World Meat Free Week runs from 11th to 17th June this year, and the organisers have one simple hope – that everyone will swap one meaty meal for a veggie alternative that week. If your diet is so comprehensively carnivore that you have no idea how to go about doing that, then good news: Jay McGuiness, Strictly Come Dancing winner and former member of boy band The Wanted, is here to help.
We spoke to McGuiness, who has been a vegetarian since he was a teenager, to get his advice on which veggie meal people could turn to, along with his take on the benefits of being vegetarian.
Why did you become a vegetarian?
I became a vegetarian when I was 13 years old. My school was teaching us about diets and I realised that chicken was made from chickens. This was a big moment for me because I wasn’t very smart! That evening me and my four brothers and sisters got in the car and I asked my mum if I could be veggie. She asked “what are you going to eat?” and I said “chips”.
From then on my mum would find an alternative meal for every meal she cooked. This went on for nearly ten years, poor woman.
Your family were very supportive then?
Absolutely. It was always a fun thing for me, because I felt like I had a little bit more attention, and in a family of five I craved it! They would often end up eating the same thing as me, which was awesome. They always supported me.
What benefits have you felt from making the change?
None of the other guys in the band were veggie, but they always called me Terminator because my energy was off the charts. But the main benefits are for the planet, cutting down on how much water we use and the land we take up to produce burgers when there are so many alternatives.
Have there been any downside?
I’m not sure there’s anything I miss, because when I was a kid I only ate kid meats, like burgers and sausages. There’s so many veggie alternatives for those sort of foods that I never missed it at all. Travelling could sometimes be a bit of a pain when I was on tour. Some countries are amazing – India and Japan have loads of veggie food – but when I was in South America about seven years ago it was really tough. But then it’s like any kind of travel, you have to do some research beforehand. Where am I going to eat? What am I going to wear? You know, can I drink the water?
Have you noticed a change in the UK in the availability of vegetarian food?
Massively. As a kid there were always maybe two options for me to eat and now it’s half the menu. Or there’s even a whole menu for people who want to avoid meat.
What is World Meat Free Week?
It’s a week where we encourage people to skip meat for just one meal, or as many as they feel like, but at least try it once. You have the whole week to try. If you’re going to have a curry at the weekend, there are plenty of options without meat, and if you’re going to have a spag bol you can chuck in some non-meat mince. If you need help you can go on the website and find recipes.
Do you have one top tip for a meat free meal to try?
One meal that’s super-easy to change is spaghetti bolognese. It’s healthy and easy to make for any amount of people. Swap out beef for Quorn mince or whatever meat-free product you like and no-one is going to know the difference. It’s just swapping one ingredient, which [in the supermarket] is ten feet to your left in a different fridge!