Commentary: Veggies - over easy

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You’ll be pleased to know that this week is National Vegetarian Week in Great Britain, an event created by the Vegetarian Society some 20 years ago and currently sponsored by Cauldron Foods to “celebrate fantastic vegetarian cuisine.” Cauldron Foods is one of Britain’s leading faux food manufacturers, which promotes the glories of vegetarian cuisine as an excuse to peddle its line of such products as Tofu Barbecue Kebabs, Mediterranean-style Mushroom Burgers and Lincolnshire Sausages made from “hydrated TVP” (textured soy protein, potato starch and wheat gluten).

Cauldron’s involvement raises the question of why the sponsor of a go-veggie campaign is working so hard to market non-meat versions of traditional red meat specialties—only made from soybeans imported from Brazil, rather than food products sourced from the UK’s own domestic livestock producers and dairy farmers. Aren’t vegetarians supposed to be oh-so enlightened about eco-issues like food miles and carbon footprints and the importance of embracing local cuisine to protect Mother Nature?

The official line bandied about in the media coverage—such as it is: National Vegetarian Week across the pond appears to rank right up there with the publicity accorded here for National Safe Boating Week or National Library Week (which includes National Bookmobile Day as part of National School Library Month)—is that the event exists as “an annual awareness-raising campaign promoting inspirational vegetarian food and the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle.”

More to the point, the backstory behind these contemporary veggie “events” exposes an interesting new trend: You can now become a veggie just for a day (or a week, in this case). As the Vegetarian Society proclaims, “Every meal helps. If you don’t feel you can go veggie all at once, feel good about what you are doing to reduce the amount of meat and fish that you eat.”

You read that right. According to the leaders of Britain’s largest anti-meat advocacy group, “going veggie” might mean simply skipping meat for a single meal.

That’s just a whole plateful of wrong. All of the hardcore vegetarians and vegans I’ve sparred with over the years wear their status as veggies and vegans like a badge of courage. The idea that somebody could embrace the “v-word” just by piling on the potatoes and passing up the meatloaf tonight only is, in a word, preposterous.

Understanding the real reasons

But there’s a reason why the pro-veggie groups are pushing this veggie for a day concept. It’s because getting people to go vegetarian the way the born-again believers proclaim you must—no meat, no dairy, no seafood or eggs—is about as popular as getting young people to embrace that other “v-word:” virginity. Yes, there is a percentage of young people who talk up their commitment to “waiting until marriage.” However, research reveals that many of them are “returning,” shall we say, to a celibate state.

Of course, National Vegetarian Week is not only an excuse for sponsoring companies to push their products, it’s another opportunity for the anti-meat NGO’s to tout the never-ending stream of studies that purport to show a link between eating meat and an increased risk of the disease of the week, in this case, a recent  report from the World Cancer Research Fund advising Britons to limit their intake of beef, pork and lamb and avoid processed meats altogether due to “convincing evidence” that connects weekly consumption of 600 grams of cooked red meat (about a three-ounce serving every day) to a 17% increase in the risk of colo-rectal cancer—which, you should know, affects approximately .0046% of the population.

As The Guardian newspaper’s blogger Jay Rayner wrote in response: “This extra 100 grams a day amounts to more than a doubling of the recommended amount of 70 grams. If I’ve got my sums right, it means 170 grams of cooked red meat a day, which is over 2.5 pounds of red meat a week. Add in a similar amount of processed meats, and it's a dead animal fiesta.”

The strategy the pro-vegetarian advocates are using—here as well as over there—is pretty obvious: Even an occasional non-meat meal makes a difference.

That kind of soft and nonbinding “choice” means you can’t really call yourself a true vegetarian, and certainly the vast majority of people are never going to embrace a hardcore vegan lifestyle. But this new trend, what I call the “marginally meatless” movement, is good for advancing ,many other objectives: good for fund-raising, good for media coverage and good for the bottom line of analog food manufacturers such as Caldron Foods.

For me, however, I draw the line: either you’re an enlightened veggie who’s saving the planet, ending animal abuse and adding decades to his or her life, or—as they say in England—you’re a poser.

Seems that the organizations most involved in pushing vegetarianism are willing to bend the rules like a TVP-based link sausage.

Not me. Either you’re a real veggie or not.

And I know which side I’m on.

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator


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Bryan    
Lawrence, KS  |  May, 23, 2011 at 01:41 PM

Dan, Either you're a real veggie or not, ehh? Why are you trying to create a false dichotomy here? Why can't people who are eating less and less meat day by day be allowed to identify with a movement? I've been a vegetarian for 8 years; i hold no card; i carry no membership, and as far as I'm concerned, anyone can call themselves a vegetarian, as long as they are making an effort to reduce the amount of animal flesh they consume. That's about all there is to it. Let me share a brief story with you, Dan. For almost three years I dated the girl of my dreams. We were both vegetarians, worked for a daily newspaper, and cared deeply about the environment. But her love of fish and seafood slowly started to creep back. I fought her militantly. I used your reasoning: either your veggie or not, either you're truthful or a hypocrite. I lost her, Dan! I was too hardcore! I know now that being a vegetarian, while extremely important, is an issue we have to handle delicately. It's a matter of gradation, and if we force our beliefs too heavily on people, they will resist. So to all those meat-eaters, vegetarians, and lovers out there, eat less meat, feel free to call yourself whatever you'd like, and don't drive the people you love away with extremism (either pro-meat or pro-vegetarian zeal).

Georgia    
UK  |  May, 24, 2011 at 04:33 AM

I agree Bryan. My husband is a meat eater, whilst I have been a vegetarian for 17 years. Although it sickens me that he eats meat, it's his choice and he eats what I cook (veggie food only), so at least there are less animals dying for him to eat. Dan you really don't know what you're talking about. Don't assume you know anything about us Brits, or vegetarians for that matter. Some of us don't eat animals just because we respect life, it's as simple as that.

Adan    
New Mexico  |  May, 23, 2011 at 03:07 PM

Dan, YOU have used this occasion to promote your agenda... not the other way around. This is how I view paragraph 8 of your article... "But of course this article is just an excuse for cattle growers to promote their products, and to deny the never ending stream of studies that show the link between eating meat and increased risk of disease..." If one considers the environmental degradation brought on by factory farming and feed lots in pollution, water consumption, human risk from antibiotic use, and so on, even going meatless one day a week is helpful. For those attempting to enlighten public consciousness it is a place to begin a dialog. What does their purity, or lack thereof, have to do with you? This is just an exercise in propaganda for the industry that employs you, and obviously you're good at your job, but please stick with a subject you know and understand... that would exclude vegetarianism obviously.

Barry    
Dallas  |  May, 23, 2011 at 08:49 PM

No need to be vegan or vegetarian to eschew factory farmed beef. I call myself a vegetarian, but I would eat a deer or a turkey if I killed and prepared it myself - knowing that the animal had a great life of un-caged freedom, filled with food it was meant to eat (not GMO corn), and I give thanks to the animal for granting me nourishment.

Diana    
Idaho  |  May, 25, 2011 at 12:49 AM

How people choose to identify themselves based on diet is their own business and Mr. Murphy's disparaging opinion is irrelevant. If people choose to eat vegetarian for one day a week, this cuts meat sales to that individual/family by one seventh (or 14%). This is a pocketbook, not philosophical, issue for the livestock industry.

Gail Estes    
Berkeley,Ca  |  June, 01, 2011 at 01:40 PM

Is that Murphy's law?


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