Martin Freeman is doing what every vegetarian dreams of – tucking into a pork pie

After almost four decades as a committed meat-dodger, the Sherlock actor has given up, blaming fake, plant-based alternatives for pushing him back to the real thing. We’ve all thought about it, says Andrew Georgeson – but shame on him for doing it

Saturday 04 May 2024 06:00 BST
Martin Freeman has turned his back on vegetarianism after 38 years, and described scotch eggs as 'food of the gods'
Martin Freeman has turned his back on vegetarianism after 38 years, and described scotch eggs as 'food of the gods' (Getty Images)

I was sitting in a restaurant in New York with my partner. The Brooklyn Bridge lit up behind us, we’d been drinking flat, $9 Stella Artois that are inexplicably passed off as chic over there, and needed some food before carrying on into the night.

The problem is, as a vegetarian, there’s nothing on the menu I can eat. And this is a problem we’ve had for around four days now. If it isn’t “eggplant” in New York, you’re out of luck. My partner, who ate meat, ordered an array of dishes that smelled amazing, looked amazing and, not insignificantly, had something in them which justified the price tag.

And it does make you think: how many portobello mushrooms do I need to pass off as burgers? Does anyone actually know what Quorn is? Is any of this martyrdom worth the slight validation, the flicker of interest in my personality, which is instantly lost when I have to slowly deconstruct every meal on the menu to ask that the meat be removed, while the waiter struggles to understand my Geordie pronunciation of “no chorizo”.

The answer is, of course, yes. The idea of consuming meat, frankly, repulses me. But I can see legitimate reasons for why someone would U-turn. I’d quite like to not look like I’m made of sugar paper in the winter, or to feel as tired as I do all the time.

But then there’s Martin Freeman’s reasons.

“I like meat-replacement things,” the Sherlock actor recently told the Waitrose podcast, Dish. “But my reservation about them is they can be very, very processed, and I’m trying to eat less processed food.”

Admittedly, he didn’t say this on a stage at the World Health Organisation, politicians nodding in the crowd. He said it on a podcast with Nick Grimshaw. And one of the guests literally just eats the whole way through his bit, like ground-beef ASMR.

But Freeman’s contention simply isn’t true. Most plant-based alternatives have lower saturated fat and higher fibre than the meaty things they’re replacing, not to mention the substantial environmental factors involved; the water footprint of beef mince is 12 times higher than that of the Quorn alternative. Add this to the fact pork pies and scotch eggs – literal random compacted meat discs – have been called “food of the gods” by the actor, who has given up his vegetarianism after 38 years.

He gave up on meat in 1986, at the age of 14, explaining that he was “never really comfortable with the idea of eating animals”. On the podcast, he’s offered a bowl of spaghetti bolognese, which he devours hungrily. “This is the first proper bolognese I’ve maybe ever had,” he says. “I’ve not had that good, honest f***ing staple for decades.”

Ah yes, bolognese… a pasta dish famously impossible to replicate with vegetarian alternatives, given its main ingredient of “tomatoes”. It all feels a bit weak-minded.

Giving up meat is probably the easiest of the hard things to give up. It’s not alcohol, it’s not drugs, it’s not even socially frowned upon, really. Quite the opposite.

To be fair to Freeman, he was a vegetarian almost a decade longer than I’ve been alive. And maybe he’s gone flexi, who knows. But he discusses never really being comfortable with eating animals, and it’s hard to see how that can change.

For a man universally adored, so successful in his own screen career, who can find contentment easier than most with food given the options open to him and the produce available, to give up such a long-held belief for some scotch eggs just doesn’t sit right with me.

So come back to the green side, Martin. I’ll teach you a lovely recipe for lentil bolognese.

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