Being Flexitarian

I love my industry, and hospitality is in my DNA, along with having a love for great plates of food. Over the years, I’ve eaten in numerous pubs, cafes and restaurants, tried uncountable plates of food in tastings, and always enjoyed cooking at home too. From classic gastronomic dishes (which are now sometimes seen as unethical) to modern Ottolenghi and Milrdred’s styles of cooking, I appreciate, and always will, a wide variety of food. Yes over recent years, we’ve all definitely become aware of the impact our eating habits can have on the environment and our planet, which has lead me to a more plant-based approach to my diet. For me, as a major shareholder in a pub Co, I now focus on making the most compelling menus whilst introducing more sustainable practices, and variety, to suit all diets.

Being flexitarian and adopting a more planetary-friendly way of eating does not mean I no longer eat meat or fish, nor will I make a stand at dinner parties or make it awkward for others who cook for me. I do not fundamentally have an issue with humanely rearing and killing an animal for its meat. For me, it’s about steps to play my part, choosing quality over quantity, and making changes to make some dent in the impact our choices are having.

There are reasons for our choices, and I believe everyone can play their part. For me, it’s how our actions have impacted on the health of the planet, and whilst diet is not the only causation of this, our eating habits have definitely played their part. I have a lifelong love of the natural world, and it is the biggest loser from our food choices. 90% of all animal life on earth is now humans, or the animals that feed them – this is inequitable. Finally, whilst livestock and dairy farming can be done with great care for the animals involved, there is too much evidence that this is hard to police, and too greater percentage of animals are caused unnecessary suffering, usually at the hands of their human masters. Large scale global food systems have pushed some farmers to the edge of poverty, often resulting in teams with low self-esteem and no self-respect, a catalyst for the inhumane treatment of the animals in their care as seen in many hidden camera reports.

For Peach, we’ve always sourced our ingredients with care, only working with suppliers who have the same ethics as us. Our farmers have excellent husbandry, all our meat is free-range and we pay fairly for every ingredients on our plates. Having an approach which means we pay a little more, results in us getting better quality, and ultimately, better tasting produce.

Yet, unfortunately, not all businesses hold the same mentality as we do. And some of the ingredients being sold in supermarkets, pubs and restaurants is having a huge detrimental impact on the environment.

Beef

The biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the human food chain. Of course, there’s a scale. At Peach we only buy British grass-fed beef from temperate climates as this has a much lower impact than soya supplemented beef from deforested Brazil (read it’s the how, not the cow, here). Yet the facts are clear, we need to eat a lot less beef overall to reduce our impact to sustainable levels. Current cattle population 1.2 billion (including dairy).

Lamb

Probably the most sustainable red meat, often raised on poor quality hill and moorland. Yet the scale is causing issue (UK 35 million sheep – 1 for every 2 people). There is simply too many humans enjoying the meat. The economic drivers push farmers to create huge flocks, which results in a higher environmental cost. On our menus you’ll find well-reared, free-range Cornish lamb, yet, we need overall demand to drop to reduce the over impact on our environment.

Pork

In a country of dog lovers, it’s astounding that we still support the factory farming methods often associated with this highly intelligent animal, the pig; accredited with more brains and social structure than the dogs we revere. Good free-range offers a better solution – but not for 7 billion people. There is just not the space.

Poultry & Eggs

Chicken and eggs are the lowest impact-commercial animal. However 99% of global hatcheries destroy the males at day one of hatching either by throwing them in a meat grinder or gassing them. I’m sure most would agree that treatment of an animal in such a way, just because it has ‘no commercial value’ is just not right. The sexing of eggs is possible – but is not yet widespread in use. Personally, my goal is to keep my own poultry, and in the meantime, I keep strictly to free-range, reluctantly accepting the process as it is.

