‘I pity vegetarians in the same way I pity virgins, teetotallers and men who are not interested in sport’

The Irish Times: We Love Food – Ronan McGreevy, news reporter

‘Meat is not only central to our diet, but also our culture’: Ronan McGreevy enjoys a burger in The Irish Times

‘Meat is not only central to our diet, but also our culture’: Ronan McGreevy enjoys a burger in The Irish Times


I don’t dislike vegetarians. Some vegetarians are among my best friends, including one who I constantly rib over the iron supplements he takes for his diet.

I pity vegetarians in the same way I pity virgins, teetotallers and men who are not interested in sport.

Why would anybody want to be a vegetarian, or worse still a vegan, the Taliban of food? Vegetarianism is a wholly unnatural state. If God – or nature, depending on your inclination – wanted us to be vegetarians, we would have teeth like rabbits and stomachs like cows to regurgitate what ever tasteless slop we ingested earlier.

Meat is not only central to our diet (and don’t let vegetarians tell you otherwise), but also our culture. The first representation of human art is hunted animals that were killed for their food. What resonance would the parable of the prodigal son if the father had a fatted lentil bean rather than a fatted calf? What would Christmas me without a turkey, Easter without lamb, Sundays without the roast, a barbecue without burgers?

Meat is one of those things that is demonstrably pleasurable to the human experience, yet some people are never done but making a virtue of avoiding it. Alcohol and sex are two others that attract a phalanx of self-denying bores.

Vegetarianism in the developed world is a modern-day phenomenon. Our ancestors would struggle to comprehend it. It is based on a misplaced sentiment towards farm animals.

There is a reason why vegetarians are inevitably from suburban or urban backgrounds and why farmers are not vegetarians.

As a farmer’s son myself, I learned to become quickly disabused of such misplaced emotions. I once had a pet calf called Crazy Horse that I named after the Liverpool captain Emlyn Hughes (I was a Liverpool fan as a child).

I cried the day he went to the mart. It was a hard lesson that farm animals are commodities not pets.

Yet, farm animals, by and large, have a great life. Animal cruelty is not only wrong, but it is also stupid. The good farmer looks after his animals because it is counter-productive to do otherwise.

Animals are fed, housed and watered. They don’t have to worry about making ends meet. They don’t have their hearts broken, they don’t have to pay taxes, they don’t have to worry about depleted pensions, they don’t have the awful cognition of their own mortality that we humans have. When they die, it is quick and painless and they are blissfully unaware.

Thankfully vegetarianism is not something that exists in Ireland in the same way that it exists in the UK. The average Irish person is at least a generation closer to the soil than his British counterpart and far less likely to be affected by bogus sentiment about animals.

As the great travel writer Bill Bryson says about Britain, it is the only country that had an ISPCA before an ISPCC, or a working time directive for animals before it had one for people.

We might make a joke of our “beef or salmon” choice at social occasions, usually weddings, but at least it is a choice. At an English wedding you are as likely to be offered one meat option and whatever salad/tofu/lentil/vegetarian quiche that has been dredged up into something faintly edible.

We have a great food culture that is based on meat. Even at the worst of times, we always had our cattle. We are a carnivore race and that is how it is always going to be and should be.

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