People in the UK ate less meat last year than at any point since records began in the 1970s, with tighter budgets speeding up trends towards consuming vegetarian and vegan meals.

The amount of meat Britons eat at home has fallen by 14% compared with 2012, with carcass meat consumption, including beef, pork and lamb, falling by 26% and chicken and other meat products falling by 11% in the past decade, government data shows.

The cost of living crisis appears to be an important reason why people are buying less meat, alongside environmental and health considerations. Here, four readers explain why they have changed their habits.

‘Meat is expensive’

Moyosore Adigun-Harris, 36, can just about pinpoint when she started cutting down on the amount of meat she eats. “It was when electricity prices started to go through the roof,” says the London mental health nurse, adding that increasing food costs have also contributed to reducing her consumption in the past year.

Adigun-Harris used to love a Sunday roast, calling it the highlight of her week. “Before it would be like treat day,” she says. But the 36-year-old no longer buys a weekly cut of beef or lamb. “Now, it’s just like whatever’s in the fridge.”

She still eats chicken about twice a week but has increased her intake of non-meat protein sources such as eggs and pulses. “I don’t like meat substitutes, and because I’m a nurse, sometimes I don’t have much time to cook,” she says.

Adigun-Harris says increasing costs mean she buys lamb or beef only occasionally when it is on offer, “and even then it’s still expensive”. She adds: “That’s the main deciding factor. But it’s given me more time to think about things I’ve always had concerns about, like hormones, animal cruelty and quality of meat.”

‘I’ve known for a while I shouldn’t be eating meat’

Gail Grant has tried to reduce her meat consumption over the past few years for reasons such as health. “I think I’ve known for quite a while that I shouldn’t be eating meat,” she says.

A retired academic living in Bath, Grant has often tried to eat more vegetarian meals or “go halfway” and eat less meat, though she adds: “The thing is, I fancy meat and quite like it.” However, she has concerns about the effect meat can have when “we pump [them] with hormones and antibiotics”, or “keep chickens in a cage slightly bigger than an A4 piece of paper and they pass something like salmonella on to us”.

She says: “We need to think more carefully about where food comes from and how it’s made. At my age it’s quite difficult to change a habit of a lifetime but I’ll still persevere and eat less meat.”

‘Meat production isn’t doing the planet any good’

Mal and Sue Groombridge “hugely reduced” their meat consumption about three years ago because of its environmental impact. “Over time, it became more obvious to us that big meat production wasn’t doing the planet any good,” Mal says.

A former RAF pilot living in Shropshire, Mal, 65, says the couple eat vegetarian meals “at least four days a week”, sometimes including fish and chicken. “When I cannot bear the lack of meat any more, we have sausages or nitrite- and nitrate-free bacon for those very occasional treat breakfasts.”

They are especially concerned about the deforestation and habitat destruction caused by the beef industry. “A lot of it comes from places like Brazil where there’s a lot of deforestation,” Mal says. “Buying meat just encourages the proliferation of it and we’re dead against that.” He adds: “My whole attitude towards meat has changed. Being flexitarians works for us and could be really achievable for most people.”

‘I’ve reduced my meat consumption by 95%’

Chris Mayes, from Tyneside, has reduced his meat consumption by 95% since the start of the first lockdown. “I think it was a combination of being locked inside and thinking it was time for a change,” he says. “There were all the usual things to worry about like politics and wars, but the climate crisis was at the top of my list. If we don’t change that we’ve got no world to worry about. So I thought I’d try to tackle it.”

The 65-year-old retired engineering industry worker says he became “virtually vegetarian” during the first year of Covid, except for the “occasional bacon sandwich or when I cooked chicken for my granddaughter”.

As someone who used to eat meat at most meals, Mayes hopes to “mitigate climate change in a very small way”. “I can’t afford an electric vehicle but I can make this change,” he says. “I’d now describe my diet as very low meat rather than vegetarian.”

He says the most difficult part of not eating as much meat is the “accumulation of 40 years of knowing how to cook with [it]. I had to understand how to use more vegetables and pulses.” He adds: “There are so many things I wouldn’t have known how to cook, like halloumi and tofu, but now I feel I’m a better cook for it.”

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com

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