A bit of backstory…
It’s a huge step to turn vegetarian or vegan if you’ve historically eaten meat and fish, or been a consumer of any animal product for that matter. The sheer amount of lifestyle changes you need to make can be overwhelming and many people fail to maintain the change in the long term.
Whilst in the UAE I decided I was suddenly turning vegetarian. I let our catering staff know and changed all of my dietary requirements on the company books over the course of a few hours.
In the interests of transparency I’ll come clean: within two weeks I was back to devouring meat at an even higher rate than before. It also wasn’t exactly feasible at the time to try a ‘flexitarian’ diet during work hours; when an outdoor centre’s catering team – whose first language isn’t English – have to cater for up to 150 people per meal they can’t exactly be asked “cook enough vegetarian and meat options so I can decide which I want when I see them”. Other than a company-wide meat-reduction scheme (keep reading for details) I enjoyed a few weeks of falafel wraps before slumping back into the chicken sandwiches that made up most of our work lunches (veggie or meat, the food was great; huge shoutout to Kanchana and all of ‘Team Sri Lanka’ for their great cooking!).
It can’t be denied that, as well as all sorts of ethics and cruelty debates, the modern meat and fisheries industry is overwhelmingly harmful to the environment and anybody who cares for the environment should be looking to significantly reduce their consumption. And that is the key word if you can’t quite commit to the full shift… REDUCE.
I am not a full-time vegetarian or vegan. I now eat about 60-70% vegetarian and about 30% of those meals are vegan. I’m enjoying being flexitarian by lifestyle. Part of that change is that, other than the sustainably sourced and regulated salmon that I had to prepare for groups in a Bushcraft instructor role I’ve done for the last two summers, I don’t eat any fish or seafood at all and haven’t since I moved to the UAE for seven months in 2017. I’ll eat small-scale sustainably-caught fish (e.g. caught by independent fishermen) but whilst back in the UK – or wherever you’re reading from – it’s almost a given that the fish you buy in the store is trawler-caught, so is best avoided.
I’ve now set all of my dietary requirements at outdoor organisations I work for as ‘vegetarian’ so I know that the moment I go to work I’ll be catered vegetarian food. Due to the remote nature of some of my jobs in various cultures it’s not quite the right time to commit to being a vegan in worktime yet.
Expanding on that previous point – I also find that I face an ethical ‘rock and a hard place’ debate in being a strict vegetarian or vegan. In my line of work and general traveling lifestyle I may be offered an animal-based meal lovingly prepared by my hosts or even slaughtered specifically for me and my group. In that case I feel the risk of offending the host is more significant than the impact of the individual meal, so I’d eat it.
So you’ve told me reduction is the way forward.. how can I start?
Earlier I mentioned a company-wide scheme we followed in the UAE. That scheme was called Meat Free Mondays. Paul McCartney and family are its leading advocates and, quite simply, it’s a brilliant way to knock a seventh off your average weekly meat and fish consumption!
All you have to do is avoid meat or fish, or ideally any animal products, on a Monday. Why a Monday? It rolls off the tongue nicely after ‘Meat Free’.
As I mentioned, it’s a big shift to try and turn fully vegetarian or vegan, or perhaps you don’t even want to. But do you really need to consume meat every meal of every day? Your body certainly doesn’t require you to. I’m not even going to link any evidence for that – millions of people spend their entire lives vegetarian or vegan without wasting away to dust – so one day a week won’t affect you physically. But it will drastically reduce your carbon footprint and individual impact on the environment.
I can’t or don’t want to do Meat Free Mondays but I’m open to reduction, what else can I do?
If Meat Free Mondays seem like too big a change or commitment for now, or maybe don’t work with your schedule, try to reduce on a smaller scale. Try and eat one vegetarian meal a week (breakfast doesn’t count; most people already have meat-free breakfasts!).
Or next time you’re in a restaurant let your eyes wander over to the vegetarian options instead of mentally casting them to the Spanish Inquisition. A good restaurant will pour the same passion into their vegetarian cooking as the rest of their menu. Italian and Asian food are often particularly rife with great vegetarian meals.
There are so many great ways to reduce your meat consumption without making the full lifestyle change to vegetarianism or veganism. You’ve just got to think a bit more creatively or conscientiously than you might currently.
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