat is very achievable – without feeling like you’re missing out.
Here’s how to go almost or entirely meat-free without feeling overwhelmed, alienating your friends, infuriating your family, or collapsing from malnutrition
Sort your supplements
It is entirely possible to eat a healthy, balanced diet without meat, but some tinkering is usually required, especially in the beginning. There are a few necessary nutrients which are only available from animal sources, and while many meat and dairy alternatives add these into their products with vegetarians in mind, it’s a good idea to cover your bases with a few supplements. Adding vitamins B12 and D3, Omega-3, and iron to your diet, you can reliably fill any gaps left by cutting down on your meat consumption.
Don’t shout about it
Remember the classic joke: ‘How do you know if someone is vegan? They tell you.’ Be careful trying to educate friends and family about their eating habits. Sure, cutting meat out of your diet has many potential benefits to both your health and the planet, but preaching seldom converts carnivores. Keep the stats to yourself unless you’re asked. An air of quiet content speaks volumes.
Real life isn’t black and white, so be prepared for people asking how you can ditch meat but also wear leather shoes. You’re entitled to create your own parameters, and don’t forget that doing something is better than nothing. Presenting yourself as a steadfast ‘vegetarian’ can leave you open to justified criticism for eating anything with animal-derived ingredients, so perhaps just try to explain you’re doing your best to eat less meat. That way you’ll also appear more human and encourage others to give it a go.
Make yourself welcome
If you’re invited to dinner – when lockdown is lifted – don’t feel scared about mentioning your new dietary tack. Just don’t spring it on them as you sit down to eat. Try offering to bring your own vegetarian dish or nibbles. Even if your offer’s declined, it’s always appreciated, and often the best way to convert others to your cause is by showing them how meat-free doesn’t mean making sacrifices. Get inspiration on triple-tested vegetarian recipes at www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/vegetarian-dinner-recipes when your offer gets accepted, or for when you return the invite.
Don’t just replace the meat
It’s a classic rookie mistake to continue eating exactly as you did before and just substitute faux meat products for the real thing – sure, some veggie sausages these days are edible, but see it as an excuse to sample a wider variety and combination of vegetables, pulses and fruits. Without the heavy meat flavours, you’ll find vegetarian foods can be some of the most delicately spiced, richly seasoned, deeply nourishing meals you’ll ever eat.
If you’re absolutely craving a burger that tastes like the real deal, try a Beyond Burger (£4.40 from Ocado), regularly served in restaurants with no hiding the fact they’re produced off site. 100 per cent vegan, gluten and soy-free, the patties are made from pea protein which is subjected to heating, cooling and pressure to mimic meat. They also contain a whopping 19.2g of protein per burger.