Father Christmas: Welcome to another episode of Kitchen Kapers! We have an extra special show for you today, where we’ll be cooking up a festive Christmas feast with a difference. I’m joined by expert guests, Drs Michael Clark and Marco Springmann from the Nuffield Department of Population Health and the Oxford Martin School. They’re here to help me figure out what’s naughty and what’s nice when it comes to Christmas dinner. As always, we’ll be taking your calls throughout the show: from land lines, calls cost a penny in the old man’s hat, or if you have no penny, a ha’penny will do. And – spoiler alert – be ready for a Santa’s Favourite Things giveaway later in the show!
So, welcome, Michael, Marco. Can you tell us a little bit about your research?
Marco: Our work looks at the relationship between what we eat and its impact on the planet. The main takeaway is that many foods associated with improved health are also those with the lowest environmental impacts. And conversely, many foods known to increase risks to health are also bad for the environment.
Father Christmas: How fascinating! I see quite a lot of the world in my day job, and I’ve noticed that things have been deteriorating for years. My own front garden used to span hundreds of miles but has slowly been shrinking. And between us, I oftentimes peek in the icebox when I’m on a house call – come on, you know you would, too – and I have noticed that they contain a lot more meat these days. Is that part of the issue?
Michael: Definitely. Unprocessed and processed red meat is consistently associated with increases in disease risk, in particular of colorectal cancer, but also some other chronic diseases such as stroke and type-2 diabetes, and its production has serious environmental impacts.
Father Christmas: We’ll come back to that in a moment, but right now we have a caller on the line: Tom, calling in from the Golden Gobbler Farm. Well that sounds like a nice spot! What’s on your mind, Tom?
Tom: With all due respect to your guests, we feel that the dangers of eating turkey are entirely under-represented. Terrible business, turkey eating. Much worse than eating anything else. Much, much worse.
Father Christmas: Interesting…
Tom: Fish. Now there’s something you want to be eating. Lots and lots of fish. Nothing says Christmas like sushi.
Father Christmas: I see. And what does the holiday season have in store for you, Tom?
Tom: Is that some sort of joke?
Father Christmas: Uh, yes, well. Thanks for your call, Tom. So, professors. What about that?
Michael: The caller is partly correct: fish is a healthy food to eat, healthier than poultry, and both are preferable to red meat. The environmental effects of fisheries and poultry farming are not inconsequential, however. But again, red meat production and consumption are worse than either.
Father Christmas: So it sounds like my retro favourites – melon balls wrapped in prosciutto or a prawn cocktail – are out! What are we having for starters?
Marco: Well as your beard is totally on-trend Santa, why don't we go for something zeitgeisty? How about puy lentil salad, with fermented goji berries, on a bed of pan seared kale aside a Brussels sprout foam, all topped with dusting of chia seeds?
Father Christmas: Sounds great! My stomach's already starting to growl. We have another caller. Who do we have? It’s the Grinch, calling from Mt Crumpit, just outside of Whoville: Mr Grinch, are you there?
Grinch: Yes, thank you, Santa. I’ve gone to a great deal of trouble stealing Christmas from the Whos: I even took their Roast Beast. But if I understand your guests correctly, I might actually have done them a favour by doing so. If I truly want to stop Christmas, am I actually best off returning their Beast?
Father Christmas: Thanks for your call, Mr Grinch. (And for the record, my suit is trademarked, so if you do not cease and desist forthwith from impersonating me you’ll be hearing from Santa’s Jolly Legal Team, Donner & Blitzen & Partners. Ho ho ho™.). Michael, what do you have to say to the Grinch?
Michael: Yes, he has actually performed a good deed for the Whos, if instead of Beast they opt for plant-based alternatives for their Christmas dinner. And even for the Grinch himself, this can have a positive result in terms of his own health, as compassion is always a good thing (this isn't our area of expertise, but the lay literature suggests that this good deed will result in his heart growing three sizes).
Father Christmas: Well that’s terrific! So what sort of main dish should we serve? If we take Beast off the table, and turkey isn’t ideal, what are our options?
Marco: You know the food your mum has been telling you to eat more of for years? Fruit, vegetables? Those are precisely the foods that are good for you and good for the planet, so we advise focussing on them. In addition, many of these foods are distinctly associated with improved health, including whole grain cereals, legumes, nuts and vegetable oils high in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil. They also have minimal environmental impacts.
Father Christmas: Many of those feature in a Christmas dinner, anyway: sprouts with chestnuts, root veggies, red cabbage, cranberry. So maybe it's a matter of moving those ingredients centre stage. And speaking of 'centre stage', this sounds like a perfect time to talk about our big surprise, one of my Favourite Things…
Michael: We’ve brought nut roasts!
Father Christmas: Yes, everybody, you’ve heard right! Holiday nut roast! We have nut roasts for every member of today’s audience: YOU GET A NUT ROAST! YOU GET A NUT ROAST! YOU GET A NUT ROAST! EVERYBODY GETS A NUT ROAST!
[Studio audience screams hysterically]
Father Christmas: What a wonderful way to wrap up our show. Thank you so much, Michael, Marco. This has been so very informative. But before we go, we have time for one final caller… we have, let’s see, Earth, calling from, well, from everywhere. Hello, Earth, are you there?
Earth: Yes, Santa, I’m here. I’ve been following this research with interest, and if I understand correctly, a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and generate savings of US$1.5 trillion in health care and environmental remediation. I hope your viewers know that they’d really be doing me a favour to take some of this advice on board. Thank you for this programme.
Father Christmas: We appreciate those kind words, Earth, and we do our best. Before we go, how will you be spending the holiday this year?
Earth: I normally have my old friend, Sir David, around. After lunch we’ll binge-watch Blue Planet. Call me vain, but when Davey says “People must feel that the natural world is important and valuable and beautiful and wonderful and an amazement and a pleasure,” I go rather weak in the knees.
Father Christmas: Ah, that’s just lovely. We wish you the most joyful Christmas, Earth, and a very happy new year.
That’s all we have time for today, but please tune back in next week, when we’ll be joined by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, here to perform their special “Ice Road Trucker Remix” of “Old Town Road!”
A huge thank you to Michael Clark and Marco Springmann for their help preparing this story.
Written by Alison Brindle and Joseph Ripp.