Where’s the beef with meat?

The sun is shining, asparagus spears are piercing through the earth. What better time to showcase fabulous British veg? And hey – wouldn’t you know it, it’s not only Meat Free May, all month, but National Vegetarian Week will be with us in ten days too.

Funny isn’t it how it seems sometimes that news stories that aren’t actually related but which all have a connection often happen to drop at more or less the same time.

Take the front page full of stories that have coincided over the last week or so. If I was more cynical, I’d say that those clever people at Friends of the Earth had masterminded a conspiracy to encourage more people to participate in Meat Free May.

Or perhaps, it’s just that the world really is changing, consumer opinion is on the move and there’s a huge opportunity here for restaurants and foodservice to grasp the nettle – or even the asparagus – and make the very most of it.

The stories themselves merit attention individually. Collectively, they add up to a pretty sizeable hill of beans.

First came news from the forward thinking Danes where the country’s Ethics Council called for a higher tax on red meat after concluding that “climate change is an ethical problem”. The Danish government will now consider the council’s recommendations which it says should in time apply to all foods at varying levels depending on climate impact.

The council said it was not enough to “rely on the ethical consumer”. Implicit in that, is the idea that both legislators, organisations like the SRA and business have a duty to educate consumers. The less and better meat message is one we’ve been communicating for some time now and that many SRA Members with excellent meat sourcing and varied menus are complementing.

“We plan to do the meat industry what the car did to the horse and buggy. Cultured meat will completely replace the status quo and make raising animals to eat simply unthinkable.” Those are the prophetic words of Uma Valeti, CEO of Memphis Meat which says that its laboratory grown meat will be ready for sale on the mass market in three or four years. Now, here’s the point – they claim that it will produce 90% less greenhouse gases and save energy. This may be the future in the eyes of some, but are your customers ready for it? While the environmental argument may be persuasive, the ethical issues a bit chewier.

The ethics of meat are drawn into sharp focus when it comes to foie gras, production of which is banned in the UK. Those restaurants that do still serve goose liver will have an opportunity to review their policy in the coming weeks. The French Government is introducing a three-month a ban on production in response to a bird flu scare.

All three stories are thought-provoking on their own. Together, and reported during Meat Free May and in advance of National Vegetarian Week, they take on extra weight. Something to think about as you plan your menus for the coming weeks.

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