On a recent long-haul flight, the flight attendant gave me a choice of three main meals: beef, chicken or vegetarian. It should be a simple question for an omnivore like me – which sounded best? But I’m finding it increasingly difficult to decide.
I like beef, sure; but I don’t want to eat too much red meat for health reasons. And I know that the world’s skyrocketing beef consumption has put enormous pressure on the planet, because of the demand for suitable grazing land. Linda McCartney was a vegetarian activist, but her and Paul’s appeal to the world was to consider “meat-free Mondays” to reduce overall consumption. It seems an eminently reasonable idea.
I like chicken, too – and people say that white meat’s healthier. But we know that the living conditions for poultry vary widely. Some birds wander freely, while others are caged in close quarters, courtesy of our demand for cheap, universally available meat. It’s tricky enough to figure out the ethical option when buying eggs – when ordering chicken, you haven’t a clue what your dinner’s been through.
To really cheer me up on this long flight, I could have pondered the ethics of killing any animal, and how disconnected we’ve become from the industry that slaughters animals on our behalf. But I didn’t have time to dive too deeply into those complex waters – the nice attendant was waiting.
Since I’ve met my wife, I’ve learned to scour menus for things she’d enjoy, and this has taught me that many cafés and restaurants don’t do a great job at catering for those who don’t eat meat.
For my wife, this menu question has a really simple answer – vegetarian. Her family is vegetarian, as is common in India, where she spent most of her formative years. When I travel there, I stick to vegetarian food – and the options are so broad that I suspect even the most committed carnivores would barely notice the absence of meat.
Since I’ve met my wife, I’ve learned to scour menus for things she’d enjoy, and this has taught me that many cafés and restaurants don’t do a great job at catering for those who don’t eat meat. Frequently they don’t bother to provide anything beyond the one “vegetarian option” on the menu, and it’s nearly always pasta.
On my flight, they were offering pesto penne, which sits alongside cheese gnocchi and cannelloni as one of the most ubiquitous vego alternatives. It turns out that being vegetarian can mean having to eat the same meal over and over again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to ask my wife whether she’s cool to have gnocchi as I try to choose between half a dozen or more options.
When we cook for ourselves at home, there’s no point doing anything besides a vegetarian meal, so I have been eating more meat-free meals in general. When we eat out, it’s easy for me to order meat, but sometimes I skip it, and that means we can share everything, which is really nice.
The really tricky question is what we’ll do if we have children.
Although it would be easier in many respects, I don’t know that I’ll ever give up meat entirely. Truth be told, I really enjoy it. But there’s no good reason not to eat less of it, or not to try to ensure that what I do eat is produced relatively sustainably and ethically. Choosing vego options also means I eat more diversely, and I’m hoping it’ll make me healthier, too. Although this may take a while if I keep believing that fries are a healthy vegetarian alternative.
The really tricky question is what we’ll do if we have children. I expect we’ll keep eating mostly vegetarian food at home when we cater for ourselves, and I’m fine with that – but will the kids sometimes dabble in meat when we’re out?
It’d ultimately be their decision when they were old enough, of course, but my wife and I both worry that on the way there, they’ll go to one extreme or the other. She worries that they’ll complain about eating vegetarian food, the way some fussy children refuse to eat their vegetables. At the other end of the scale, though, I worry that they’ll end up judging me for eating meat. I can just imagine being on the receiving end of a teenager’s outrage.
Even though I’m not ready to go the full Morrissey, I’m glad that I’m more aware about what my choices mean. In our supermarkets, meat comes in sanitised packaging that divorces it from the abattoirs in which it was prepared. But if we’re going to eat it, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to forget how it got to our plates.
I chose the vegetarian option on that flight, by the way. Delicious.
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