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Plant based vs meat diet, Veganuary vs Reganuary: What is the answer?

As the new year fireworks went off, we were all cheering the end of what had been probably the worst year for most of us. The prospect of a dry and meat free January looked bleak, I was not planning on doing Veganuary, the movement where you do not eat animal products for the month of January but I definitely wanted to reduce my meat intake. As the movement had made me question the carbon footprint of my meat heavy diet. As someone who cares about the environment and is concerned by the state of the planet that we are leaving our children, I definitely consume far too much meat. The reduction of consuming animal products has been leading the headlines as the best way to reduce your carbon footprint.

This somewhat frustrated me as I scrolled through my Instagram to yet another vegan traveller posting a picture of their quinoa salad in a new luxurious holiday resort, talking about the importance of eating ‘plant based’ food if you care for our planet. How can eating a bit of meat be worse than flying to Australia, Japan and Brazil in the same year? I started the first week in January not buying any meat and I was struggling; I have become so reliant on meat in my diet that I felt unsatiated.

At a similar time to this I came across a movement called ‘Reganuary’. This movement was set up by a company called The Ethical Butcher, the premise of the movement was saying becoming a vegan was not the answer and that eating avocados and nuts imported from 1000s of miles away was much worse for the environment than eating local ethically sourced meat. It also preached the fact that in January very little grows in the UK making it the worst month to go vegan.

My body (which was craving its first burger of 2021) liked this movement and it even led me to share the Reganuary post on my Instagram story. ‘Amazing’ I thought, rather than not eating meat I can just eat local meat instead. But this was not the end of my Reganuary vs Veganuary debate. Days after my discovery, a friend shared an article about the movement, picking apart all the claims it had made and demonstrating how it was completely un factual. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to be seen supporting a movement which was based on false claims.

I was now left in a position of utter confusion, what is the answer and what are facts? What is the truth behind the tales? Should we all be vegan or can we eat some meat and still be climate conscious? Is some animal produce vital for a balanced diet and for our health? To add to my discussion, my fiancé is pregnant and she told me that it is vital she eats some animal products for the growth and well-being of the baby she’s growing inside her. This left my mind even more scrambled and confused about the Veganuary vs Reganuary movement.

As the end of the month draws in, I have tried to come to some conclusion of how I should approach the plant-based vs meat-eating debate.

1. Myself, like many other UK citizens, need to consume less meat for the health of our planet, especially red meat which has a particularly higher carbon foot print.

2. It is so important to eat seasonally, and locally not only will the food taste better and have less preservatives but it has a much lower carbon footprint than air freighted goods.

3. Although coronavirus has meant exotic holidays have been cancelled, staycations need to become cool. We should not think it is the norm to go abroad regularly. Scotland is beautiful and we should fully explore our UK destinations before we hop on a long-distance flight.

The good news about the Veganuary movement is I have been teaching much more vegan and vegetarian cooking classes, including butternut squash wellington, beetroot salads and celeriac soup (all of which are British seasonal produce). Please see below my recipe for butternut squash wellington, a Veganuary classic.

Butternut Squash Wellington (serves 6)

Step 1: Collect the ingredients and preheat the oven to 200°C

· Large butternut squash

· 60g walnuts

· 1 onion

· 400g chestnut mushrooms

· 4 garlic cloves

· 8 sprigs fresh thyme

· 1 tbsp soy sauce

· 1 tbsp Dijon mustard

· 2 large handfuls of spinach

· 500g puff pastry block/pre rolled

· Olive oil

· Salt and pepper

Step 2: Peel the butternut squash, trim the top and the bottom, then carefully slice in half lengthways and use a metal spoon to remove seeds and stringy bit.

Step 3: Cut off the part of the butternut squash where the seeds were leaving you with two long pieces and 2 spherical pieces. Roughly chop the spherical parts and transfer all the butternut squash to a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast for 30 minutes.

Step 4: Remove the tray from the oven, add the walnuts and roast for another 5 minutes.

Step 5: Add a drizzle of olive oil to a frying pan on a medium heat. Peel and dice the onion, then add to the pan and fry for 8 minutes.

Step 6: Slice the mushrooms, and peel and dice the garlic. Add both to the frying pan and fry for 10 mins.

Step 7: Pick the leaves off the thyme and add to the frying pan, along with the soy sauce. Fry for 5 mins.

Step 8: Transfer the mushroom mixture to a food processor along with the Dijon mustard, generous pinches of salt and pepper, as well as the walnuts and roughly chopped pieces of squash from the oven. Blitz until mostly broken down, and it forms a rough paste, put in the fridge to cool.

Step 9: Add the spinach along with a tbsp of water to a pan on a medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until wilted, then drain any excess water from the spinach.

Step 10: To assemble the Wellington, cut the pastry block in half and roll it out into two rectangles, move the first rectangle onto a large baking tray. Spoon 2/3rds of the mushroom mixture down the middle of the pastry, around 3 inches wide, leaving a couple of inches clear at the top and bottom.

Step 11: Place the wilted spinach over the mushroom mixture and put the long-roasted pieces of butternut squash on top. Spread the remaining mushroom mixture over and around the butternut squash, filling in any gaps.

Step 12: Place the second rectangle of puff pastry over the Wellington. Then, press down with your fingers to seal the two sheets of pastry together. Trim the excess pastry with a knife and use a fork to crimp the edges (you can use the excess pastry to decorate the Wellington and store the excess for a couple of days in an air-tight container to reuse in desserts or pies). Then make three cuts to the top of the Wellington to allow the moisture to escape.

Step 13: Bake for 35 minutes at 200°C.


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