Spare me Veganuary and let’s support our local farm communities - Christa Ackroyd
Conversely, if you tell me I can’t, then I become absolutely determined to do whatever it is you tell me I shouldn’t. No wonder my mother nicknamed me ‘contrary Mary’.
And so it is with Veganuary (As for dry January, haven’t we suffered enough?). This week at my local supermarket the aisles were full of plant-based food. Every advert on the telly seemed to be about ‘tastes like meat but isn’t meat’ products. It made me want to reach for a juicy steak, cooked rare, of course.
And before you start telling me it’s good for me, whatever happened to a little bit of what you fancy does you good? I do like vegetarian food. I eat it often. The same goes for vegan food. But making a month of it will not persuade me to kick meat into touch forever. And telling me it’s the only way to save the planet won’t hack it either. Because I don’t believe you.
My grandma was a vegetarian. And believe me, married to a chicken farmer living in Barnoldswick, she wasn’t the norm. But she was strict about not eating meat, so much so that my granddad even had a separate kitchen in which to cook his meals. It was certainly a bone of contention between them, if you excuse the non-vegan pun.
As a child I remember foraging with her for nettles to make soup (it tasted awful), dock leaves to make dock pudding (using oats and equally disgusting) and collecting edible flowers such as rose petals or nasturtiums to dress a salad, which were actually rather nice and very on-trend now. She was ahead of her time, was my grandma. And to be honest she was a pretty good cook at a time when the choice for vegetarians in the shops was sparse, to say the least.
I still like yeast extract in my gravy or even instead of it so some of it definitely stuck. But, like my grandad, I thought it a little strange at the time. Now she would be in supermarket heaven with all the choice that’s around. But then choice is an important word, don’t you think?
If I think back to those days we had plenty of meat-free meals at home, too. Let’s be honest, our parents couldn’t afford it every day. That’s why the Sunday roast was so special. We had cheese and onion pie and I loved mum’s baked onions with lashing of salt and pepper too.
My mum cooked with lentils and pulses because they were cheap and filling and we always had a fruit bowl piled high. But there is one major difference between then and now.
We never had processed food or takeaways, apart from the occasional treat of fish and chips. We were given food made from scratch and what’s more, food that was bought locally and more importantly in season. And nothing was wasted. What’s more, we supported local growers, we grew our own in our small backyards, and used our local markets, butchers and greengrocers.
Even in her eighties, my mum refused to buy strawberries that were not British. Not out of a sense of patriotism but because strawberries imported or forced out of season were, she said, tasteless. I agree with her. This week in the supermarket I was tempted by a punnet of cherries shipped from South Africa. Well, that’s not going to save the planet, is it? I resisted and reached for the Cox’s apples. Sharp but a taste of winter.
Look, I am all for choice and that means the choice to be vegan if you wish. I agree wholeheartedly that we eat too much meat and I am making a conscious effort to eat it less often and only when I know where it comes from.
But I am hugely aware of the hard work and effort that good producers have to put in to provide us with decent food. They are not the cause of our planet’s crisis. Without them acting as custodians of our countryside, we would also lose as much as they would if we all became vegans overnight.
It is too easy to say they should turn their land into arable. Try telling that to my Uncle Lance who kept his sheep high on the North York Moors where a tree hardly grew let alone a field of barley. Yet he mended the fences, rebuilt the dry stone walls, kept open the footpaths and replanted the hedges as well as selling his produce at market.
It’s all well and good coming up with a snappy title for a campaign that lasts a month but let us consider how we can really improve our health and save the planet as well as support the farming community I grew up amongst and admire to this day.
So here is my pledge. I will continue to eat less meat and make sure when I do I know where it came from. Organic costs more, but if we eat less it evens itself up. I will continue to supplement my diet not with vitamins out of a plastic bottle but with fresh fruit, lots of vegetables and delicious Yorkshire cheese. But meat that is farmed and produced locally.
I will also eat fish caught by our gallant local fishermen who get up at silly o’clock and head out to sea. And above all I will stay away from ready-made processed food. Or if I do occasionally succumb to temptation I will check the packet for additives and preservatives that means it can be stored on the shelves longer than it would have been without them.
But above all, I will turn my back on gimmicks and slick advertising campaigns designed to make me buy their products or feel guilty doing otherwise. Each to their own, that’s my motto. What’s for lunch today? Homemade roast tomato and lentil soup.
My husband bought me a soup maker for Christmas, the old romantic. And tomorrow? A locally bought Sunday roast, of course…