For the last of the SRA curated panel sessions at Conscious Hospitality, meat was on the menu. We brought together a beef farmer, Andrew Knowles from Approved Supplier Trenchmore Farm, Tom Hunt, chef and founder of Poco, 2016 Food Made Good Restaurant of the Year, and policy wonk, Simon Billings of Forum for the Future to slice and dice one of the hottest issues on the plate of everyone working at the progressive end of the hospitality sector.

Could an organisation campaigning to cut back meat consumption, a chef who’s recently given up eating meat and said beef farmer agree on whether meat or veg menus have had their day and even whether there’s still a place for meat on menus, period!

Tom left the audience in no doubt about where he was coming from in his intro: “I’m Tom Hunt and I call myself an eco chef,” he said. “The most important piece of our business is putting people and planet ahead of profit. That’s who we are.”

Would he immediately lock horns with farmer Andrew? Apparently not, as Andrew said Trenchmore was small scale and worked on the principle of selling half carcasses to chefs and was therefore the antithesis of the mainstream commoditised food model all to often found across much of farming. People have to be reconnected with the food they buy, he continued.

While we remain detached from our food then it’s impossible to know what a sustainable diet truly is, said Tom. But Simon from Forum for The Future was unequivocal. With livestock emissions equivalent to those from transport, a diet based more on plants is essential, especially when you take into account the health implications too.

So, if it’s taken as a given that chefs should be putting more veg options on the menu, will customers buy into it?

Simon from Forum for the Future said the challenge was to make vegetables taste better than steak. But that’s not an easy task if, as Andrew says, vegetables are grown for profit not flavour.

Tom said he experiments at Poco with how they describe dishes and the prominence of meat in that menu description. He said there had been a mix of successes and failures but they would keep working to find a way of making vegetables not only the stars of the show but also the apple of his customers’ eye.

An example, as our own Andrew said of the progressives in the restaurant sector can leading as well as feeding.