Nopi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi Butternut squash wiht ginger tomatoes and lime yoghurt Photo: Jonathan Lovekin
Happily, things are changing, albeit by necessity. There is finally an understanding of the environmental impact of raising livestock for intake, especially “where theyre” fed on crops that could be fed immediately to humans rather more efficiently. There are differing figures depending on species, with cattles requiring the most and chicken the least, but on average it takes 5 kilos of grain to make 1 kilo of meat. With the global population rising, from just north of seven billion now towards 10 billion or even more by the end of the century, we cannot afford to be stuffing all those harvests down the esophagus of animals. And then theres the carbon footprint. One examine by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation attributed 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions to the livestock industry. This figure has been disputed. Simon Fairlie, writer of Meat: a Benign Extravagance , points out that it attributes literally all deforestation globally to the meat business. And yet significant amounts are down to logging and land development.
He puts the proportion of greenhouse gas emissions at closer to 10%, though he accepts that this is still too much. While some diehard adversaries of the meat business argue that all of it is an unnecessary use of land upon which harvests could be grown for human consumption, Fairlie notes that ruminants can eat a lot of biomass that cannot be consumed by humans but which would otherwise be wasted, and can be grazed on upland fields which could not be used for harvests. Once he does all his sums, Fairlie concludes that our meat consumption needs to fall to about half of what it is now. Which it almost certainly will do anyway, because with growing demand from the emerging middle classes in Asia, global meat prices will rise.
Which means one thing. The future of non-meat cookery “re not in the” hands of those who have sworn off feeing animals wholly. Its in the hands of those of us who are cutting down. And thank God for that. The abominations that are meat-free sausages and burgers werent created by meat eaters, looking for something that wasnt meat but nearly looked like it. They were created by vegetarians who believed this is just the only route to advance their cause, and in any case who dont especially like the real thing and so dont actually care that its horrid. The same people responsible for vegetarian moussakas and cottage pies, dishes which are an apology for themselves.
These are dishes which are trying( and failing) to be good in spite of the fact they dont include meat. A moussaka involves the carnage of a lamb to be moussaka. A bungalow pie necessitates ground beef. A sausage exists as a route to use up every inch of the pig, including its bowels. Something formed out of oats and soya and desperation is not a sausage. Its a lack of imagination on a plate.
Non-meat cookery needs to be good because of that fact. The best non-meat cookery does not have a meaty twin. Its not an echo of the real thing, the recipe contrived by substitutes and arch compromise and sadnes. It is itself. There is, for example , nothing with a pulse which will improve a perfectly induced wild mushroom risotto: rice, wine, stock, mushrooms, cheese and the job is done. The altogether meat-free curries of the Gujarat would not be better if only somebody could be fagged to kill a chicken.
Ambitious restaurants in Britain and elsewhere have, in recent years, started filling their menu with these non-meat-based dishes, and for the most portion the movement has been led by meat-eating multi-starred chefs; the likes of Simon Rogan at LEnclume and Brett Graham at the Ledbury. The latter has a entirely meat-free savouring menu. Its a good thing that its meat-eating chefs who have led this rather than the vegetarian hardcore, Yotam Ottolenghi says. Theres been a reversal of the ingredient hierarchy and weve helped to normalise it. A humble veggie like the cauliflower which spent the totality of the 1970 s in Britain being tortured in boiling water until it had surrendered both its nutritional value and dignity, has become a centrepiece.
At Berber& Q, a charcoal grill house in Londons Hackney, it is roasted whole and served with tahini and pomegranate seeds, and holds its own on a menu alongside dishes of slow-roasted beef short rib and lamb shawarma. At the Palomar, the London outpost of an Israeli restaurant group, it is flamed on the Josper grill with lemon butter, and served with their own labneh strained yogurt and toasted almonds. At Ottolenghis restaurant Nopi, it comes roasted with saffron, sultanas and crispy capers.
The Middle Eastern influence is obvious, but the movement is far broader than that. Chef Robin Gill expended his early years working for Marco Pierre White, when he was in his multi-Michelin-starred, French classical pomp at the Oak Room restaurant of Le Mridien Hotel on Londons Piccadilly. There, it was completely protein-led, he says. It was all about foie gras, fillet steak and truffles. Gills approach was changed by a stint in southern Italy, where the beef was terrible but the vegetables were brilliant. That was followed by period at Raymond Blancs Le Manoir in Oxfordshire which, for all its commitment to French classicism, has a vast kitchen garden on site.
Later, Gill opened his own eatery, the Dairy, in south London, followed by the nearby Manor and then Paradise Garage in east London. At all three, the menu walkings the two sides of the line. Sure, it serves meat. But its also about dishes of carrots with roasted barley and sorrel, or salsify with smoked curd and pickled walnuts; its about beetroot with fermented apple and pine, or charred leeks with caramelised comte cheese and wild garlic. These are dish descriptions which make their own suit. My mindset has simply changed, Gill says. I dont feel the need for a glob of beef in the middle of the plate.
And vegetarian sausages? I dont get them at all. Theyre pointless. Its the various kinds of stuff that really vexes me. Its food created by people who cant cook.
Its a rude thing to say. Its also likely a little unfair. But sod it, Im not going to argue.
Extracted from The Ten( Food) Commandments by Jay Rayner( Penguin, 6 ). Click here to order a copy for 4.80.
Jay will present a live event based on the book at RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1AD on Friday 24 June, 7pm8. 40 pm. Click here for details and tickets