The future is meat less

People everywhere are reducing meat consumption. Craig Sams argues that organic farmers are well placed to adjust to the coming low-meat scenario

My late great aunt Sophia was very religious and faithfully observed all the fast days of the Orthodox Church’s nearly 2000 year-old religious calendar. When you totted up every Wednesday and Friday plus Lent, Dormition and Nativity Fasts she had about 180 days as a vegan, two with no food and another 40 that were ovo-lacto vegetarian. Two thirds of the year. She would never have described herself as a vegetarian, though. She once killed, skinned and cooked a rabbit when I came to lunch.  She cooked broad beans, chickpeas and wheat for protein on meatless days. Her generation’s view was that you weren’t a proper Christian unless you adhered to the fasting rules, purely for spiritual reasons.

When Japan went Buddhist  and vegetarian 1400 years ago it was made easier by having tofu and ‘seitan’ wheat gluten and meaty-tasting miso and soya sauce – the same meat-replacing foods that help people transition to the macrobiotic diet. Michelin 3 star chefs Alain Passard and Alain Ducasse  both now have successful restaurants in Paris that are almost entirely vegan or vegetarian.

In 1981 my brother Gregory came up with an idea for a vegetarian burger mix. He registered the name ‘Vegeburger’ as a Trademark because it was such a novel term –(just imagine trying to do that today).  Set up under the Realeat brand the Vegeburger took off like a rocket and Gregory hooked up with Gallup to launch an annual survey on ‘Changing Attitudes to Meat Consumption’ that revealed the dynamic growth in the market for vegetarian food that continues to this day.   It shook off the ‘beards and sandals’ image that some backward folk still had about vegetarianism and made meat reduction hip and groovy. Pirate radio stations ran the first ever rapping food advertisement. That cemented the Vegeburger as cool.

The VegeBurger made the transition to vegetarianism much easier and more tempting for people at a time of rising food awareness in the 80s. Some people were critical – ‘Why imitate meat dishes with a veggie substitute?’ they’d ask. Why not? Most sausages are about 90% breadcrumbs.  Rissoles and patties have been around for as long as hamburgers. If putting something savoury in an appropriate roll or bun is delicious, who says it has to have been a mammal or bird previously?

Last August I attended a conference titled “Reversing The Trend” organized by Plantlife, Wildlife Trusts and Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Attendees mapped out a strategy to raise the profile of pasture-fed meat as opposed to intensive factory farmed animals.  The Prince of Wales dropped in and emphasized the arguments for biodiversity and reducing global warming.   The conclusion?  The same message that Slow Food and the Soil Association repeat: “Eat less meat, but eat better.”

People everywhere are reducing meat. There’s good reason. Eating meat is cruel to animals, in excess leads to degenerative disease, environmental degradation, accelerated climate change, the theft of food from poorer countries and widespread starvation.

What about organic vegetarian alternatives to meat? In my 25 years helping out at the Soil Association I have worked alongside conscientious meat and dairy farmers whose commitment to the environment is unchallengeable. Many, however, mistrust vegetarianism as they think organic farming systems cannot function without animals to supply manure for fertility building. But if we were vegetarian we’d need less than half the land used for food production now and if we were vegan we’d need just one fifth of the land – we could farm more extensively, and grow more clover.

Meat alternatives have never been more convincing. The Nordic countries are leading the charge in creating organic high quality alternatives to meat that convincingly satisfy the need for meaty texture, savoury flavour and concentrated protein. What’s more, they’re successfully marketing it as hip and groovy. So can organic farmers adjust to the coming low meat scenario?  With modern developments in composting, green manures and overwintered crops there’s no need to be dependent on animal manures.  The future is probably never going to be vegetarian but food processors are coming up with some very competitive alternatives to meat, lower in price and higher in flavour.

I wish my Aunt Sophia could see how far things have come, but she’d be 115 by now  – even 222 days a year as a vegetarian can’t swing that.


• The Nordic Organic Food Fair, the leading organic food event for the Scandinavian region, takes place in Malmo, Sweden, on 26-27 October 2014.

Treated like Animals

What is it about the meat industry? Vegans say meat is murder, what’s clear is that its production often defies morality.

A recently published inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission ( has been pretty horrifying: women working in meat and poultry processing factories barred from going to the lavatory because it would slow down the production line. Result: urine and blood (if they’re menstruating) dripping down their legs. Angry managers pelt workers with frozen hamburgers and call them ‘you f***ing’ shit Polish.’

Press reports use terms like “Treated Like Animals.” I guess we take brutal and uncaring animal treatment for granted: cattle in Colorado feedlots up to their knees in their own shit, sick with e.Coli infections and salmonella. US poultry meat has to be washed with chlorine before it can safely be put on sale. I visited a chicken farm in West Virginia 18 months ago: the ammonia from fermenting chicken poop burned your eyes so badly that we could only stand in the shed full of 100,000 birds for a minute before we had to retreat to the fresh air outside. The country girl who assisted the manager commented that she had got used to the smell: her job entailed removing the dead birds every day. The corpses were then burned to generate heat that was helped heat the chicken barn – as recycling efforts go, probably a cut above grinding them up and feeding them to the survivors.

