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Bury St Edmunds food writer and columnist Nicola Miller is torn over eating meat

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I see a pink, porcine gummy has recently been in the news and no, I don’t mean Piers Morgan although I can’t be the only one to feel aghast at having witnessed a grown man spitting out food on live television.

I’m referring to the recent fuss about Percy Pigs which, if you haven’t heard, concerns M&S’s decision to remove gelatine from the list of ingredients. The dreaded word ‘vegetarian’ may have been used.

There’s been a lot of huffing and puffing about vegetarians and vegans lately. We’re lucky to live in a part of the world where we can grow and obtain quality plant protein and, if we wish, buy excellent and varied meat and fish, but the decision to become vegetarian and vegan is still a privilege borne of geography, income and climate.

From the barbecue
From the barbecue

While there are non-meat eating cultures everywhere, they are nearly always to be found in fertile parts of the world. In the more arid parts of the Moroccan desert, the traditional Bedouin diet relies on the conversion of poor quality plant matter to high-quality meat and there is a dependence on herding rather than agriculture. It would be incredibly hard to be vegan or even vegetarian here.

This is just one of the reasons why I don’t agree that a vegan diet is the way to save the planet: It is blinkered to ignore cultures different to our own. I do believe that we in the west would benefit from eating less meat, though. We have so many options now. More pubs and restaurants cater to non-meat eaters and I often choose from these menus; meals without meat in are no longer the booby prize of eating out, although the reactions of some people still surprise me.

Recently, I was amused to see someone tantrum on Twitter because one of their favourite Suffolk pubs had the temerity to advertise its new vegan option. When we get to the stage of someone raging that they ‘aren’t going there again’ because of this, then you have to wonder what their issue really is? Do they think it is political correctness gone mad? Are they worried they’re going to be forced to give up meat by hordes of tie-dyed hippies?

As I get older, I eat less meat and I’m more likely to use it as a way of adding flavour rather than as the main attraction.

I also confess to finding it harder and harder to cope with the idea of slaughterhouses and I find branding such as ‘cruelty-free’ meat disingenuous because ultimately, no matter how well-kept the livestock, I do not believe animals feel no fear when the time comes to despatch them.

This is something that I, an occasional meat-eater who lives in a part of the world where the farming of meat and the catching of fish is very important to the economy, thinks about a lot.

I know a lot of producers; I know which ones care about their animals but there’s still the thorny issue of rearing for slaughter to get my head around.

Maybe eating more game is the answer? The animals do at least live a free life once released from their rearing pens, and a lack of natural predators bar the car means deer have to be culled for the sake of maintaining a healthy population. However, the rearing of grouse, pheasants, and partridge has its own environmental consequences and the fact that many shoots dump hundreds of dead birds because they cannot eat them all renders this pill all the more bitter to swallow. The releasing of vulnerable young game birds into the wild by activists and the hanging of dead corvids on Chris Packham’s fence as a protest after he took Natural England to court and won are two recent unedifying examples of extremism on both sides of the debate.

This is an opinion column without a conclusion. I simply don’t know what the answer is, although I will continue to read up on the debate and be prepared to adjust my views accordingly.

The only definitive thing I know is this. I will never be able to look at a Percy Pig without seeing the smirking face of Piers Morgan so I guess his snowflake-like tantrum (why are some right-wing men so sensitive?) has improved my diet and cut out sugar from one source at least. For that, I thank him.