Changing tastes present a big opportunity for farmers
I WENT to America for the first time in 1978. It was also my first time on a plane and my first time to travel abroad on my own. The day I left, the local postmistress gave me great advice about travelling by air: “The minute they come around with the drinks trolley, have a brandy, ’twill settle you for the rest of the journey.”
I was just above the legal drinking age so as soon as the Jumbo was airborne and heading west over the Cliffs of Moher, the drinks trolley appeared and I had myself a stiff brandy. Whenever I fly, I repeat the dose as prescribed by my postmistress and it works every time.
As a young man from 1970s Ireland landing in Chicago was like being dropped into a movie set — everything was big, noisy and brightly lit.
My aunt picked me up in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, a car that was as wide as a Bedford truck and as long as a Transit van. Later that summer, I decided to put the eight-cylinder motor to the test on a Texas highway and ended up a guest of the Texas Highway Patrol. I had to bail myself out and face the local judge for my efforts. That’s another story.
There was a lot more about America that surprised me — the heat, the size of the portions in restaurants and the straight talking Yanks where ‘yes’ and ‘no’ were taken at face value. There was a distinct lack of Mrs Doyles to cajole you into changing your mind.
One of the standout memories was the attitude to smoking. I was shocked when, at the house of another aunt, I lit up a cigarette only to be asked to go outside and smoke on the deck. I thought this was barbaric, the height of bad manners. I was appalled at being sent out to enjoy my nicotine.
How things change. Who would have imagined that within a few decades smoking indoors would be forbidden, even in pubs? Such a prospect would have been regarded as the stuff of science fiction only a few years before. But it happened, and it happened first in Ireland. Now smokers the world over slink away quietly and indulge their habit under the elements.
This preamble has afforded me a circuitous route to the topic I want to broach today, a topic that will cause some farmers to go pale and others to go green around the gills — I’m referring to the rise of vegetarianism.
Up until recently, a vegetarian was a rarity, an exotic bird in a flock of crows. The practice was seen as a fad, a thing that ‘alternative types’ did, a notion taken by people with woolly heads, woolly jumpers and sandals in order to make them stand out even further from the crowd and the consensus.
However, things have changed and what was once a marginal fad is more and more accepted as a mainstream and valid life choice. Concerns about climate change are giving the move to vegetarianism increased impetus and as these concerns take on greater urgency, every human activity is coming under scrutiny, none more so than the practice of intensive farming. Those of us with a passing interest, a keen interest, or a vested interest in agriculture would be well advised to take note and not find ourselves like the publicans in the wake of the smoking ban, reeling from the sudden, pervasive and irreversible nature of the eventuality.
The recent annual food and drink report compiled by UK supermarket chain Waitrose found that one in eight Britons are now vegetarian or vegan. The report also found that another 21pc are in a category called ‘flexitarians’ who eat meat on an irregular basis but mainly follow a vegetarian diet ( below), while many more are consciously reducing their meat intake.
More worrying for a wider range of farm sectors is the rise in veganism that avoids the consumption of any animal products, including eggs and milk, and also shuns the consumption of fish and fish products.