Category Archives: How much meat?

Riverford staff canteen drops a day (or 3!)

IMG_0678As part of our How Much Meat campaign, we thought it was only right to take on the drop a day challenge ourselves, and experiment with the canteen’s menu for a week. A decision was made to make Monday, Wednesday and Friday completely vegetarian days, and for Tuesday and Wednesday to have meals made with minimal meat, alongside a vegetarian option (as per every normal day).

Canteen manager Kelsey is fantastic at creating imaginative meals where veg is the star anyway, so this didn’t come as a challenge to her.

breakfastFeatured breakfasts in our vegetarian week included a Spanish omelette with sourdough toast and avocado, and a vegetarian full English, with sautéed potatoes, roasted tomatoes, fried eggs, mushrooms, baked beans and toast.

Vegetarian lunches consisted of mushroom, potato and kale pie, a chickpea, cauliflower, potato and coconut curry, a roasted carrot, ginger and lentil dosa (Indian pancake) and flatbreads with roasted beetroot, homemade cheese and spiced almonds.

veg-breakfastSo what did the staff make of it all? Some of the staff start very early and by 9.30am they are well and truly ready for their bacon sarnie. They weren’t so keen on the idea of a vegetarian breakfast. After all, is a full English really a full English without bacon and sausages? Other staff often have breakfast before work or bring it with them, but ‘fry up Friday’ has become a bit of weekly tradition, so a meat free breakfast did seem a little disappointing to some – especially as it’s a weekly treat. However, the vegetarian alternatives were delicious, and still provided a plate full of a variety of flavours and foods.

Gnocchi-with-crispy-pork,-chilli,-sage-and-sweet-potatoThe feedback for lunches was quite different, and the reception from many people was that as long as the food was flavoursome and exciting, you don’t always need meat. A lot of meat eaters said that they often opt for a veggie meal anyway, because the food is so good that they don’t feel they are missing the meat, and they are conscious of not eating too much of it.

In general, the consensus was that many people would be happy to have a couple of meat free days a week, and the rest of the time it’s good to have a choice. If we could consider doing this, and serving meals with minimal amounts of meat on the other days (like the gnocchi with small amounts of crispy pork, chilli, sage and sweet potato) then we could probably reduce our meat consumption by a significant amount.

Flatbread-with-roasted-beetroot-homemade-cheese-and-spiced-almondsWhat many dedicated meat eaters seem to have learned from working and eating at Riverford, is that meat doesn’t need to be the main component of a meal. With thousands of vegetarian ingredients available, like veg, grains, dairy etc, the possibilities are endless; all you need is a little creativity (and lots of tasty veg!).


Have you taken our pledge to drop a day yet? Head over to our to find out more. To enter our drop a day competition, simply upload a photo of your vegetarian masterpiece to our Facebook page, or to Twitter or Instagram, using the hashtag #dropaday, and you’ll automatically be entered to win a month’s worth of veg and meat boxes.

Guy’s Newsletter: nature, intuition & nutrition

Many of us are inclined to believe that a natural diet is likely to be a healthy diet; that means eating less processed food with fewer additives, and trying to stick to foods that we evolved to eat, and ideally growing them in as natural a way as possible. It is obvious to many (especially gardeners) that the way food is grown affects how it looks, feels, smells and tastes. Indeed, studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition conclusively show organic food to be different; simply put, you get more of the good stuff and less of the bad.

The most recent study, published this week, shows organic dairy products and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids (widely understood to reduce the risk of heart disease and dementia) compared to nonorganic equivalents. The nutritional differences are down to organic livestock eating more grass and clover and less grain and soya, i.e., a natural diet that ruminants (cows, sheep and goats) evolved to eat. Riverford cows typically produce 5000 litres of milk a year from a diet which is 95% grass, clover and silage. This compares to an intensive dairy cow producing 8,000-12,000 l/year from a diet with less grass, very little clover and up to 50% of calories from grain and soya. Meanwhile, our beef is almost 100% grass fed; organic grain is just too expensive anyway. Last year, another BJN study showed organic vegetables contained 18-79% higher levels of anti-oxidants, alongside lower levels of toxic heavy metals and pesticide residues. Again the differences are down to being grown in conditions that are a little closer to nature.

