Veg out in style: Go meat free like Sir Paul McCartney
Vegetarian. A word that, until a few years back, used to fill me with rage and despair.
As a card-carrying carnivore, I took childish offence at the meat-avoiders, seeing them as a threat to virility and good taste. Sure, there were those who couldn't indulge for reasons of religion or health. But the rest? They were the Enemy, to be teased, taunted and abused.
How I howled with laughter when I heard the tale of a famous chef sneaking chicken stock into a vegetarian risotto. I'd sneer in restaurants as denizens of the adjacent table would politely enquire after the 'vegetarian option'. And crow as the waiter would offer that dreary old fall-back, the goat's cheese salad.
Spineless, finger-wagging fools, I'd chortle, as I tucked into an entire side of seared cow. Alongside my self-righteous rage came the clichés too - whey-faced yoghurt-knitters, nut roast-fiddlers, stinking, flatulent hippies. The insults were as endless as they were pathetic. And now I wince at the very memory of my boorish antics.
These days, things are different. I have moved from my previous hatred of vegetarians to 'respect' (which in retrospect seems immensely patronising) to an eventual shrug and 'so what?'. Who am I to harangue anyone as to what they shove in their gob?
As an ardent fan of processed cheese slices, cinema nachos, Dr Pepper, fizzy Vimto, Quavers, McDonald's cheeseburgers and Cadbury Dairy Milk, I'm hardly in any position to be taking the moral high ground.
So when I heard about Meat-Free Monday, a campaign launched a few months back by Paul McCartney and family, along with Moby and Sam Taylor-Wood, I was intrigued. They argue that meat production and consumption are responsible for 18 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, and by going meat-free for one day per week we can help reduce its impact.
As to the science, this is a fraught and complex issue, with no black or white, merely shades of grey. But there's no doubting the plain common sense of the message.
Most of us have meat-free days without realising. How difficult is it to feast upon spaghetti al pomodoro instead of mince? You just soften a chopped onion and clove of garlic in olive oil, add two tins of tomatoes, season and cook down for half an hour. Finish with a handful of chopped basil.
Baked beans on toast is perfect comfort food, slathered in cheese. Boiled eggs and soldiers, omelettes, tomato and mozzarella salad, broccoli cooked with garlic and chilli, fat, fluy tortillas, macaroni cheese, spicy dhal, potatoes dauphinoise... these are not vegetarian foods, simply good foods. You only have to look to India, where vast swathes of the population don't eat meat, to see how exciting and inspiring a vegetarian cuisine can be.
I'm not saying that I could give up meat full-time. I worship the pig and cow too much, and would be bereft without the contents of our rivers and oceans.
Armed, though, with a few excellent books - Linda McCartney's World Of Vegetarian Cooking is a glorious tome, and Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book is a bible too, despite a smattering of meat dishes - and an open mind, Meat-Free Monday is something to really savour.