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Thinking about meat

Lynne Etheridge writes her first blog on her quest to eat ethically and healthily

I’m not one for diets or faddy eating but I must admit to having a few healthy eating cookbooks in my collection, and I was really excited when my husband came home with a copy of the latest bestseller.  Now, normally when I get a new cookbook I’ll settle down on the sofa with a cuppa, pour over the recipes and make a mental list of all the ones I’m going to make, constantly changing the order of those I’ll try first as each page brings new inspiration.  But this time my experience was very different; instead of excitement I was left puzzled, and to some degree frustrated, wondering “can we actually follow this way of eating without either compromising our morals or breaking our bank balance?”.

It’s not the recipes themselves (they look delicious); it’s not the ethos either – I wholeheartedly agree with the author that we should combine healthy, tasty meals with exercise and amend our intake to reflect our levels of physical activity.  The struggle I find myself having with this cookbook, and with other similar tomes on my dresser, is the emphasis placed on meat based proteins to achieve the specified ‘healthy’ diet.  As I’m not a vegetarian and will happily tuck into a hearty roast this may sound odd.  But – and for me (and hubby) it’s a big but – having spent several years reducing our meat consumption, believing that we should eat better quality meat but less often (for both environmental and welfare reasons) can we justify significantly increasing our meat consumption to achieve this ‘healthy’ lifestyle?  From an ethical point of view that is a massive consideration and one I’m not sure I can reconcile with.  Then there’s the financial implications; the impacts of food production on the environment are front and centre to our shopping habits, as is animal welfare, so we buy free-range and (where we can) organic produce.  This is not cheap (and we’re not wealthy) so that’s another reason for reducing our meat intake and upping the veggies in our diet.  We also favour the cheaper, more flavoursome cuts of meat which are naturally more fatty but better value for our budget, allowing us to enjoy a quality product but without the big price tag.  This is obviously at odds with the ‘healthy’ approach which favours lean, expensive cuts such as chicken breast.

I can see that this dilemma of ‘how much meat’ and ‘which cuts’ stems from the different ways that the author and I approach what we eat.  Although in agreement that healthy should also mean tasty, my view is firmly that the quality and provenance of the produce comes first, whereas from a health point of view the nutritional composition of the produce is first and foremost in planning meals.  So, what should I do?

It’s taken a lot of thought and, personally, I feel that it’s too much of a compromise to adopt this way of eating on a daily basis.  For me, the environmental and welfare implications of promoting such a high dependence on meat based proteins is too much at odds with my views on small scale, sustainable agriculture.  Also, being pragmatic, the extensive use of expensive cuts would rapidly take its toll on our food budget and reduce our ability to shop ethically.

That said, there are a lot of healthy lifestyle tips that I can easily (and will) adopt, such as eating fewer carbs if I’ve not been particularly active and thinking more about the proportion of carbs:protein:fats in my meals.  And, the recipes really do look good, they just won’t be made every day.  There may be the odd occasion where I use the lean cuts, but for any regular additions to our repertoire I can replace them with high quality, fattier ones (an easy swap could be skinless free-range chicken thighs instead of breast).  Although my dinner may not be quite as healthy as the cookbook intended it’ll be just as tasty, cheaper and, more importantly, ethical.

I didn’t think reading a cookbook could be quite so thought provoking and create so many dilemmas before even stepping into the kitchen, but I’m glad I’ve been through this thought process.  I’m now happy with how my husband and I will incorporate aspects into our own lifestyle, using the cookbook as a guide to how we can eat healthily within our ethical and budgetary constraints.  However, the question I’m now left with is “will others go through the same process?”, and I worry that this form of diet could be widely adopted without proper consideration to the wider environmental, animal welfare and societal impacts it could generate.

Twitter @MadAboutSoup 

SF comment: A really timely take on eating ethical meat and one that we really commend. Our view is that those cheaper  – and yes often fattier cuts – are far better for us than cheap intensively produced lean cuts. Fat is a carrier for flavour, is essential to our diet and grass fed animals provide essential fatty acids. Cheaper cuts also allow us to shop ethically as Lynne is doing.

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