So many claims are made around our health and diet that I am reluctant to add to them in this way, especially when I have such undeniable self-interest. Perhaps you should disregard me too, but do listen to your intuition; mine firmly tells me that the closer we stay to the diet we evolved to eat, made up of (largely) plants and (small amounts of) animals, the healthier we will be. Better still if that food is raised in organic conditions, bringing the many benefits to wildlife, the soil and our environment that are intrinsic to this way of farming.

Guy Watson

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Ben’s Newsletter – How much meat?

ben-watsonEating no, or less, meat is all very well but it needs to be looked at within the bigger picture. The most depressing bit is that a lot of us are eating less but it won’t make a blind bit of difference to the 75% of the UK population who aren’t, or the vast numbers globally. I’ve always been a great believer that, given the information, people will make the right decisions. With most food related issues it seems that interest will precipitate a series of simple questions and consequent decisions. If only things were as simple with farming and greenhouse gases. There are lies, damned lies and statistics, but all we can do is give you the information and a few hints in as unbiased a way as possible. Guy’s doing that and I thought last week’s newsletter got it about right. Eating meat isn’t just about one issue – but nothing I’ve heard to date has come close to changing my opinion that organic is the best option for the taste buds, heart (in its emotional sense), body and the environment.

Unfortunately what we thought were the most natural of meats, beef and lamb, have been shown to be, in GHG terms, the worst. Enteric fermentation, resulting in methane emission through flatulence, has made ruminants the bad kids on the block, but would they be saying the same about the tens of millions of bison that roamed the North American prairies if we hadn’t wiped them out and substituted them with beef in feed lots? In the States about 22% of beef is grass fed – I would assume it’s a bit higher over here. Organic beef is almost always, by nature of being free range, grass fed. Permanent pasture or long term grass leys and their root systems obviously don’t sequestrate anywhere near as much carbon as rainforests but they’re a lot better than a field of, dare I say it, vegetables. Grass fed also means no nitrogen and energy heavy arable feed crops, or rainforest destruction. It’s also largely local and doesn’t get frozen and shipped around the world. I rest my case m’Lud and I hope you’ll take the similar cases of lamb and venison into account as well.


Pigs might not belch and fart in the bovine manner (as Guy wrote last week, in GHG terms, they’re far better than cattle and sheep) but as with beef, the more we eat, the worse it gets. The William Cobbett inspired picture of eating every bit of pigs but the squeal, fed on waste from the kitchen, is about as likely as pigs with wings. Since Foot and Mouth in 2001, feeding swill has been banned, so grain, supplemented by soya protein, has become the norm. More animal feed means more fertile land needed for cultivation and we all know where they find that. Pollution, antibiotic use and appalling animal welfare all go hand in hand with large scale pig farming. Organic is the only system and label that provides any worthwhile guarantees. Free range still has no legal meaning – they could be free to range around a 2m x 2m pen. Outdoor reared means they’ve had access to the outdoors (could be a small concrete yard) for half their lives and outdoor bred means just that – absolutely nothing from day one onwards. If the FSA pulled their fingers out and helped find a safe way of using food waste we could all eat a bit of ‘low impact’ pork without being told we’re putting the planet in jeopardy. Of all the meats, it’s pork that falls most readily into a, ‘meat as seasoning’ diet. In fact, it is the best use for organic pork. It’s full of flavour, a great meat for processing, curing etc, but it’s a different beast to fast growing intensively reared pork and needs to be treated as such.

For the most part, chickens fall into the same basket as pork. They’re naturally omnivorous and great scavengers, and until the second half of the last century, an affordable roasting chicken was unheard of. Chickens produce 300 eggs a year and this, coupled with intensive rearing, selective breeding and a good feed conversion ratio, meant cheap meat for the masses. Cheap chicken has come to define the modern food industry, and it tastes of virtually nothing. However, we all want it so the organic sector has had to come up with an acceptable alternative. The differences are enormous; double the age, flock sizes of 500 (rather than tens of thousands), constant access to pasture etc etc. I could go on but I don’t want to be accused of my own version of enteric fermentation so in a nutshell, if we’re going to eat less meat and, for the most part, treat it as a seasoning, I hope you’ll agree that organic fits the bill far better. It’s a bit like killing two birds with one stone, but we should only eat one.