In the 19th Century a report from a Royal Navy vessel that intercepted a slave ship summarised conditions on that most horrendous of transatlantic voyages. “The sick, the dead and they dying were pulled up onto deck, shackled together, and thrown overboard.” The slaves were tethered in cubicles about 2 feet wide and 3 feet high for the entire voyage, which could last 4-12 weeks. The longer the trip the higher the death rate. Slave ships were ‘tight pack’ or ‘loose pack.’ ‘Tight pack’ profitably fitted more slaves into a ship, but the death rate was much higher: 10-20%. Modern pig and chicken factory farms go for ‘tight pack,’ raising the death rate to 5-14%, even with routine antibiotic use. Disease spreads in conditions where faeces cannot be cleared – even slaves above deck were chained in place for the entire voyage – otherwise they would jump overboard to escape the conditions.

I suppose when we consider the cruelty that surrounded the slave trade we shouldn’t be surprised that similar evils infest the meat industry. The trust of an animal is a wonderful thing. As pets they have a therapeutic effect that defies medical explanation. Yet if someone were to take a puppy or a kitten, smother it in its own excrement for a month or so, torture it, starve it and throw it into a furnace while it was still alive they’s be excoriated on the cover of the Daily Mail.

A new dairy ‘farm’ in Lincolnshire is planned to house 8100 dairy cows in darkened stalls, modelled on American dairy production. It is estimated that half of US dairy cows suffer from mastitis and they also suffer leukaemia, milk fever and a bovine form of AIDS. ‘Downers’ – cows that collapse - are turned into ground beef before they can die and become unsuitable for consumption.

It’s not often that Human Rights Watch take up cudgels on behalf of American workers, but they have pointed out that meat industry workers have 3 times the injury rate of other industries, with workers being asphyxiated by fumes and having their legs cut off and their hands crushed.

When you look at the cruelty we inflict on animals is it any wonder that we treat abattoir workers so badly? When you look at the kindness that typifies organic animal rearing, is it any wonder that places like the exemplary biodynamic Laverstoke Farm build their own meat processing facilities, carefully designed to keep the animals calm right up to the final moment, rather than send them off to a slaughterhouse where the people, let alone the animals are treated like…well, slaves.

People somehow manage to get over their concerns about animal welfare when they buy non-organic meat in a shop or restaurant, but how easy is it to be a participant in the human degradation as well?

Meat Free Mondays

In mid June 2009 I went to the launch of Meat Free Mondays. Frontman Paul McCartney gave a straightforward and inspiring speech stating the obvious – meat eating is responsible for about one quarter of the world’s increase in greenhouse gas levels each year. If we all gave up meat just one day a week, this could make a significant difference to our headlong rush towards extinction on an overheated planet. Not particularly challenging you might think – one day a week without meat isn’t going to have anyone in the developed world turning up at the doctor’s with kwashiorkor or some other protein deficiency disease, is it? In fact, a little less protein might help with the obesity boom – could be win – win: we end up healthier and our grandchildren inherit a planet that is still habitable.

But the press took it badly. Even the Guardian, which I doggedly continue to read despite the increasingly snide and snotty articles against organic food, environment campaigners and alternative medicine they publish nowadays, couldn’t play it straight.The Telegraph’s Liz Hunt said the idea made her want to ‘club a seal’ and vowed to eat bacon for breakfast, chicken for lunch and hamburger for dinner in order to express her revulsion at the concept.Worst of all was the Grocer, quoting 2 anonymous ‘sources’ and one named one. One ‘source’ described the initiative as ‘crass’ and said ‘I think it’s bonkers.’ Then the Chairman of the NFU’s livestock board, Alistair MacKintosh pointed out that farmers were waiting for innovation and science to sort out the cow farts and burps, concluding ‘I’d rather listen to science than some hippified vegetarian.’Errr... the science of global warming is pretty clear on this one:- Cows emit methane, methane is a greenhouse gas 21 times worse than CO2. - Sir David King, the former Government Chief Scientist says: ‘easting less meat will help the environment’ citing beef’s carbon footprint as 20 times higher than that of whole grains. - The Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urges a meat-free day to help reduce emissions.These hippies are everywhere!With Hilary Benn, a vegetarian, the new Secretary of State at Defra and Jim Fitzpatrick, another veggie, the Minister for Food, Farming and Environment, let’s hope that the NFU’s legendary control over this important Ministry is balanced by rationality and that science, not subsidy, dictates future policy.Meanwhile it’s all happening on the film front. ‘End of the Line’ documents the corruption of governments by big fish interests and shows how this is leading to the end of abundant fish in the oceans.‘Food Inc’ shows how a handful of multinationals have seized control of our food supply and driven down safety standards for both workers and consumer health.Former Soil Association trustee Tracy Worcester’s film ‘Pig Business’ will be screened on More4 on June 30 2009 at 10 p.m – giving an insight into how the same practices that brought you Swine Flu are now being replicated in Poland.The industrial meat industry is killing us and liquidating any decent future for the planet. If Meat Free Mondays can mark the start of a reversal of this awful situation then it deserves everyone’s support.Recently Greenpeace researched the double whammy source of greenhouse gas in the Amazon forest. Forest is cleared and burned – lots of CO2 into the atmosphere -then it’s stocked with methane-emitting cows that end up being sneaked past the controls that buyers like Tesco, Asda and M&S have established to prevent just this sort of thing. If reputable companies can’t control this what can a person do?Well, cutting out meat one day of the week seems a reasonable start.