Not Even Some Wafer-Thin Ham, Barbara?
Anyone who has seen The Royle Family will remember this scene. The grandmother of the family repeatedly offers her grandsons new girlfriend a vegetarian wafer-thin ham. The grandmother cant comprehend vegetarianism and seems to think that because the ham is thin it doesnt really count as meat.
However amusing the idea is, it reflects the fact that vegetarianism is more prominent amongst the young rather than old only 2% of over 66 year olds in the UK are vegetarian.[i][i] However, does this mean that the vegetarian trend will grow, as these young vegetarians get older and pass the eating trend onto their children? It all depends on whether people stick to the diet for life: on whether their vegetarianism is just a trend or whether they see it as a lifetime choice.
A newly turned vegetarian, Ms. Rebecca Golby, states that although she misses lots of meat-based foods, she thinks she will remain vegetarian for life. She says: I think I will miss my traditional Christmas dinner. Also I miss just being able to buy whatever food you like without having to analyse all the ingredients. But I wouldn't say that I miss anything to such an extent that Im considering going back to eating meat.
Statistics have shown that vegetarianism has steadily grown over the last twenty years. The Vegetarian Society research states:
2000 people a week in the UK are joining the veggie revolution and dropping meat completely from their diets. There are at least 3 million vegetarians in the UK - 5% of the adult population.ii [ii]
With more and more vegetarian food arriving in the supermarkets as well as greater choice in restaurants, there seems to be a growing market. McDonalds have just introduced a new Quorn Deluxe burger. As anyone who has heard of the McLibel trial will know, McDonalds and vegetarians haven't exactly gone hand in hand in the past. In the 1990s David Morris and Helen Steel - two vegetarians who had been handing out leaflets entitled Whats Wrong with McDonalds? - were taken to court by McDonalds. In 1992, the trial ended with many of the vegetarians claims proven to be true, including the fact that McDonalds had been "culpably responsible" (the judges words) for cruelty to animals.[ii][iii]
Obviously McDonalds are not making the new Quorn burger for the love of vegetarians, but because they can smell profit. In March, McDonalds gave a press release introducing their new range, which they say that it is their "most significant change in thirty years." [iii][iv] The new menu includes salads, fruit, Evian water, chicken burgers and the new Quorn burger. It is interesting to note that no new red meat dishes appear on the menu.
The consumption of red meat has declined recently, mainly due to the BSE scare. The National Opinion Poll in 2001 showed that 23% of people changed their eating habits after the foot and mouth outbreak and that 35% of these had stopped eating red meat, while 29% had stopped eating meat all together.[iv][v]
McDonalds had introduced their new Quorn burger along with a variety of new healthier foods, therefore associating vegetarianism with a healthier lifestyle. Many vegetarians change their diet because they dont want to eat food that had been made using animal flesh, or because they want a healthier diet or a mixture of both. As Ms. Golby states:
[I changed my diet] primarily because of moral reasons, i.e. feeling very guilty eating butchered animals, but also because I thought it would be a healthier diet overall.
The view that being vegetarian is healthier may be unfounded though. The Food Standards Agency states, Some vegetarian dishes contain a lot of fat, especially if they're made with lots of cheese, oil, pastry or creamy sauces, or if they've been fried. So they aren't necessarily a healthy option But it's always a good idea to have some vegetables with your meal because we should be eating at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day as part of a healthy balanced diet.[v][vi]
However, many vegetarians usually replace meat products with vegetable based food. A change of diet also normally leads to an analysis of what is going inside the body, often leading to a more informed choice of food.
Many slaughterhouses are hidden away from the publics view, as if the people profiting from meat want to separate the actual animal from the plate of flesh. One thing that many vegetarians believe is that the public is being kept in the dark over how animals are bred for slaughter.For example, a recent RSPCA study showed that almost half [of the public] wrongly believed that chickens reared for meat were kept in battery systems.[vi][vii]
In fact, chickens bred for meat spend their lives in sheds with little sunlight and with much less room than battery chickens. They also grow four times as quickly as normal hens. This means that from the time they are hatched until the time they are on the supermarket shelf normally takes less than six weeks. This can result in a catalogue of common problems such as sudden heart failure, ulcerated sores and lameness. [vii][viii]
Questions that arise from this sort of survey include whether the public really are kept in the dark on purpose, but if the public had more knowledge about how the meat ended up on their plate, would it actually make any difference?
Finally, there may be one thing that prevents vegetarianism continuing to grow: the much debated Atkins Diet. A recent survey by the food organisation Realeat showed that during the past two years around 600,000 vegetarians have started eating meat again. Pamela Timms from the Edinburgh Evening Standard suggests the Atkins diet as one of the reasons for this.
The controversial diet encourages the vast consumption of red meat and makes users lose weight quickly. Timms says that many of these lapsed vegetarians are women and suggests, of course what most women want, even more than being fashionable or healthy, is to be thin.[viii][ix] Whether this rather insulting comment will prove to be the case, and whether vegetarianism will continue to grow despite the recent blip, only time will tell. Hopefully, it won't all depend on whether people munch on the wafer-thin ham in order to gain the wafer-thin body.