If the thought of unwittingly munching on horse meat has made you think about leaving the animals in the field and adopting a meat-free lifestyle, you are not the only one. Presently, 5% of British people are vegetarian, but studies have shown that this figure could rise to 10% by 2015. In addition to this, more and more are turning to "flexitarianism" where meat is cut out of the majority of meals.
Having been vegetarian for 14 years I have seen a huge rise in choice both in the supermarkets and in restaurants, making it easier than ever before to eat great food every day. That said, making the switch to a vegetarian lifestyle can be more difficult that simply bypassing the burgers at Tesco.
Reasons to Go Vegetarian
There is no doubt about it; horse burger-gate has certainly got the 'ick' factor. Not only are the majority of British people unaccustomed to eating horse meat, it's a frightening thought to think that the meat you believe to be beef could be all manner of animals. People have lost trust in labels and a switch to vegetarianism is a safer prospect for them.
Aside from making many meat-eaters feel queasy, there really is nothing wrong from a health point of view with horse meat (of course, I would take a different stance on the morality of horse meat, and all meat but that's another matter). There are plenty of more worrying reasons to give a vegetarian or flexitarian diet a go than the fact you might have eaten a type of meat that you wouldn't necessarily choose.
The environmental impact meat is having on the environment is simply astronomical. A United Nations report stated that many climate change issues are directly linked to our consumption of meat and dairy, so much so that changing from a traditional meat-filled diet to a vegan diet would have a more positive impact than switching to a hybrid car. When comparing a meat-eating diet to a vegan diet, the meat-eating diet was found to be accountable for seven times as much greenhouse-gas emissions than the vegan alternative. You can read more about the environmental impact of the meat industry here.
The impact on human health that a vegetarian diet has was often thought of as negative, but reports over recent years have stated the opposite; reducing meat intake to as little as possible is a healthier lifestyle to lead. Meat has been linked to numerous diseases including many types of cancers and heart disease. The Linda McCartney team launched the 'Meat Free Monday' campaign back in 2009 to raise awareness of the issues surrounding excessive meat consumption and encourage families to try out new meat-free meals. In a recent blog on Huffington Post UK, Paul McCartney discusses Linda's legacy and showcases the new advert for the Linda McCartney chilled range of meat-free food.
The first hurdle to overcome is the very first meat-free food shop. Before heading to the supermarket it's a wise idea to take to the internet to find recipes or purchase a vegetarian cookbook. Make notes of all the recipes you are intrigued by and create a shopping list with the ingredients for a week's worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
One of the most difficult aspects to factor in is the products that don't immediately jump out as not being vegetarian; certain cheeses, yoghurts, desserts, crisps and other foods may contain animal derived ingredients such as rennet or gelatine. Luckily, food labelling has come on leaps and bounds (present lack of horse meat labelling accepted) so it's really a case of looking for the "V" on the back of packaging.
There are plenty of online resources available to help you understand where you can get all essential vitamins and minerals from and you may be surprised at just how much protein can be found from meat-free sources. Soy products and vegetables such as cauliflower, asparagus and beans are all a great source of protein.
Vegetarianism Beyond the Plate
Something I have found in more recent years is that many vegetarians think beyond simply what they are putting into their bodies. Those who choose a meat-free lifestyle because of ethical reasons are often also concerned with animal involvement associated with other products they buy, namely cosmetics and toiletries.
Animal testing is something that many major brands still take part in as a method of assessing the safety of certain chemicals. The good news is that more and more companies are beginning to use alternative testing methods; you can identify these companies through looking at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) website.
The BUAV "leaping bunny" logo is awarded to companies which have proven to the BUAV that their testing methods are free from animal involvement. Plenty of companies have been awarded the symbol and the BUAV publishes a free pocket sized book each year for ethical shoppers which you can apply for online.
Whether it's the horse-meat burger scandal, environmental concerns, health reasons or ethical issues that have made you think about moving towards a vegetarian diet, the help, support and advice needed to get off to the best start can be found from a variety of online and offline sources.
Sophie has been a vegetarian since the age of 11 and has adopted a cruelty free approach to shopping for her cosmetics, toiletries and household products. She is the creator of www.greenkind.co.uk, a site dedicated to helping people live a greener and kinder life.
Follow Sophie Baker-Britton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SophieOliviaBB