Dairy

There are very well-run dairy farms that show a lot of care to their livestock – the reverse is also true and it’s hard to be sure. What is also true, is many calves end up destroyed at birth or in growth and fattening systems that (despite lots of supply chain assurances), I cannot be confident of. There’s also research to indicate that we’re just not designed for drinking milk after early childhood, and we just don’t require this source of nutrients. For me, it’s been easy to remove milk and yoghurt as the alternatives are as good. Butter is tougher with the need of it so much with baking, as some of the vegan ingredients not giving the same results. Why not start with swapping your milk, or just going black with your tea and coffee?

Fish

Despite some high-profile campaigns, discards continue. Thankfully, we work closely with Direct Seafoods, which keeps sustainable fishing at the top of everything they do. Unfortunately though, it’s not uncommon for other suppliers to use a less sustainable approach, with percentages of the catch simply being dumped in the sea, dead. Fleets can loose tons of plastic fishing gear in the sea, which I am seeing firsthand on collection days at the coast. Ghost nets drift unchecked continuing to indiscriminately slaughter sea life. Farmed fish are part of the answer, Best Aquaculture Practice certification helps ensure the whole chain from fish feed to table is sustainable and the fish are dispatched with stunners rather than asphyxiation. It really is about buying well. Uncertified farms are still using millions of tons of fry, depleting the base of the food chain, and medication and deformity are impacting the natural species.

And so, whilst it’s clear that there are suppliers doing their bit to produce quality, our demand is still just too high. Even if we all switched to free-range, ethically farmed meat and fish overnight, there just wouldn’t be the space to sustain the quantity. There’s also the impact overall farming is having on our freshwater systems, land use and antibiotics.

  • A pint of milk uses 2000 pints of fresh water to produce
  • A vegan diet uses one sixteenth of the land area of that of the average meat eating American
  • 65% of global antibiotic use goes to protecting the animals we choose to eat

My choices, mean I eat more seasonally, gaining nutritious from British-grown fruit and vegetables. Buying this way also means I support our local farmers, and reduces air-miles and my carbon footprint. Eating much less meat allows me to now buy organic, which is an easy choice in the South West, using Riverford Organic, and Spindlebrook Farm.

Perhaps if we’d known the impact our eating habits would have, 18 years ago when I started Peach, our menu would’ve started very differently. Now, it’s about giving our guests choice, offering more plant-based dishes, and as always, giving quality meat and fish if that’s our guests preference. We are focusing on daily vegetarian specials, and inspiring our chefs to continue to be creative when meat-free. I believe we cannot continue down the road we are on. High chemical agriculture, and the speed of topsoil erosion has massively reduced biodiversity meaning we have to find another way to farm the land. It is clearly not as easy as telling all farmers to move over to the new system – but there are many examples of organic systems producing high yields and being profitable.

Then there’s the health benefits. My diet gives me all the nutrients I need, and through food development of many talented chefs and their books, my eating enjoyment is not being diminished. Recent evidence is pointing to our paleolithic diet containing much less meat than previous science led us to believe. I’m feeling good! And even Schwarzenegger is now almost entirely powered by plants.

For me, the steps I’ve taken to reduce the amount of meat, dairy and dish have not been difficult. I am not vegan, and do not avoid animal products in their entirety, an ultra-strict regime has a greater likelihood of total failure. I still cook meat for my family and friends – however both have also more recently looked into the changes they too can make.

I began making changes in November 2019, almost a year ago, and now I feel it has become a way of life and just can’t see myself returning to previous diet. I still eat a couple of portions of meat a week, yet I’d say I try to follow a vegan diet 4 days a week. I eat very little dairy, eat a few portions of fish a month (generally farmed), plus some shellfish (mostly mussels). Meat when I do eat it is a real treat, a free-range roast chicken, a grass-fed British steak, and a bacon sarnie!

For further information, here are some of the sources that educated me in my decisions.

 

How Bad are Bananas

The Future we Choose

Netflix Game Changers

Journalists

  • Jonathan Safran Foer
  • George Monbiot
  • Guy Watson Singh

Blog, by Lee Cash