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Column: 'Bord Bia need to stop asking vegetarians and vegans why we don't eat meat'

Irish farmers and food producers don’t need Bord Bia to try and persuade vegetarians and vegans to eat meat, writes Eva Dowling.

Eva Dowling Green Party Representative

“SO, TELL ME why you don’t eat meat?” – it’s the question that, as a lifelong vegetarian and now vegan, I get asked all of the time. The answer to which is constantly evolving, mainly because there are just so many good reasons to reduce your meat and dairy consumption.

Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board have recently decided to invest in research to ‘win back’ vegans and vegetarians. By their own estimations, 8 per cent of the Irish population are vegetarian, and 2 per cent of those are now vegan.

That’s eight per cent of the population – a ready-made market – that our national food board have decided they would rather twist their arms, than cater to their needs. By their own ‘Brexit Barometer’ published just last week, 85 per cent of Irish food producers and farmers are looking to expand their business into new markets. So why are Bord Bia so quick to shun one that is ready-made, and at their doorsteps.

Interfering in national diet

Let us be clear that Bord Bia’s remit is not to prescribe the Irish diet – it’s to support our farmers and food producers, by promoting Irish food, both national and internationally.  Attempts by governments to interfere with the national diet have, in the past, proved catastrophic.

The blanket promotion of fructose in the US food market for example, has been detrimental to rising diabetes and obesity in America – not to mention the impact that mass-production of corn has had on the environment.

Bord Bia play a hugely important role, supporting a sector that is so valuable to our heritage and our economy. So why have they decided that they should be setting food trends, over meeting the needs of a burgeoning market?

Rather than explore how lucrative this very healthy and environmentally-friendly trend could be, Bord Bia have dismissed it as a ‘faddy diet’, opting for a naïve approach, trying to ‘win back’ this cohort, when it’s already there for the taking.

Foodism?

It’s also erroneous to view vegetarianism and veganism as a ‘foodism’ or ‘faddy diet’. Plant-based diets have been around for millennia, and the drivers toward them are complicated and multifaceted. Just as so many are now ditching the car for a bike, there is a sway towards eating more plant-based foods for better health, wealth and to lower your impact on climate change. 

As with all diets, a predominantly plant-based one isn’t perfect, but in those imperfections lie real opportunities for Ireland to become a world leader. Bord Bia’s investment could be much better spent in researching how to overcome, and where the opportunities lie in, the countless challenges that vegetarians and vegans face on a daily basis.

For example, how to easily supplement vitamin B12; the only nutrient that is not readily available in a plant-based diet – or how Ireland can compete in the market of providing plant-based alternatives.

For farmers who want to add value to their incomes, by growing more vegetable, fruit and grain, the environmental and financial challenges can be difficult and complex. If they are to face them head-on, and meet the market demand, then Bord Bia really do need to up their game and find ways to make this transition easy.

Something we do well

We’re incredibly proud of our agricultural and food sectors, because food is something that we do really well in Ireland. Irish farmers and food producers don’t need Bord Bia to try and persuade vegetarians and vegans to eat meat.

It’s clear from their own survey data that where they actually do need help, is in finding new and lucrative markets. If we are to best help our farmers and food producers, then Bord Bia need to stop asking vegetarians and vegans “why don’t you eat meat?” and start asking us “what do you want to eat?”

Eva Elizabeth Dowling is the Green Party’s Stillorgan Area Representative. 

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About the author:

Eva Dowling  / Green Party Representative

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