Jason Goodwin: Giving up meat for Lent? I’m dreaming already and it’s only week three

Our columnist decided that Twitter or chocolate wouldn't count - but is he now regretting his choice?

We’ve given up meat for Lent this year. You have to choose something, for tradition’s sake, and it was either that or drink, so it wasn’t a tough decision. Giving up chocolate or Twitter doesn’t count.

My grandmother, long gone, always claimed it was vulgar to discuss food at the table and bad manners to talk about money. Her injunction on money talk I can understand. We’d almost all like to have more of it, which is hardly news. I’m not so sure why she deprecated talk about food. Perhaps it was a hangover from the days when people had servants?

Cooks were always on a short fuse, handing in their notice at the slightest hint of criticism and perceiving slights where they didn’t exist, so loose talk at table must have presented a risk. It’s all the more mysterious in that she was a good cook herself, who passed on to my stepmother, newly arrived from France, the secret of the British holy trinity: how to make custard, crumble and a proper Sunday dinner.

Dripping roasts are, however, a thing of the past for us. Naturally, we follow the Lenten precepts laid down by the experts, medieval monks who thought fish wasn’t quite meat. Now that the storms have abated, we’re eating a lot of bream and flatfish such as brill and dab.

‘We fended off the winter with plenty of slow-braised brisket, short ribs stewed and, of course, skirt, sliced thin and quickly fried’

Recommended videos for you

A period of sustained fish eating is useful training, too. I’m certainly getting better at the bones: come Easter, I’ll be like one of those French waiters who parks up against your table and can whip out a perfect, whole fillet in seconds from a plate on the trolley.

We were pretty hearty over the winter, admittedly, feasting on Dorset longhorn reared by our neighbour, but it was damp then and chilly and dark. We fended off the season with plenty of slow-braised brisket, short ribs stewed and, of course, skirt, sliced thin and quickly fried, which is the delicious bavette you get with steak frites anywhere in France.

Cook a skirt too long and it turns into heavy tweed. Four minutes on each side, tops, and let it rest a few more. Have it with sliced potatoes cooked with dripping, in the oven, roasted carrots dusted with cumin, a green salad and perhaps a little sauce made with mushrooms and a touch of garlic and cream. There will be English mustard on the table — but there, I’m dreaming already and it’s only week three.

‘One of the boys, I’m sure, slips a meat pie into the office microwave for lunch’

I’m afraid that there has been a certain amount of surreptitious backsliding from pure pescatarianism. I know for a fact that Kate, feeling a little tired in town, crammed in a whole packet of sliced beef from Waitrose in the car as she drove home to a humble celery-based potage. One of the boys, I’m sure, slips a meat pie into the office microwave for lunch. The other, who’s gone to America, could claim the dispensation accorded to Muslims in Ramadan who are excused the fast if they’re travelling.

At least we have enough to eat. Food banks helping people in desperate straits can be small volunteer outfits that open once a week or permanent affairs run by national charities, but how many exist, exactly, nobody really knew. My little sister Sabine — this is how her mind works — started to count them.

From first volunteering at a food bank in north London, she’s become an acknowledged expert on hunger and food poverty. She sat down with laptop and telephone and rang councils, churches and local newspapers all over the country.

In time, she produced the statistics. Policies can be built on them. Food and money? Granny would have approved.