“New vegetarianism” is an opportunity, not a sacrificeby William Skidelsky / April 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s depiction of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor, 1590. Modern cuisine is also recognising the potential of vegetables
About a year and a half ago, I joined the ranks of the those eating less meat. I didn’t do this primarily out of ecological concern, or from a desire to be healthier, but because I moved in with my girlfriend (now wife), a strict vegetarian. As I do almost all the cooking in our household, I realised that a major shift in my culinary approach was required. I now cook vegetarian most of the time, and save meat and fish for when we’ve got guests.
I’m not alone. In recent years, there’s been growing talk of “meat reducers” and “flexitarians”: people who, while not strict vegetarians, incorporate elements of vegetarianism into their diets. According to the Vegetarian Society, while the number of actual vegetarians in the UK has remained static over the past decade at around 2m, there are many more who say they’ve significantly reduced their meat intake, or now eat fish but no meat. Retail statistics back this up: between 2006 and 2010, supermarkets reported a 20 per cent growth in the “meat-free market,” while the average amount of meat a person eats in a year fell from 81.4kg to 76.2kg. For hardliners, however, vegetarianism isn’t a lifestyle choice but a moral imperative; a halfway-house just isn’t acceptable.
What’s been surprising is how little I’ve minded. Previously, like most meat-lovers, I instinctively viewed vegetables as accompaniments. I had a handful of vegetarian dishes in my repertoire, but I couldn’t imagine doing away with meat altogether. Through embracing semi-vegetarianism, however, I’ve become comfortable with the idea of vegetables taking centre stage, and enjoyed the challenge of finding ways to make them interesting. When vegetables are side-dishes, it’s easy to treat them lazily (boil or bake; slap on some seasoning). When they’re all you’ve got, you’re forced to be more creative.
Fortunately, becoming a part-time vegetarian now seems less of a sacrifice than it would have in the past. Veggie cooking has come a long way from the bad old days of anaemic salads, pulse-based stews and imitation sausages. A large part of the improvement has come about organically, simply because Britain has become more open to the cuisines of other countries, many of which have richer traditions of vegetable cookery than we do. These days, instead of being stuck…