Monday 21 October 2019

Meat-free mealtimes: Lessons from around the globe

Something different: Fiona Uyema extols the virtues of a fish-based Japanese diet
Something different: Fiona Uyema extols the virtues of a fish-based Japanese diet

Meadhbh McGrath

Could eating meat become illegal? That's what Michael Mansfield, a leading barrister, predicted this week at the launch of the Vegan Now campaign at the UK's Labour party conference, suggesting that meat could one day be outlawed due to the ecological damage it causes the planet.

If everyone were to adopt a vegan diet, food-related carbon emissions would be cut by about 70pc, according to a new study from John Hopkins University. If you can't eliminate meat entirely, however, the research team recommends a flexitarian or "two-thirds vegan" diet, which has a lower carbon footprint than an exclusively vegetarian one.

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So, how do you cut down? We looked to some of the countries that eat the least meat to find out the best way to do it without losing out on protein and iron - or flavour.

Bangladesh

Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN show that Bangladesh is the world's most vegetarian country: an average person eats just 4kg of meat a year. "There's a lot of water so obviously a lot of fish, and lots of people have their own vegetable patch," explains Saira Hamilton, chef and author of My Bangladesh Kitchen. "You would often have no meat at all, just rice, vegetables and dhal, and that's normal for most people for lunch, dinner and sometimes breakfast."

Meat is typically only eaten on Fridays and special occasions such as weddings. Otherwise, the main sources of protein are lentils and fish, and rather than one main dish meals consist of seven smaller ones.

"One of my favourite dishes growing up was aloo bortha: it's basically mashed potato, but instead of using butter and cream, you use mustard oil, chill and coriander. It's absolutely delicious," says Saira.

India

India comes second to Bangladesh in the countries with lowest consumption of meat, and Indians similarly rely on lentils and fish for protein. "I grew up in the countryside," says Rana Miah, who was also born in Bangladesh and now runs an Indian restaurant, Chandhpur, in Donegal. "Now, it's much easier to get meat there, but this was in the 1980s. Chicken wasn't available, and when it was, we couldn't afford it."

In his restaurant kitchen, Rana draws inspiration from his mother's cooking. "She used a lot of kinds of veg," he says. "We do a Sunday buffet with a lamb curry, a chicken curry and a vegetable curry on it. The amount of comments we get from customers who say, 'that vegetable curry was amazing, I'd never have thought to have that', and it has every kind of vegetable in it: carrot, potato, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, lentils, aubergine…"

Japan

The Japanese are known for their fish, but the national cuisine goes way beyond sushi. "We're both island nations but we eat very differently," explains Fiona Uyema, a cooking instructor and author of cookbook Japanese Food Made Easy.

Break away from expectations of what you 'can' and 'can't' have for each meal - why not try the traditional Japanese breakfast of grilled fish? Fiona highlights the importance of replacing meat with other sources of protein (such as fish, seafood, tofu, soya beans and edamame beans) and iron (such as seaweed). She mentions the islands of Okinawa, where residents have among the longest life spans in the world, and eat a diet predominantly consisting of rice, sweet potato, seaweed, fish and seafood.

Ethiopia

Meat consumption in Ethiopia is largely influenced by religious customs. Mel Roddy, who runs the Gursha pop-up in Dublin, explains that the Christian Orthodox Church requires members to abstain from meat for up to 200 days a year.

"Every Wednesday and Friday are fasting days, where you eat no animal products. Then there are religious periods like Easter, which is 55 days of fasting from animal products," he says. "Meat consumption tends to be for celebrations."

At Gursha, two-thirds of the menu is vegan, including shiro wat, a dish of ground split peas simmered in garlic and onion and dressed with berbere sauce, an Ethiopian spice blend.

"There's a lot of protein in those vegan dishes from lentils, kale and split peas," he says.

The main staple food is injera, which Mel describes as "a big sourdough pancake," made from the ancient grain teff. A different source of protein, iron and fibre, teff is available from health food shops and Holland and Barrett.

Nigeria

The basis of a typical Nigerian meal is "soup and solid", explains Yetunde Shaw of Belfast catering company Yetunde's Kitchen. "The soup is the vegetables and fruit, and most of our solids are carbohydrates: fufu, eba, amala, semolina," she says.

Many of the dishes are plant-based, including jollof rice (rice with peppers, onions and tomatoes), moi moi (brown beans with onions and peppers), and plantain, a cooking banana that can be boiled with a fried egg or Nigerian vegetable soup, or fried as a side with jollof rice.

"Meat was very, very expensive," Yetunde recalls of growing up in Ogun State. Instead, people would fish or pick mushrooms, which they would cook with spinach or waterleaf and tofu.

She's lived in Belfast for 12 years, and has incorporated Irish classics in her menu, such as a vegetarian version of Irish stew made with broccoli and cauliflower.

Irish Independent

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