Although I’m not a Catholic, not even a Christian, I usually give up something for Lent. Many cultures have fasting traditions and many people around the world pay some heed to them. Not all are as tenacious as Ramadan fasters: I always remember one or other of my Hindu Indian aunts doing their Tuesday fast and having delicious fried tapioca instead of their normal meal. I think it’s good to remember those who are not as fortunate as ourselves and it’s good for one’s body to forgo rich, calorie laden food from time to time. Normally, I give up chocolate but this year I’ve decided to be a little more ambitious in my Lenten fast: I’m going to stop eating meat and fish. I’m not forcing the whole family to do it, although it has to be said that the offspring are keen. Whether they sneak off to a ham sandwich for school lunch is up to their individual conscience. But I do think it’s a feasible sacrifice for me at least for 6 weeks or so.
I have always admired vegetarians for their stand. Although, it has to be said, less so the ones who simply don’t like the taste of meat. Of course the British countryside would look very different if we all stopped eating cows and sheep. There would be no rolling pastureland, I suppose, and everywhere would be planted with vegetables and grains, as in China. For the moment, though, I don’t think I could be a vegetarian permanently. I like the taste of meat too much for that and I regard food as a sensual pleasure to be enjoyed. I guess this is one reason why I am not stick thin but who knows, by April I might have shed a few extra pounds.
The production of meat is wasteful and inefficient in a world where so many are hungry. A UN Food and Agricultural Organisation estimate for 21012 suggested that 925 million people, that’s 13.6% of the world’s population, is under-nourished. The space required to grow food crops for meat production has all sorts of environmental impacts including cutting down forests and destroying natural habitats, and livestock farming is also a huge consumer of scarce water resources. Meat production entails a huge carbon footprint and livestock contribute methane to the atmosphere which warms the world faster than carbon dioxide. Meat is a sort of over-processing of the sun’s energy, which is far more efficiently consumed as vegetable matter.
I think our bodies were not meant to eat meat every day, and I’ve been trying to cook at least one vegetarian supper every week to make my family think about this. What has always been my excuse for not doing more is that I’m not in the habit of cooking veggie meals. It’s easy with a piece of meat: it can be stir fried, or grilled or casseroled. It’s a ready source of tasty, satisfying nutrition. Creating balanced vegetarian family meals requires a little more thought. But it must be possible, right? The aim, I suppose, is to train ourselves out of the habit of daily meat eating and into a more sustainable lifestyle. We might even start to open our minds to more varied tastes along the way.
Now, I know Lent actually began yesterday, Ash Wednesday, but that was the Boywonder’s birthday so we had one last fling with his favourite: spaghetti bolognaise and, starting tonight, I shall be attempting to cook only vegetarian until Easter Sunday. This is focussing my mind rather drastically and I’ve garnered a whole pile of veggie cookbooks from which to draw inspiration. It’s time, I feel, to sample things like bulgur wheat pilaff, and quinoa as well as my usual ratatouille/risotto veggie staples. I was touched when the Boywonder’s friend, Izzy, who has been a veggie for environmental reasons for over a year, asked me to recommend some recipes as she often ends up just cooking herself a bowl of wholegrain rice and eating that. I certainly shall Izzy.
It transpires that tonight OH is in Paris and Darling Daughter is off to see a chum. So that just leaves me and the Boywonder for a simple supper then. It will be a quick macaroni cheese tonight, as we’ve both got other things to do. So the real test will start tomorrow. Let’s see how long we can all last.