This summer I noticed a growing number of 'helpful' programs on how to cook on a tight budget. The need for such advice couldn't be greater, with ever increasing numbers turning to food banks to provide them with the essential ingredients they need to survive. And yet, with the demand for useful information so high, the most reasonable suggestion has yet to be forcefully made.
On The Great British Budget Menu celebrity chef Richard Corrigan advised hard-up families to make friends with their butcher and Michel Roux Jr.'s Food and Drink suggested that we may soon have to resort to eating insects. Other friendly advice for cooking on a budget included buying a whole chicken and freezing the superfluous instead of buying more expensive select cuts, and stocking up on tinned items for emergencies. Some of this advice is helpful, some less so. Yes, buying a whole chicken is better value than buying a tray of thighs, and there are far more insects in the world than there are cows, but this advice is missing two very important points. Firstly, some families living by every last penny never accrue enough spare money to 'stock up' on anything. Secondly, far cheaper than buying either a whole chicken or a selection of cuts is to not buy any chicken at all.
Raised a traditional meat-eater, I must admit that I have benefitted from an experience that not everyone will get: a vegetarian housemate at university who happened to be an excellent cook. Her delicious meals converted the entire house to a vegetarian dinner diet at home because it was far more convenient, incredibly cheap and, with the right cook, equally delicious! Yet, in the plethora of advice being thrown at people who are struggling to get by, considering vegetarian meals is nowhere in sight.
To those of you who haven't stopped reading already, utterly repelled at the idea of not eating meat, there is something I must make very clear: there is no need to make a binary dietary choice. Many feel compelled to be either 'vegetarian' or 'not'. This leads to the false idea that one either has to eat meat all the time, or not at all. This is entirely untrue. The idea that you have to make a binary choice leads many to decide they simply can't never eat meat again, or for those who attempt it to just feel like terrible failures when they crave a slow-roasted joint of lamb. These defeatist and self-loathing attitudes are completely unnecessary.
Your body, your purse, and the planet, would all benefit greatly from you eating vegetarian meals occasionally, and both diehard vegetarians and dogmatic meat eaters would do well to remember this. Instead of demanding that someone gives up meat entirely, or protesting that it's impossible, why not see the virtues of occasional vegetarianism? It is something I have adopted, the result of a combination of a vegetarian mentor at university, a vegetarian boyfriend and lack of spare cash, and it's the easiest thing in the world to enjoy a multitude of vegetarian delights, all the while knowing that you have not tasted your last hamburger.
The government must do more to introduce such dietary education to young people. It is just about understandable that our parents turn their noses at vegetarianism, but for people of our generation to have a similar outlook is archaic and must change. There have been attempts at tackling the lack of education, but it has come in the form of such programs and government initiatives that aren't giving people this one simple suggestion, which would make them healthier and make their money last longer.
With food poverty hitting an estimated 18% of the UK population this summer, it is time for meat, which is unhealthy in high quantities and expensive in low quantities, to relinquish its monopoly on our weekly family meals.