With a new year comes new resolutions, quite a lot of which relate to food. Eating less of it, eating better things, making more from scratch and thinking about how what we consume affects the planet.
Last year I tried to kick start myself into having at least one veggie day a week. It worked quite well, but I don't think it made me eat more healthily. Evening meals of macaroni cheese or home made pizza are delicious (even if I say so myself) but swapping lean meats like chicken for dairy products like cheese probably won't make me any leaner.
But the reason for trying to cut back on meat was mainly for environmental reasons not the health benefits. According to the Vegetarian Society's website eating less meat will reduce my carbon footprint, save water, save land and protect the seas. Sounds pretty good! At the moment, I'm having roughly 2 veggie days a week, which isn't fantastic in green terms but is better than nothing. However, is my switch from meat to dairy products really any better for the environment?
As long as I'm consuming animal products the animals still need to be grown, fed and given water to survive. It's common knowledge that animals use more land than plants to grow, and lots more water too. According to vegetarian author John Robbins it takes 60, 108, 168 and 229 pounds of water to produce one pound of potatoes, wheat, maize and rice respectively. A pound of beef needs more than 20,000 pounds of water and to produce one litre of milk it takes nearly 1,000 litres of water. That's a lot.
So, should I be cutting out dairy products, or even all animals products too?
I'm not ready to go vegan or fully veggie yet, but for the environment I can see that we need to eat less meat and probably consume less dairy too. But it doesn't have to be one after another, I don't have to tackle full vegetarianism before I can move onto cutting back on other animal products.
So that's the new aim, keep up two veggie days a week, but start to cut back on milk, cheese, butter and eggs as well.
In some ways this is quite easy. Nice healthy salads for lunch rather than my normal boring cheese sandwiches actually feel like an improvement tastewise as well as for health and the green credentials; while cooking vegetable soup on cold January evenings is warming as well as healthy (it's amazing how few calories mushrooms and celery have!).
Breakfasts is where it gets harder. A nice bowl of British grown oats with some dried fruit and milk is a great start to my day and it keeps me full right up until lunchtime salad. But what about that milk?
Over the last week I've been trying out soya milk (sweetened and unsweetened). So far, it's a success. It adds a nutty taste to my cereal (oats really don't taste very exciting) and while I was very wary about using it in tea it turns out to taste different, but good. I've bought a carton of almond milk too, to try out over the next week or so. We were surprised to find similar levels of calcium in soya milk compared to cows milk too, even if artificially added it still gives you what you need.
So, cutting back on dairy as well as meat might not be too hard after all. Keeping away from cheese and butter will definitely be healthier too! But there's still a niggling doubt about soya, and that's the rainforests.
I've always heard that rainforests are cut down to grow soya for milk and other products. I'm careful about what else I buy if it affects the rainforests, so does swapping to soya milk really do more good than bad? I'm not sure yet. But a vegan friend pointed out last summer that there is far more rainforest cut down for meat than there currently is for soya farms. Whatever we eat has to be grown somewhere and hopefully soya will need less land to grow than dairy milk.
Cutting back completely is obviously the best solution, but a diet of UK grown organic veg and pulses doesn't fill me with excitement. So for now its one veggie day and one vegan day a week with less cheese and butter, and soya over dairy milk whenever I can. We'll see how it goes!