We are what we eat. Which is not always great. So for some guidance on what is good for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Disorder asked a food nutritionist for a plateful of clarity.
As a kid living on the doorstep of a Somerset dairy farm, I always felt that I knew where my food came from. The sweet scent of hay, the endless lowing of cattle, the sight of day-old calves being dragged across the yard and loaded on a lorry. Where are they going? I enquired with joy. Why, to be rendered for gelatin, of course. I never looked at a packet of Haribo the same way again.
Fizzy cola bottles aside, I remained blissfully ignorant. When I sat down to a plate of eggs, for example, or a nice refreshing jug of milk, I didn’t stop to think that, ah yes, this was distinctly feminine produce. A lady cow did that. These were squeezed out of a chicken. And, as a result of biology’s dice, all their cute little brothers were slaughtered at birth – because raising them to be slaughtered later wasn’t “commercially viable”.
I also didn’t know that, in order to produce the juice for my cornflakes, cows are artificially inseminated every year for seven years until their udders run dry and they’re shot for steak. Imagine that, a life of daily lactation sandwiched between someone shoving their hand up your personals and a bullet through your brain.
And free-range – that magical term, conjuring scenes of an agricultural paradise, geese and swine cantering hoof-in-claw through sunlit fields – turns out that’s misleading, too. It just means they’ve had access to outside space at some point during their life, for some amount of time. Your average convicted criminal gets an hour in the yard every day – try telling them they’re free-range.
When I later learnt all this, as a student studying nutrition and food science, I turned to veganism. Not only is it, I decided, the best way to ensure animal welfare, it’s also the most efficient use of crops. See, while the West stuffs its face with double bacon cheeseburgers, the developing world suffers from malnutrition and starvation. Common practice sees us feed cattle on 10kg of grain in exchange for 1kg of beef. Just so some footie fan can have his microwave chilli dog. Of course the factors for this are many and complex, but poor food distribution is issue number one.
The world harvests enough crops to feed each person 4,600kcals per day: the UK government suggests 2,000–2,500kcals as the daily optimum. But much of this mother lode is lost between field and fork: ineffectively utilised and unevenly distributed, when we should all be living like kings.
Yet, as Earth’s population grows, this inequity will only increase: more people baying for protein + less arable land = more malnutrition. Today, animals contribute up to a third of our protein, use up to a third of our crops, and occupy more room than Donald Trump’s ego. So don’t expect the Big Mac to prevail.
Because not all food travels well, cultural stories we tell, such as chickens are tasty and beetles not, need to be rewritten. Protein-wise, insects are the bomb. They’re environmentally sustainable and commercially viable. Mealworms specifically are 53 per cent protein. And, because they’re cold-blooded, insects have a high feed conversion and don’t fart as much as cows. As if that wasn’t appetising enough, insects also consume organic side streams such as manure, pig slurry and compost, meaning it takes around 5m2 to produce 1kg of eggs, but only 3.5m2 of land for the equivalent amount of mealworms. Stick that in your sandwich and eat it, meat lovers.
Okay, no one expects you to swap burgers for bugs just yet, but there are personal reasons to at least start cutting down. The World Health Organisation has classified processed red meat as a group one carcinogen, meaning party meats like sliced ham and chipolatas cause as much cancer as smoking.
Still, if you insist on death by sausage, why not do so organically? UK legislation is pretty strict on how organic plants and meat are farmed – the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators, feed additives and antibiotics are forbidden. Animals are raised in natural, free conditions. And the food on your plate is without toxins and richer in goodness.
The happy news is that eating organically means you can treat yourself to a guilt-free steak once a month. I certainly do, generally at the time when a woman's iron levels are low. Ultimately, veganism is great for animalkind, but can make it hard to obtain the necessary micronutrients such as iron and B vitamins. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that 46 per cent of girls and almost one in four women have low iron intakes.
So, now I know where my food really comes from, I’ll allow myself white meat or fish once a day, and get my protein from beans or tofu at least twice a week, alongside my monthly organic steak. I love these “rules”. They encourage me to be more creative, explore different cuisines, and keep my diet varied. Whether it’s the best way to eat, all factors told, is up to you.
– – –