I am seriously considering becoming a vegetarian again following reports that pork and cattle feed in Ireland has been contaminated. This has caused shops and supermarkets to withdraw all pork products from their shelves and consumers being advised not eat any pork produced in Ireland since September until further notice.
It has also emerged that some cattle may have been fed contaminated feed as well.
It reminds me of when the full extent of the BSE issue first emerged. I was outraged that anyone could even have contemplated feeding bits of cow brain back to cattle simply because it was cheap. It seemed to me to be a subversion of nature in the name of profit and while I did not immediately give up eating beef I certainly curtailed my intake.
I stopped eating meat completely – including beef, pork, lamb and chicken but kept on eating fish – in 2000 and maintained my mostly vegetarian lifestyle until 2006. There were a couple of lapses, mostly when I was abroad. I remember ordering vegetable soup in Chile and finding a piece of bone in it. I didn’t send it back and kept eating it.
A few years ago when we were in Africa we were invited to dinner in the home of some people we had become friendly with. I knew before I went that meat was likely to be served, and it was. Being the male guest spoonful after spoonful of a beef stew in peanut sauce was served up and our hostess, Janibar, told how she had got up early that morning to ensure she got the best cut of meat. Our friends were not poor by west African standards but they almost certainly earned a fraction of what we did. There was no way I was going to turn round and say ‘sorry but do you not have any quorn’.
The following year we were in Spain and I cracked – the concept of vegetarianism does not really exist there. Sure there are lots of great fish dishes but all that chorizo and jamon de Serrano was too much temptation for me and I have been a carnivore ever since, although with more than a twinge of guilt.
In some ways it was quite liberating to be able to go in to a restaurant and not find myself limited to scampi, salmon or pasta with a few chopped vegetables tossed in to it. I enjoy trying out different foods and am particularly fond of wild meat, especially game.
But this week’s news that once again our food chain has been contaminated has made me resentful. It is an industry on which the consumer has to place total trust and which has consistently let us down. The contamination will probably turn out to be an accident rather than the misjudgement that led to BSE but that does not excuse it.
Although we are being told that the contamination will probably not have any impact on humans who have consumed infected products I still feel violated. We had sausages on Saturday and beef on Sunday.
Of course giving up meat will not necessarily spare me from the incompetence of the food industry. Vegetables can be sprayed with toxins and the ground in which they grow can be polluted. Fish can be poisoned by the waste that we pump into the sea and affected by the processing industry.
But it is my way of protesting. The meat industry will not suffer economically because I no longer eat sausages or buy mince to make chilli con carne but in my own way I will have shunned and made clear my contempt for it.
Being vegetarian demands a certain amount of commitment, although it does not necessarily mean having to sacrifice good food.
I’m not a bad cook and can rustle up some decent Thai and Indian dishes. I’m also quite good at soups and make a good veggie Harira, a north African staple, chowder and a chunky vegetable broth. However, Sinead mightn’t be too pleased as it will mean going back to cooking two meals when we eat together or else her having to share my veggie or piscitarian delights – something she was never to keen on in the past.
Most meat substitutes are revolting and I never quite got why people who are non-meat eaters should want to munch on something with the texture of cardboard that very slightly resembles the flavour of bacon.
I’m sure I will still eat the occasional meat dish – especially while travelling and maybe I will allow myself a bit of game now and again. Somehow I feel better knowing that the meat I am eating was running about in a field or flapping around a tree a few days ago rather than beneath artificial lights in a barn and being feed with toxin-infected grain.