Christmas is a time for celebration, with family, friends and great food. Give your festive food a makeover with Eating Better's tips for enjoying a more sustainable celebration.
The ‘eat less meat’ message is coming through loud and clear. Too much meat is not good for our health, its production is a major contributor to global warming, and feeding grains to animals exacerbates world hunger.
We know that to reduce the impacts of our diet we need to eat less meat and increase our consumption of plant-based proteins, fruits and vegetables. This applies everyday, but on our festive occasions it can seem like more of a challenge given that our traditions of celebration often involve serving large amounts of meat as a centrepiece.
Christmas can also be a time of indulgence. Yet eating better is not about depriving yourself, but rather about finding ways of updating our traditions that get us where we would like to be: a celebration table with more variety, with less impact and with tonnes of taste. Now, that's something truly special. Here are our top tips for choosing less and better meat for your festive celebrations.
Sustainable meat eating, the festive way
Eating more sustainably is all about balance. All meat has a high impact on the environment, so the key to reducing the damage it causes is simply to eat less of it. But how do we make that work in practice during Christmas?
A useful approach is to remember to take the long view. Every little helps, and eating less meat on the run up to Christmas and beyond will help to balance out our meat-rich celebrations. There are many approaches to do this successfully, it's all about sticking to a plan that works for you. Many people find that having one or several meat-free days per week, enjoying meat-free lunches in the longer term, or going vegetarian or vegan for a period of time can be good options.
For our festive tables, it's worth remembering that, due to the large amounts of water, land, and feed required to produce it, the joint of meat we serve is likely to account for most of the environmental impacts of the entire meal. The key to a more sustainable celebratory table is to serve smaller portions of meat and really ramp up the delicious dishes that we serve alongside it. Allowing for small servings of less than 150g of meat per person is a reasonable aim, that will still leave a bit for leftovers and help us avoid any waste.
Choosing a smaller bird can open up some space for creativity on our tables, too, the possibilities for reimagining the balance of flavours really are endless. You could, for example, wow by serving a vegetarian or vegan centrepiece, alongside a smaller amount of 'better' meat if you like. The array of plant-based options has never been better and several British supermarkets have exciting new options to try this year. Tesco, for example, has doubled its vegetarian and vegan centrepiece festive food offering this year and Marks & Spencer is selling more meat-free Christmas dinner main courses than meat-based ones. Another good option is to give those Christmas trimmings on your table the starring role. Cladding your plant-rich dishes with nuts, fresh or dried fruits and rich seasonings can transform vegetables into exuberant, delicious treats. Check out BBC Good Food and our friends at the The Vegetarian Society for fabulous festive recipe suggestions, or find inspirations from chefs you like. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigella Lawson and Anna Jones have all been featuring delicious plant-rich dishes suitable for the most festive of Christmas tables.
Choose better meat
We often advise enjoying meat as a treat, and celebratory occasions provide the perfect setting for this. When we eat meat, it is crucial to choose better. Serving smaller portions allows us to trade up to a better quality joint. Meat that comes from animals that have a more natural diet is often tastier, and can be more nutritious. 'Better' meat offers more value than its intensively produced counterparts, as you are supporting farming which is kinder to animals and the environment, uses less precious antibiotics and which provides a fair return to farmers too.
Check out what your local butcher or farmshop offers. The simplest way to make sure you are choosing better is to buy meat with a credible certification, we recommend the following labels:
Organic: ensures high environmental and animal welfare standards. Organic standards are defined by law, and farmers and processors must be certified by an approved organisation; such as the Soil Association. Organic farms don’t use chemical fertilisers or pesticides and the routine use of antibiotics is not permitted, their products have been found to be more nutritious. The animals also enjoy high levels of animal welfare and can go outside for part, or all, of their lives.
Free-range: Turkeys, chickens and pigs that can go outside for at least part of their lives. A varied environment allows them to be more active and exhibit more of their natural behaviours compared to intensively produced poultry and pigs. Free-range chicken typically contains less fat than intensively reared chicken, as well as being tastier.
Pasture for life / grass-fed: The new term for the traditional practice of grazing cattle and sheep on pasture, as opposed to the more intensive practice of fattening them on grains indoors. Keeping livestock on semi-natural habitats such as plant and wildlife-rich meadows and pastures can be an important conservation tool for maintaining landscapes. Pasture-reared beef has been found to contain less fat and has a higher proportion of healthy omega-3 fatty acids compared with intensively reared beef. Look out for the Pasture for life logo, or check out where to buy it.
So, this Christmas, make your festive table really special with a feast of fruit and vegetable delights and serve a free-range or organic ‘Bronze’ turkey or other traditional slower growing breeds. Better for you, and better for the planet too.
Featured images, some rights reserved:
Tesco Finest Easy Entertaining Cauliflower Wellington by Tesco. All rights reserved