Ben Watson

Guy’s Newsletter: ruminating on ruminants

Last week’s newsletter questioning the sustainability of eating meat has stimulated a lively and thoughtful debate on our blog and Facebook page. Interestingly, our meat attitude survey suggests that for the general public, 27% have reduced meat consumption compared to a year ago, largely for health or financial reasons. Among our own customers the picture is markedly different, with 47% eating less meat due to animal welfare or environmental issues, suggesting you are more thoughtful and altruistic; but then I always knew that.

Climate change is not the only measure of the impact of the meat we eat; I for one put pressure on land and consequent deforestation, land grabs and loss of wildlife almost as high. The mass of contradicting data is driving me nuts, but here’s our best estimate for now in terms of kg CO₂ produced per kg of meat: beef (20); lamb (15); butter (12); hard cheese (9); pork (5); chicken (5); eggs (4.5); soft cheese (2); cows’ milk (1.2). However these figures are broad averages from many studies; a true figure for the meat on your plate will depend on production systems and exactly what’s being measured. Yet to me this order is counter intuitive; how can a sheep or cow at pasture be so bad? The answer is because the bacteria in their rumen that enable them to digest fibrous food also generate methane and N₂O; both massively more potent greenhouse gases than CO₂. Yet it could be argued that under some circumstances ruminants can reduce pressure on land by grazing low grade pasture unsuitable for crops or less damaging pigs or chickens. Sadly most dairy and to some extent beef animals get much of their protein from grain and soya; it’s cheaper that way and economics, not ecology, welfare or nutrition shapes our food systems.

Confused? I hope to be more authoritative as our research progresses; it seems the only clear thing is that we should eat less meat and ensure that ruminants eat mostly grass, as ours do. Pigs would do well if they ate mostly waste, as they once did, but that is for another newsletter. In the meantime, there is a lot more detail and data references on our website to guide the assiduously inquisitive.

Guy Watson

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Guy’s Newsletter: ruminating on protein

“Dad, how can you call yourself an environmentalist, and still sell meat?”. First one daughter, then the other, then even my previously carnivorous sons joined in. Their epiphany was brought on by the documentary Cowspiracy; it is smug, irritating and outrageously one-sided in its selection of evidence and ends with an unjustified and ill-considered swipe at Greenpeace. However, despite my irritation, I would agree (uncomfortably for someone selling meat) that no thinking person can reasonably claim to be an environmentalist, or even a humanist, while continuing to eat more than very small amounts of animal protein; most forms of animal agriculture are simply wrecking our planet.

Climate change-wise the arguments are complex, involving ruminant methane emissions, deforestation for grazing and soya production, methane and nitrous oxide emitting manure heaps and soil, intensive versus extensive farming methods and more. As our planet is so diverse in soils, topography, ecology, diet and agricultural methods, it’s unwise to be dogmatic anyway. However, after weeks scouring scientific papers, we have reached the following initial conclusions:

  • Livestock agriculture contributes 10-12% of manmade climate change; arguably as much as every car, plane, truck and ship on the planet.
  • Livestock agriculture is grossly inefficient and requires 5-10 times more land to feed ourselves than a vegan diet; there just isn’t enough land to go round. OK it’s not that simple; there may well be a credible argument for animals grazing permanent pastures on land unsuited for growing crops for humans, to produce high quality, high welfare meat and dairy, as with most organic farming, but we will have to eat much less of it.

Alongside this are all the health, animal welfare, pollution and antibiotic resistance arguments against eating meat; hard to quantify, but very real. There will be exceptions, but the general conclusion is inescapable; for the good of us and our planet, we must collectively eat much less animal protein. Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the issue and suggesting ways to nudge any committed carnivores away from some of their meat. I hope you’ll feel compelled to join us.

Guy Watson

Visit to join the debate, take our ‘drop a day’ pledge, browse meat-minimising recipes and do our survey.