Not long ago the River Cottage chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was famous, notorious even, for his red-blooded approach to meat eating. At a time when most people’s meat came in polystyrene trays from the supermarket. Hugh was out there fearlessly slaughtering his own pigs and even tucking into roadkill.
Then he shocked everyone by bringing out a book extolling vegetables, and a very fine book it is too, with over 200 recipes and not a shred of meat in sight. The reason? Well, as someone who hates factory farming and fears for the future of our fish stocks, he realises that we need to eat far more vegetables and much less flesh if we are going to stop damaging our planet.
I love it when my studies connect in unexpected ways with other parts of my life. It’s one of the advantages of being a mature student, I think – the upside of having to keep so many balls in the air simultaneously. I am doing a wonderful module this semester on Renaissance literature and could not help thinking of HFW last week when the set text was Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil by Thomas Nashe. More than 400 years ago, Pierce was saying stuff about the English diet which chimes remarkable closely with Hugh’s thoughts on the subject.
It is not for nothing that other countries whom we upbraid with drunkenness call us bursten-bellied gluttons, for we … eat more meat at one meal than the Spaniard or Italian in a month. Good thrifty men, they draw out a dinner with sallets (salads) … and make Madonna Nature their best caterer.
It gets worse. We are, says Pierce,
‘such flesh-eating Saracans that chaste fish may not content us but we delight in the murder of innocent mutton, in the unpluming of pullery (poultry), and quartering of calves and oxen. It is horrible and detestable; no godly fishmonger can digest it.’
Since our family started getting a weekly veg box, we too have been proving that ‘Madonna Nature’ is the best caterer. In fact, veg has played such a starring role at the dinner table that I’ve barely needed to go near a butcher or a fishmonger, godly or otherwise. It’s not that we’ve turned vegetarian, but rather a shifting of emphasis. As HFW says, it’s quite liberating not to have ‘a tyrannical piece of meat dominating the agenda, making everything else feel like a supporting act’. It’s also loads cheaper, which is pretty amazing given that our veg is now organic and delivered to the door.
The contents of the box got used up with unusual speed this week so I don’t have a photo of the beautiful curly kale or the little fat carrots that were so fresh I could smell them before I even cut them. Here’s some romanesco instead – unfortunately not in season at the moment, but surely one of the most stunning vegetables in Madonna Nature’s treasure chest.