Regular readers will know I am a great supporter of Meat Free Monday, for a variety of reasons ranging from health to environmental responsibility. So when I got the opportunity to meet and interview two of the founders of the organisation, Stella and Mary McCartney, I jumped at the chance.
For those who haven't heard about Meat Free Monday, it is a worldwide organisation started by Paul McCartney and his two daughters, Stella and Mary. The main message of Meat Free Monday is to encourage people across the world to commit to having one completely vegetarian day a week. By doing this one simple thing you have a direct impact on improving animal welfare, reducing the large carbon footprint that livestock farming has, reducing waste and managing our water supply.
There are also many positive health and budget benefits, too. It's such a simple thing to do, with many people already enjoying at least one vegetarian meal a week. The purpose of the day was to draw attention to food management and its global environmental impact ahead of the UN Climate Summit on September 23 in New York by pledging to having a meat-free day a week. You can read more about it on www.meatfreemondays.com or go straight to the pledge on pledge.meatfreemondays.com.
I'm not on a soapbox shouting my beliefs or in the business of scaremongering, especially when it comes to food and dietary choices. I think with all the conflicting information out there, it can be overwhelming for people who then feel despondent and end up making no active choices. But as someone who has done all the extreme diets and lifestyles, I feel very comfortable and confident in supporting Meat Free Monday. It is an easy and accessible thing to do that you can feel good about, for your own and global health.
Reducing the carbon footprint of meat farming
Modern-day life means that there are many things that we do that increase carbon emissions that are cited as one of the root causes of the global climate change problem. Livestock farming is one of these. To rear animals for food takes up vast amounts of natural resources and feed. Then the animals must be butchered and the meat transported many miles to the consumer. This all adds many food miles and increased greenhouse emissions.
Then there is the problem of the methane gas emitted from livestock, which is 25 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than carbon monoxide. It is naturally occurring and produced in the stomachs of animals. In moderate amounts this would be manageable, but with intensive farming, livestock now contribute 37pc of total methane emissions generated by human activity. So it might sounds facetious, but this excessive bovine flatulence is causing serious damage.
In his speech at the event, British MP Greg Barker cited the statistic that by committing to Meat Free Monday, it is the carbon-emission reduction equivalent of not using your car for a full month a year! It is astonishing and empowering, knowing that as individuals we can make such an impact just by what we choose to eat.
Mr Barker started Meat Free Monday in January, and even as a lover of bacon and chorizo, has found he is now more thoughtful about his food and is enjoying a far greater variety. He urged the audience to make the Meat Free pledge ahead of the UN Climate Summit tomorrow.
Managing the Earth's water supply
I'm going to sound like a grumpy 'oul one here, but I am so over the ice bucket challenge. I know the intentions behind it are good, but coming from a drought-stricken African country, it is such a waste of water. We also need to look beyond our moaning about water charges and see the global picture. We have a real problem with water supply across the globe. And as Stella McCartney succinctly explained, to produce one kilogram of meat for human consumption takes the amount of water that one person would consume in a year. She qualified this by adding that she could deal with that if all the meat was actually eaten and was food for somebody. But the fact is that we waste an awful lot, so this figure really puts waste into perspective. Another way to quantify it, is that by eating a steak, you are consuming 2,600 litres of water! Livestock farming takes up a vast amount of water and 30pc of the world's agricultural surface is used for crops for livestock. There is the argument that some of this should be redistributed for growing crops for human consumption.
Health benefits of reducing meat consumption
One of the messages of the campaign is not only to reduce meat consumption but also to choose better quality meat, chicken and seafood. For years, dieticians have urged us to reduce our meat consumption to only one serving a week.
Two decade-long studies by Harvard University concluded that not only is excessive red-meat consumption linked to heart disease, cancers and other health problems, it can also shorten your life span. It is also linked to a 13pc increased chance of mortality while consuming processed meats such as 'luncheon' meats, hot dogs and bacon can increase this risk to up to 20pc.
The good news is that if you reduce your red-meat consumption to less that 50 grams a day and your processed-meat consumption drops to occasional, then this figure drops.
Reducing red-meat consumption will reduce your risk of heart disease by 15pc and your diabetes risk by 19pc. Minimal meat consumption helps reduce your cancer risk by up to 40pc, especially colorectal cancer.
A more plant-based diet will lead to a better BMI, healthier weight and is a possible solution to the obesity crisis.
Enjoying a more plant-based diet
I'm pleased to say I've received wonderful feedback from my cookery students who have adopted Meat Free Monday. People find it very budget-friendly and interesting to try new recipes and a healthier lifestyle. I get excited about the vast variety of vegetarian food and I love sharing this enthusiasm.
So it was great talking to Mary McCartney, who has written a wonderful cookbook and is working on a second one. What I like about the books is that there is a great emphasis on celebrating and enjoying food, entertaining friends and not feeling as though you're missing out.
Vegetarian food has long been misrepresented so I empathise with Paul McCartney, who cannot face a stuffed red pepper as it was the only veggie option on menus for many years. Thank goodness we have moved on!
The venue for the launch was a great advertisement for vegetarian cuisine - Tibits off Regent Street in London. I can honestly say it is one of the best vegetarian eateries I've been in. Have a look at their cookbook, Tibits at Home. It was written in partnership with Hiltl, the worlds oldest vegetarian restaurant founded in 1898, so there is a lot of substance to it.
See www.tibits.co.uk and www.hitl.ch. See also Food - Vegetarian Home Cooking by Mary McCartney and Meat Free Monday Cookbook by Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney.
Health & Living