Call me power-crazed, but I’m trying to change your life here. My goal is unambiguously to persuade you to eat more vegetables. Many more vegetables. Perhaps even to make vegetables the mainstay of your daily cooking. And therefore, by implication, to eat less meat, maybe a lot less meat, and maybe a bit less fish, too.
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Why? Because vegetables are the foods that do us the most good and our planet the least harm. Is there anyone who doubts it to be true? Just ask yourself if you, or anyone you know, might be in danger of eating too many vegetables. Or if you think the world might be a better, cleaner, greener place with a few more factory chicken or pig farms or intensive cattle feedlots scattered about the countryside. Surely it’s close to being a no-brainer.
We eat far too much factory-farmed meat in the West—too much for our own health, and far too much for the welfare of the many millions of animals we raise for food. I believe that factory farming is plain wrong—environmentally and ethically. I’m similarly forthright about fish. I believe it’s a wonderful food, which I like to catch and love to eat. But we are in ever-increasing danger of eradicating this amazing source of food altogether.
Good reasons, you might think, for becoming an out-and-out vegetarian. But that isn’t my plan. I still believe in being a selective omnivore, casting a positive vote in favor of ethically produced meat and sustainably caught fish.
But why, I hear some of you remonstrating, given that I still eat meat and fish, would I want many recipes to exclude them entirely? Perhaps, like me, you’ve already become adept at making a little meat go a long way. So why not allow such sound and thrifty strategies, where a modest amount of meat is used as a perk or spice in a dish, to season and punctuate vegetable recipes? Because it would be a cop-out, that’s why! That approach, useful though it is, is ultimately the wrong mindset for serious change. It suggests we’re clinging on to meat; that we feel any meal is incomplete without it. And that’s the feeling I think we all need to let go of.
The way I see it, if we are remotely serious in our commitment to eat less meat and fish, we will want to make plenty of meals completely without meat and fish. For many of us, this is quite a big concept to swallow, but I want to tackle it head-on. We may be increasingly aware of the good reasons to eat less meat, but our cooking culture is still largely based around flesh. Meat is so familiar, so convenient; it’s the easy route to something that we instantly recognize as a “proper meal.” I want to show you how straightforward it can be to embrace vegetables in the same way.
Changing our prime culinary focus from meat to vegetables requires a shift in attitude—but not, I would argue, a very big or difficult one. It’s true that if you eschew meat and fish, you have to look at other ingredients with fresh eyes. You have to take a new, more creative approach to them. But once you become accustomed to cooking vegetables as main meals it will soon seem like the most natural thing. I actually find it all to be very liberating. I think this kind of vegetable cookery is more democratic—there’s no longer a tyrannical piece of meat dominating the agenda, making everything else feel like a supporting act. This is not an argumentative case for not eating something bad or rare or threatened. In fact, it’s not about problems at all. Quite the opposite: It’s about solutions. And the main solution is, quite simply, to eat more vegetables!
This article is reprinted with permission from River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.