Scientists are again urging people in the developed world to eat less meat for environmental reasons. Here’s a quote from a piece on the Guardian website today, which outlined some of the environmental consequences of our addiction to cheap meat:
The answer, [Prof Mark Sutton, lead author of a UN Environment Programme (Unep) study published on Monday] said, was more vegetables on the plate, and less animal protein. “Eat meat, but less often – make it special,” he urged. “Portion size is key. Many portions are too big, more than you want to eat. Think about a change of culture that says, ‘I like the taste, but I don’t need so much of it.’”
By filling plates with vegetables as well as the meat, people will be better nourished. “Most people don’t notice,” he said, citing a recent UN event at which the chef used a third the amount of meat, more vegetables to make up for it, and more than 90% of guests were just as satisfied.
You know what I’m going to say… which is that if you want to eat less meat without any sacrifice in gastronomic pleasure, do cast a glance in the direction of China. The traditional Chinese diet offers such splendid ways of enjoying meat in moderation, and vegetables in plenty, that you can feed your conscience as well as your palate (this is largely what my latest book is about). Share your meat with a family or friends, or cut it up and use it to give flavour to a wokful of vegetables; use fermented black beans and pickled greens to create scrumptious umami tastes in cheap vegetarian ingredients. Interestingly, the scientist quoted above says pork and chicken – the most favoured meats in China – have the lightest environmental impact.
Ironically, of course, just when we need the Chinese to tell us how to eat well, they seem to be embarking on exactly the same path of destruction as the Western world: demand for meat in China has quadrupled in 30 years. On one of my most recent trips to Chengdu, a banquet I attended included a beefsteak for every person, individually plated in the Western style and served with knife and fork. Also served were individual steaks of salmon (pictured above), another recently-popular food, and one that is often farmed intensively, with fairly gruesome environmental consequences. (And yes, that is a Pringle you see on top of it, as a garnish.) All the other courses were served in the normal Chinese style, with chopsticks.
Perhaps it’s time for us all to remember Confucius, of whom it was said: ‘Even if the meat is plentiful, he does not let it be more abundant than the rice.’