THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)
July 09, 2003, Wednesday
Vegetarians rediscover the taste of red meat
Robert Uhlig reports on the turnaround in British eating habits
by Robert Uhlig
CARNIVORISM is back. After years in the wilderness, knocked by food scares,
red meat consumption has returned to levels last seen before the BSE crisis,
while vegetarianism is declining for the first time since the 1970s.
The change in British eating habits is shown in the Realeat Survey,
conducted by Gallup and cited by the Vegetarian Society as the most reliable
record of meat-eating habits, and in figures from the Meat and Livestock
More than a million Britons abandoned vegetarianism over the past two years,
while more red meat is eaten than at any time since 1985. This return to
carnivorism was acknowledged by the Vegetarian Society yesterday.
"There was a false high in the total number of committed vegetarians because
of the reaction to BSE and FMD," a spokesman said.
"When you take out that peak, we have returned to pre-BSE levels, which fits
well within a pattern of gradual, steady growth over the past 25 years, from
2.1 per cent in 1984 to four per cent now."
Vegetarianism increased strongly in the early 1990s. It peaked at 3.25
million in 1997, a year after the brain wasting disease vCJD was linked by
scientists to mad cow disease, when some 2,000 people a week were said to be
giving up meat.
But the most recent figures from the Realeat Survey, which has recorded
eating habits since 1984, show only 2.24 million Britons now claim to be
vegetarians, the lowest since 1990.
Chris Gladman, 32, of Allens butchers in Mayfair, central London, said:
"Over the past year, there has been a marked turnaround. We've seen an
increase in sales of around 30 per cent. The difference now is that
customers want organic and free range products."
Peter Bradford, 58, the marketing manager of Fresh & Wild, an organic food
store in west London, agreed. "Many customers are going for organically
produced meats from specialist stores because they cannot guarantee the
quality of the meat otherwise."
The Vegetarian Society has little time for those who avoid meat but eat
fish, but with the health benefits of factory-farmed fish increasingly
questioned, many former vegetarians said yesterday they were more inclined
to eat meat than anything from the sea.
Justine Bothwick, 33, a public relations executive, of Godalming, Surrey,
returned to meat after a 10-year absence because she thought it could be a
healthier option. "I decided to become a selective carnivore, eating only
meat or fish that I know has been raised well and killed humanely."
Kate Ewing, 31, a nutritionist who runs the Pure Foods Clinic in Mayfair,
recently turned her back on vegetarianism after 18 years. "I became
concerned that there are things in meat, such as vitamins B3 and B12,
selenium and chromium, that are in good supply in chicken, but which you
don't get much of in vegetables. I now eat organic chicken and steak - for
the iron - about twice a week and oily fish twice a week."
Rikki Hunt, 49, a former chairman of Swindon Town football club and owner of
a string of health food shops, returned to meat after 20 years when he
realised he was not getting enough energy from vegetables for his hobby of
"I'd failed to climb Aconcagua four times, then one evening I realised I was
eating plain rice while the other climbers were eating meat and rice. I went
on a high meat diet for months, returned to Aconcagua and strolled it. I
haven't looked back."
The trend is mirrored among celebrities such as Madonna, who claimed to be
vegetarian until the birth of Lourdes, her first child, when she professed
deep admiration for the turkey burgers made by Carlos, her daughter's
father. Since marrying Guy Ritchie, the film director, Madonna has become a
fully-fledged carnivore, accompanying her husband on pheasant shoots.
Drew Barrymore, the actress, recently turned her back on a long period of
vegetarianism. She now eats meat and wears leather shoes, while Lowri
Turner, the television presenter, admitted to succumbing to cravings for red
meat during pregnancy.
Last year at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, which for years had
one of the best vegetarian restaurants in Britain, using recipes devised by
Linda McCartney, students overturned Sir Paul McCartney's decree that no
meat should be served on the premises.
According to the Meat and Livestock Commission figures, we now consume
985,000 tons of beef a year, a third of which is imported.
Mutton and lamb sales are at their highest since 1990, and we eat more pork
than ever, though bacon consumption has hardly changed since 1995. Only
chicken, foreign supplies of which the Food Standards Agency recently found
were often adulterated with water, beef and pork proteins to increase its
weight, has declined in recent years.