We really need a Vegetarian MasterChef series.
We really need it because our health and the health of our only planet is failing, and failing fast. And programmes like MasterChef have enormous influence on the cooking habits of their audiences*, so it is their duty to raise awareness of how we can all positively influence these two enormous issues.
I know this sounds overly simplistic (and a bit bossy), and it is, because eating less meat will not solve all of our problems, but it will help. And it will help a lot.
The global livestock industry is more damaging to the environment than all the cars, planes, trains and ships put together, and currently makes up almost 15% of global emissions. We eat more meat and dairy produce now than ever before because there are more of us, and also because we eat more of it. Our grandparents did not eat the quantities of meat that we do today.
A Chatham House report in 2014 concluded: “Dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed 2C.” And as we are increasingly (finally) coming to realise, catastrophic events are certain if we exceed 2C.
But all of that aside, we also know that our growing consumption of meat is also killing us directly; obesity and cancer rates are soaring. And there are of course huge animal welfare issues in this industry, which are also very important, but which I won’t go into here.
I’m not asking MasterChef to lecture its audience on global warming, animal welfare or healthy eating – that wouldn’t be a ratings winner for them. But I do think a vegetarian series could have a huge influence, because it would inspire people to think more about cooking meat-free dishes. And whilst some can cook a veggie stir-fry or a curry, we need to see some more exciting vegetarian or vegan recipes, to really get people interested.
I did tweet the UK presenters to suggest this. And Greg quite rightly pointed out to me, that the chefs can already cook vegetarian or vegan dishes whenever they want. There have also been a couple of vegetarian chefs recently. But the reason that more of the chefs don’t cook vegetarian dishes regularly is because the cooking and preparation of meat is perceived as more technical, a way to show off their skills, and so few of them want to waste an opportunity by cooking a vegetarian dish (soufflé aside!) especially in the final stages of the competition. A vegan friend pointed out to me that actually there are lots of new, unusual and tricky vegan products that actually take a lot of skill and imagination.
And that’s why a stand alone vegetarian series would level the playing field for the chefs, and give us all some much needed inspiration to cook amazing and healthful food, for the planet and for ourselves.
And there are so many celebrities vegans and vegetarians in the UK – Russell Brand, Adele, Joanna Lumley, Ellie Goulding and Professor Green to name but a few, who would make for a great celebrity special. And for the US series you never know, you might be able to persuade Beyonce, Brad Pitt and Ben Stiller to don their aprons.
(* MasterChef has done a fantastic job at promoting sustainable fish and seafood with links at the end of the show and on its website to MSC (marine stewardship council) website. It also does a great job of raising the issue of food waste, which is also a major issue, by having the chefs prepared a meal from leftovers/scraps of meat and peelings etc. So good job MasterChef team! And this is the next step you need to take!)