A not so ‘damaging’ hearty meal
How to cook a more sustainable Sunday roast
THE SUNDAY roast is an institution for many families across the globe. Families come together to share a meal, which more often than not, is centred on a joint of roast meat, traditionally lamb or beef.
The health implications and environmental impacts of our diet have become a regular discussion topic, with sustainable dietary advice recommending that we reduce meat consumption and increase our consumption of plant-based proteins, fruits and vegetables. But what does this mean practically: how can we eat for health and sustainability on a day-to-day basis?
Some advocate shifting to a fully plant-based vegetarian diet. Many people are resistant to this level of dietary change, however.
Many are opting for “meat-free Mondays” or meat-free lunches. Messing with the Sunday roast, however, is a step too far for most. But given the meal’s focus on huge chunks of meat and energyinefficient cooking methods, it’s important to consider.
So how might we create a more sustainable Sunday roast? impact of the entire meal. This is due to the large quantities of water, land and feed required to produce meat.
Purchasing sustainable and ethically farmed meat with lower environmental impacts can result in small environmental savings.
However, to really reduce the environmental impact of meat, we need to eat less of it.
The portion sizes for roast meats depend on the recipe used and can vary widely. Many roast beef recipes suggest between 125g-800g per person. These are very large portions indeed.
In the UK, dietary guides suggest eating less than 70g of red and processed meat a day.
Such large portions of beef can be partly explained by the need for leftovers in traditional recipes. But in today’s busy world, leftovers can easily become food waste.
In 2014, 8% of beef purchased by UK households became food waste. Over half of this was avoidable, caused by the cooking, serving or preparing of too much food, or leftovers not being used in time.
With this in mind, our sustainable Sunday roast requires small portions – say 125g per person, meaning 50-70g for lunch and a manageable amount for leftovers the next day. A further benefit of cutting meat portions for a sustainable roast is that it will have a shorter cooking time, meaning less energy, and reduced associated environmental impacts.
Cooking is the other main contributor to this. The oven is an inefficient way of cooking meat at hot temperatures and for long periods of time.
The environmental impact of roasting a joint of meat in an oven for over an hour contributes 20-30% of the environmental impacts of the entire meal.
To make matters worse, overcooking roasts – for an extra 41 minutes, for example – adds further impacts through pointless energy use.
So as well as reducing the amount of meat served, we might also use new methods to cook a sustainable Sunday roast.
Reverse searing involves searing the joint of beef in a pan and then transferring it to a low heat oven or a slow cooker, until the internal temperature of the joint is between 55-60°C (the temperature that medium-done beef is cooked to).
Depending on the energy efficiency of your oven or slow cooker, reverse searing may well have a lower impact than traditional cooking.
Cooking sous vide, meanwhile, involves placing a joint of beef in a vacuumed plastic pouch or bag, and submerging this in a heated water bath for several hours until the internal temperature of the joint is between 55-60°C.
The joint is then unwrapped and placed in a hot skillet to sear its surface. Although this may sound like a lot of work, the method gives the cook total control of the texture and flavour and can use less than half the energy of a traditional oven method.
By combining sustainably sourced meat, a reduced portion size and modern cooking methods, we could reduce the environmental impacts of a Sunday roast by over half.
The good news is that, if even an environmentally damaging meal such as the Sunday roast can be made a little more sustainable, it should be possible to create appetising yet sustainable versions of many other popular dishes too.
Christian Reynolds, Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow (N8 Agrifood), University of Sheffield
This article was first published on The Conversation