Radio 4’s Farming Programme had an interesting feature yesterday morning about
vegetarianism in Germany – apparently the government is introducing a controversial ban on meat at government receptions. This is on environmental grounds – it seems that in Germany they take very seriously the costs of producing meat vis-à-vis a vegetarian diet. Indeed, from the programme I gather that this is a hot potato (!) in German politics, with vegetarians identified as crazy left-wingers compared with the conservative cattle-munchers.
Can you imagine such a debate happening in Scotland? For a start, despite decades of awareness of the issues, there is little high-quality or high-profile public debate on the sustainability of meat-farming. It’s an international rather than merely national issue, as previously ‘developing countries’ increase their appetite for the ‘western diet’ over traditional vegetarian habits; hence an increasing global demand for meat.
The meat-versus-veg debate is frequently over-simplified. Scotland has a wealth of high-quality, compassionately-farmed beef, lamb, pork and increasingly, venison – not to mention game birds and the whole of the fishing industry. Apart from the deliciousness of the product, meat’s importance to the economy, and a vast cultural heritage, there are jobs to consider. I’m certainly not in favour of wholesale vegetarianism, imposed or otherwise. But I do go along with the many leading academics, environmentalists, farmers and food writers that we should all be eating less meat; and what meat we do eat should be of high quality.
Much research has linked heavy meat-eating to high incidence of cancer and heart disease. Decades of research findings have found that diets high in vegetables and fruit have a strongly protective effect on our health. Fish also enjoys a favourable profile in health and diet research. I’m certainly not an expert on these areas; but I know that these messages aren’t new. The links I’ve made highlight just a few sources of authority, but there are many more. I reckon it’s time Scots took the evidence to heart. Maybe we should revert to childhood role models: