Red Robin, our producer and industry insider, on the rise of veganism and the debate about our carbon footprint
We are still seeing an enormous amount of publicity being given to veganism, which I find frustrating. For me, there seems sense in leather shoes and woollen clothing because it is biodegradable and can be produced in the UK.
I also struggle with the view that being vegan is so good for the planet that it is OK to continue to drive round in a large diesel 4×4 – I find it hypocritical to criticise my industry but not to put oneself out for the sake of the planet.
Veganism has become the new religion and, if you are a follower, you feel the need to try and convert everyone around you.
There was a time that baked potato and beans was just an easy kids’ tea – now it’s a holy meat-free option to tell your friends about.
Some of the rise in vegan meals, particularly in the supermarkets and coffee shops, simply represents businesses capitalising on the trend and being able to make a margin on it. Nevertheless, we have to make sure we concentrate on making our industry as environmentally friendly and carbon neutral as we can.
We have also seen an increase in companies offering to offset your home and business carbon footprint by planting trees in return for a monthly payment. This is another easy way for people to tick the box and feel better but not to change anything in their lives that will inconvenience them.
The competing tree planting schemes that have been promised at this election make it look like it is a panacea. The internet is awash with unregulated carbon capture schemes – you pay a sum of money and you have discharged your responsibility.
We can all plant trees and we should do so, but the answer is not to cover every available space with trees. The end of direct payments and the advent of carbon capture could see uneconomic wild flower meadows and pasture converted to woodland because the economics are better.
We may reduce our carbon footprint but we will lose some of the other important habitats that are currently supported by agriculture.
Personally, I do feel we need to reduce our carbon footprint, but it is not generally something we are pushing our building designers and tractor manufacturers to do. We have seen from the success of the antibiotic usage reduction scheme how just focusing on something can make a big impact.
Unless we start to do this with carbon as an industry, we are not going to be able to easily make the case that farming (and meat production in particular) is doing its part to stop climate change and the march of veganism will continue unchallenged.