Somehow, the effects of austerity always seem to hit people hardest in their grocery baskets. Lots of people are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet and for many, a joint of meat has become a distant memory or an occasional treat rather than a daily staple.
The good news is there are alternative ways of getting a good, nutritious and healthily balanced diet from sources other than meat.
Let me assure you all at the outset that I am not preaching vegetarianism and never would
From personal choice, I don't eat dead mammals but I am actually opposed to veganism or extreme vegetarianism, though that's another story. I do eat a lot of legumes and pulses and find them a great way to make tasty and filling dishes, which some of you might like to try.
Those of you who have read any of my books or articles will know I am passionate about the Auvergne region of Central France, where I now live, and the quality of its produce. One of our local crops is lentils. Not the bright orange variety you probably see most of in UK shops and supermarkets, but green Puy lentils
They are available to buy in the UK, either dried or tinned and ready to use, and a 390g tin of prepared green lentils costs just 60p from one of the big 5. I use them anywhere I would use meat, especially minced meat, if I ate it, so particularly for dishes like shepherd's pie, chilli con carne or pasta sauce.
Green lentils are very tasty and highly nutritious. Rich in fibre, of course, and can help with cholesterol levels, but also a good source of vitamins A and C. In certain continental countries, lower rates of cardiovascular disease may be linked to a diet rich in pulses such as lentils.
I'll be having mine tonight as a pasta sauce. Simply sweat some onion and garlic in oil with whatever seasoning you prefer (I use a lot of turmeric, for its anti-inflammatory properties), add whatever you fancy and your store cupboard can offer (mushrooms, tomatoes etc) and, for speed, throw in some lentils from a tin, just drained and rinsed.
Simmer the lot till hot and serve over whatever pasta you prefer, or potatoes, or rice, or quinoa, or whatever you choose. Season to taste, grate a little bit of cheese on the top and you have a really tasty and highly nutritious meal.
The cost? Pennies! Your tin of lentils is just 60p, remember – you wouldn't get even the cheapest cut of meat worth eating for that sort of money. Another great favourite of mine is the humble chickpea. A 210g tinof those, all ready to use, costs the vast sum of 45p in a certain supermarket, all ready to use, once drained.
I like them in a curry - again I just sweat onion and garlic in oil and seasoning then add the chickpeas and let them simmer till nice and hot.
Again they're a good source of low-fat fibre and very versatile for eating hot or cold
They're great in salads and, of course for tasty, traditional hummus, simply whiz them in a processor with olive oil, lemon juice and tahini to make a delicious healthy starter or even main meal, fabulous on flatbreads like pitta bread.
Now I know there is one question you are all dying to ask but are far too polite to. Do all these vegetarian dishes make you fart? Well, anything fibrous has that slight risk – we all know about Brussels sprouts! - but honestly, not that much and the health benefits and savings on your food bills are certainly worth that risk.
So next time your hand is hovering over some cheap mince that's not very good and certainly not ethically farmed, why not head over to the tins and give green Puy lentils or chickpeas a go instead?
I'm just sitting down to mine. Bon appetit!