Why Meat Free Week should be called 'Eat More Vegetables Week'

Meat Free Week piglets
© Meat Free Week

Meat-eaters are unlikely to have a vegetarian epiphany while going cold tofurkey for a week. But if the focus were on the glory of vegetables, and how awesome vegetarianism or flexitarianism can be, then perhaps it would be more effective.

It’s Meat Free Week in the U.K. right now. Anyone who wants to try their hand at vegetarianism for six days can sign up to join the challenge, raise money for charity, and – if the MFW organizers have it their way – never view meat-eating the same way again.

But is it really that simple? Tony Naylor doesn’t think so. As he writes for The Guardian, “A die-hard meat eater is a hard nut to crack.” People eat meat for many reasons, whether it’s for taste, tradition, protein, or lack of knowing how to make anything that doesn’t have meat in it. Naylor points out that, since we live in a world that bombards us constantly with food-related health scares, it’s hard to absorb the facts of yet another serious issue:

“Do people really engage seriously with the idea that, for instance, eating bacon contributes to bowel cancer? … Most meat-eaters could give up anything, but you will have to prize that last bacon butty from their cold, dead hands.”

A better approach perhaps would be to emphasize the seductiveness of vegetables. This puts a positive spin on vegetarianism and the whole eat-less-meat debate, rather than focusing on the deprivation that many people would feel by giving up meat completely. Instead, urge people to consider what can be gained by supplanting meat’s prominence in one’s diet with fabulously tasty veggies.

An emphasis on the glory of vegetables – let’s say, a “Try Vegetarianism for a Week” event – would likely have longer-lasting results than a weeklong meat-free challenge, which, for most of the people being targeted by this campaign, remains only that – a fun and slightly torturous challenge that must be endured temporarily before returning to one’s default state of meat-eating. If MFW wants permanent results, then it should really be selling that change “as a sexy, modern alternative, not as an act of self-sacrifice. It needs to be a positive win-win on several fronts.”

Naylor suggests a number of approaches, but three in particular resonate most with me, as a conscientious omnivore. These are the reasons I’ve already reduced my meat consumption and only buy locally raised, hormone-free meat:

  • The cost-effectiveness of vegetables: It’s far cheaper to buy high-quality organic produce than ethically and sustainably raised meat. I simply can’t afford to eat meat on a daily basis.
  • Global justice: First, the fact that choosing vegetables and grains goes toward the more even distribution of calories throughout the world. Second, I don't want to support factory farming in any way.
  • The deliciousness of vegetarian food: This is one place where MFW gets it really wrong. The recipe index on the main site includes a list of elaborate gourmet recipes with names such as “aubergine cassoulet,” “beetroot speltotto,” and “brie de meaux custard, red grape, celery.” I love to cook, and these sound like wonderful recipes to make on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, but as suggested fare for six weeknights of newly self-imposed vegetarianism? I don’t think so. A list of quick curries, stir-fries, soups, and pastas that can be whipped up in a half hour – even ones that stretch a little bit of meat a long ways – would be a more accessible resource.

  • Tags: Animals | Diet | Food Miles | Food Safety | Food Security | Fruits & Vegetables | Vegetarian

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