Going flexitarian: why we should take a leaf out of Linda and Sir Paul McCartney's vegetarian book
As a new animated advert featuring Linda McCartney and a song by Sir Paul promotes the late vegetarian's new food range, Kate Whiting discusses why it's good not to eat meat all the time
Like all good marketing campaigns these days, it started with a popular Youtube video. Within a week, Paul and Linda McCartney's Heart Of The Country video had received 80,000 hits.
The psychedelic 40-second animation begins with a guitar-playing cow, a suited fox trumpeter and a frog on drums being photographed by a retro-style Linda.
She then leads them through the countryside, gives a cat a veggie burger and cooks a scrumptious feast for all the woodland folk, all to the sound of Sir Paul singing his tune Heart Of The Country.
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Its purpose? To herald the launch of of a chilled selection of Linda McCartney Foods, the vegetarian range the late Linda first started in 1991. Next week, the animated ad will be shown on TV, complete with a voiceover from celeb veggie Elvis Costello. It's the first time the brand has advertised on the box in 15 years.
The McCartneys are hoping the new #LoveLinda campaign will help boost the numbers of those in the UK who are opting out of eating meat altogether - and those who are only part-time vegetarians, also known as 'flexitarians'.
It's the latest blitz by Sir Paul and his daughters Stella - who lives near Pershore - and Mary, who launched Meat Free Mondays (www.meatfreemondays.com) back in 2009, to encourage people to do their bit for the planet by reducing the environmental impact the meat industry has on the environment.
Says designer Stella: "People are definitely more aware of the reasons to be a vegetarian because of Meat Free Monday and I think there are price point issues.
"There are so many documentaries now and films and there's a huge movement just in general, for people to know where products come from. I think the meat industry is not an attractive reality when people see how they get their meat. And obviously environmentally it has a massive impact in a negative way. It has been a journey and I think there's a lot more to do."
These days, it's certainly more expensive to be a full-time meat-eater - prices reached record highs in 2011 - so it's little surprise that last February the European Commission predicted meat consumption would decline in the EU by a further 0.4% this year.
And in the wake of the recent scare about horse DNA being found in meat products in supermarkets in the UK, some people might be thinking about whether they shouldn't just give flesh the cold shoulder.
After the Rio +20 Summit last June, the UN recommended a global reduction of meat consumption, while a report by Mintel suggested the meat-free market would be worth £949 million by the end of 2012.
In 2008, it was estimated that 5% of the UK population was vegetarian. This is predicted to double to 10% in the next two years, according to global trends agency The Food People, in part due to health advice about cutting down on red meat to reduce heart disease.
The 'Changing Face Of Vegetarianism' report was commissioned by Linda McCartney Foods for the #LoveLinda campaign and also predicts a rise in those opting out of eating meat most of the time, the so-called flexitarians.
Charles Banks, director of The Food People, says: "Twenty years ago, vegetarianism was scoffed at, but of late there's been a seismic shift towards celebrating vegetables and opting to eat less meat. We expect meat-free eating and flexitarianism to soon be a mega trend."
It's good to know that, along with thousands of others, I'm at the forefront of something that's going to be huge. I've been cutting down my meat intake incrementally for years.
While I still eat it occasionally because I like the taste and tradition - Christmas wouldn't be the same without turkey - I'd like to think of myself as a part-time vegetarian, which means I always get my five-a-day, I get to be adventurous in the kitchen and my wallet's healthier too.
I became a flexitarian when I moved in with my now husband back in 2006. He's a one-time vegan, now pescatarian (fish-eater), who once witnessed such a nasty incident involving some pigs falling out of a van on an Austrian motorway that he was put off eating animals for life.
When we'd pooled our resources, there seemed to be no point in cooking one thing for him and one for me, plus I happen to really like vegetables.
We never cook meat in the house, but alternate between various meat alternatives, including the Cauldron, Quorn and Linda McCartney ranges, and freshly-cooked risottos (rice and peas anyone?), tofu stir-fry, and other ingenious ways to get our protein.
But even away from home, I'm not particularly tempted by meat. I prepare lunches to take to work that are often last night's leftovers and mostly prefer a cheese sandwich to ham, chicken or beef if I'm buying my own lunch.
Tonight it's Quorn chicken curry which, when all's said and done, is pretty indistinguishable from the real thing, and healthier.
At my parents' it's a different story - my mum insists on getting some iron into me at every opportunity and it's hard to resist her roast beef on a Sunday.
Believe me, I have eaten some bizarre meats in my time, including springbok, moose and even reindeer (sorry Rudolph!), but if you put a plate of venison in front of me now I'd honestly struggle to get through it because of the changes to my tastebuds.
I didn't realise how far I'd come until my hen party a couple of years ago when two of the 12 hens were vegetarian (myself excluded) and so I booked a room in a vegetarian restaurant, knowing we'd all have a good meal.
It certainly helps that celebrity chefs are embracing cooking for vegetarians. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall said he believed in being a "selective omnivore" when his 2011 cookbook Veg Everyday! was published. And then there's Linda McCartney's legacy, being carried on in style by Paul and co.
As Elvis Costello, who became a vegetarian in the early 1980s, says: "Linda always talked well and made it seem that you wouldn't be joining a secret weird society by being vegetarian."
And now my secret's out - being a part-time vegetarian is cool too.