Football matches tend to evoke images of half-time meat pies and burgers, but that old-school reputation is slowly changing.
Professional footballers – from Lionel Messi to Hector Bellerin – are increasingly cutting down the amount of meat and animal products in their diet. It’s all in a bid to stay healthy and on the pitch for as long as possible, and it could be having a trickle-down effect to the fans.
This doesn’t mean the whole Premier League has gone vegan, but it’s raising awareness around stepping-stones that can help both your health and the environment.
Plant-based cook Alfie Steiner told PA Media that small “eco-conscious decisions” can help people “feel a bit better”.
Steiner added: “A great start is choosing veggie dishes every once in a while – you don’t need to go vegan, you don’t need to go veggie – it’s giving it a try and seeing how it goes.
“Championing vegetables and whole plant foods as opposed to meat all the time, because the consumption of meat and the way it’s produced a lot of the time can adversely affect the environment and cause deforestation, all this sort of stuff. It’s really important that we’re conscious of what we’re eating, how it affects our bodies and minds, as well as the planet we live on.”
And luckily, vegetables have become a lot more appealing than they used to be.
“I remember my parents used to say to me, eat your veg… Back in those days, vegetables were not something you really wanted to have,” added chef Levi Roots.
But the benefits are clear, he said: “You run longer, you’re fitter, you’re stronger when you eat vegetables.”
Roots and Steiner are helping launch the Green Football Weekend (February 2-5), which encourages football fans to go for the veggie option in a bid to do good for the climate. According to the campaign, if UK football fans swapped to having one veggie meal a day, we could save the equivalent of removing 5.5 million cars from the road every year.
It’s accompanied by the Green Football Weekend Veggie Cookbook, full of recipes from sport-loving chefs – like Ainsley Harriot and Michel Roux Jr – as well as contributions from footballers like Raheem Sterling.
Steiner – who has over three million followers on Instagram – said he stopped eating meat four or five years ago as a New Year’s resolution.
“It just stuck, and I found that I’ve become a better chef in the kitchen. I started posting my stuff online, and noticed that it’s relating to a lot of people,” he added.
“I don’t say, ‘This is vegan’ – I don’t even mention that it’s plant-based. It’s more like, this is the food I cook, hopefully it looks quite nice – and oh yeah, it happens to be plant-based.”
One of the most common criticisms of a plant-based diet is that you won’t then get enough protein or iron.
Steiner challenges that stereotype: “As long as you’re eating a balanced, healthy, colourful diet with all your food groups in there, you’re not actually missing out on anything. I feel lighter in myself, a bit healthier – mentally as well.”
Football can be hugely influential in encouraging people to make better choices for the planet. Roots – a football fan who even used to play with Bob Marley back in the Seventies – said: “I was inspired by my own team, Arsenal, who’s been doing this ‘No More Red’ [campaign] against knife and gun crime.
“[I’ve seen] how much the fans are using their voices to raise awareness amongst young people – and I thought this will be a great thing to do, to use food to help kids think about their carbon footprint a little bit.”
Raheem Sterling’s cauliflower, potato and spinach curry recipe
2tbsp olive oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1tsp ground ginger
1tbsp medium curry powder
227g chopped tomatoes
1 cauliflower cut into 5cm florets
1 large potato cut into cubes
½ medium lemon zest
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
90g spinach chopped
10g coriander chopped
1. Heat the oil in deep-sided frying pan over a medium heat.
2. Add the onion and garlic, cooking for 10 minutes over a medium heat until soft.
3. Add the ginger, turmeric and curry powder. Cook for one minute until the spices become darker and fragrant.
4. Stir in the tomatoes and then add the cauliflower, potato and lemon zest.
5. Cover the pan and leave to cook for 30 minutes, adding a little water as necessary, although this curry should be fairly dry.
6. Take the curry off the heat and season to taste with a little salt and pepper. (Be aware that many curry powders already contain salt.)
7. Stir through the spinach until it wilts, then add the coriander.
8. Divide the curry evenly on two plates and serve with wholemeal chapatti.
Green Football Weekend is on February 2-5. Head to greenfootballweekend.com to find out more and score green goals for your club.