Curbing our greed for meat

Posted by Fuchsia on February 18, 2013
Banquets, Chengdu, Chinese food culture, Development, Environment

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.’


6 Comments to Curbing our greed for meat

Adrian Ratnapala
20 February 2013

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.

I think this will work out OK. The high-meat western diet is driven by (a) the fact that the West is (was?) rich enough to afford it, and (b) the West is a bit odd anyway.

As they get richer Asians will increase their meat consumption emulating (a), but not to western levels which requires (b).

Robin Bailey
24 February 2013

I am intrigued to know the flavour of the Pringle? Salt and vinegar? Good play on fish and chips ( and fried egg). Could it be a post modern parody on the banality of western food :-)

Fuchsia
25 February 2013

I can’t remember the flavour of the Pringle! But I imagine used for the textural pleasure more than anything else

Helmut Hamm
27 February 2013

What I liked best about your latest book was exactly that it had so many vegetable dishes.
I still eat meat, but I more and more reduce quantities. It’s great for taste, but if prepared properly, a small amount can go a long way: For lunch today, a small half chicken breast of under 6 oz. was plenty to fix four bowls of udon noodles. I stir-fried the chicken with cabbage and onions, added the udon and a seasoning mix (water, soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, sesame oil, chili) and nobody missed a thing. Helmut

Brent Collett
4 March 2013

Hi Fuchsia,

I have a question, not directly about this recipe but a conundrum relating to Chinese food which you come close to in referring to intensive production. I thought it could be an interesting area for discussion.

I was having a chat with a colleague at lunch and the discussion turned to the use of antibiotics in agriculture in China, which is possibly undesirably high depending on ones views about this kind of thing, and of course depending on the agriculturalists’ practices. The same can probably be said regarding insecticides and fungicides in food production, and in Australia where I live the volume of food imported from China means that not all foods can be tested for residue levels. While I’m not up-to-date on pesticide usage and regulations in China I assume that chemical use is poorly regulated and that there is plenty of room for improvement.

So that brings up the conundrum, I love using the ingredients you recommend (and I love using the books you have written!), but how to identify the safe(r) ingredients? For instance, my colleague was describing some fairly disturbing practices on the recycling and resale of vegetable oils which he is aware of and which is going to change my consumer practices (i.e. buy Aust. vege oils). But this isn’t so easy for things like canned and bottled Sichuanese specialities.

Is this something you have given much though? I suppose the answer lies in buying local produce where possible and using imported goods only where necessary. Also, for me the quantities consumed are probably negligible, but who knows? Anyhow, this might be worthwhile for a comment in a future article?

Phil
4 March 2013

That’s something I think about a lot too.
I just bought some century eggs and then read on line about how some companies in China have used lead when making them, to speed up the process.

At this point I do make a point to try and find Chinese products that have been manufactured in Thailand or Taiwan. I might be kidding my self about them being safer but as of yet I have not heard any negative’s about sauces, condiment and ingredients coming form those countries.
I too would love to see your opinion about this topic Fuchsia.

P.S. I love you books Fuchsia, I have made my way thought “Land of Plenty”(and keep going back) and used quite a few of your recipes from “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook”. Kind of on topic, I plan on getting your new book soon, As I want to cut down my meat consumption to a healthier level and heard you have lots of great vegetable recipes in it.

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