The British-English phrase meat and two veg denotes a dish consisting of (usually roast) meat served with two varieties of vegetable, especially when seen as typical of traditional or unimaginative British cooking.
Figuratively, this phrase denotes something simple, basic and unsophisticated, or something indicative of simple and unsophisticated tastes.
EARLY LITERAL USES OF THE PHRASE
These are, in chronological order, the earliest occurrences that I have found of the phrase meat and two veg used literally:
1-: From The Week in Paris. By an Occasional Correspondent, published in The Westminster Gazette (London, England) of Monday 8th December 1919—writing about the closure of the Leave Club, the correspondent describes its activities during the First World War:
Two hundred soldiers to be fed quickly, because they have to get their train back to the front. The meal is of the most British description, piping hot, meat and two veg., hot pudding. The drinks are tea or water.
2-: From this advertisement, published in the Acton Gazette and Express (Acton, Middlesex, England) of Friday 19th and Wednesday 24th May 1922:
Plenty of variety in food at “The Times” Restaurant. Horn-lane, Acton. English meat and two veg., 1s.
The advertisement for the same restaurant, published in the Acton Gazette and Express (Acton, Middlesex, England) of Friday 7th September 1923, was as follows:
Any time is kissing time. But think of the “Times” at dinner time. It will do you more good to have a dinner off English meat and two veg., 1s.—“Times” Restaurant. Horn-lane, Acton.
3-: From this advertisement, published in the Torquay Times and South Devon Advertiser (Torquay, Devon, England) of Friday 4th July and Friday 22nd August 1930:
PENDRAGON HOTEL & CAFE
OPEN FROM 7.30 a.m. TILL 11 p.m. (SUNDAYS INCLUDED)
HOT LUNCHEONS 1/6 MEAT AND TWO VEG. CHOICE OF SWEETS.
FISH SUPPERS 1/-. Open till 11 p.m.
Parties Catered for.
BED AND BREAKFAST
4-: From My Tame Lion . . London, by the Northern-Irish journalist and novelist John Heygate (1903-1976), published in the Daily Herald (London, England) of Wednesday 10th June 1931:
The law of repetition ordains that Londoners shall go on seeing the same friends, eat in the same restaurants, inhabit the same postal district, and know no more of London as she really is than I did when I lived in the country.
Space and time in the Metropolis are so important that they dwarf our lives to aimless cogwheels.
Liberty of thought and action is borne away in the roar of the London lion.
Waiters must bring on and on the meat and two veg. in the hope that one day they themselves may run a restaurant.
5-: From the dietary advice that was given in The Western Gazette (Yeovil, Somerset, England) of Friday 16th March 1934 and in The Arbroath Guide (Arbroath, Angus, Scotland) of Saturday 31st March 1934:
If your lunch each day consists of the usual “meat and two veg,” try a change of vegetables. Grated raw carrot, for instance, in place of potatoes one day, and boiled onions another day. Green vegetables of all kinds are good, and the water drained off should be drunk as soup, instead of thrown away; it contains valuable mineral salts.
6-: From The Yorkshire Evening Post (Leeds, Yorkshire, England) of Wednesday 27th November 1935:
Meat and (?) Veg.
It is surprising to learn that at this season of the year it is possible to get 16 different fresh vegetables, all home grown. Let the gardener who grows things for the pot make a list of his products. If he has ten sorts of vegetables in the suburban patch or allotment he will probably regard it as a considerable achievement in planned variety. If we grow nothing, the list of things consumed is likely to show a marked contraction, for the meat and two veg. tradition moves monotonously in a dreadfully limited area. So let us hail the Wine and Food Society as something more than an epicurean enterprise, as a pioneer and benefactor in health and economics, when, within a month of Christmas, it undertakes to order and procure and consume a luncheon at which 16 different English-grown vegetables are served.
EARLY FIGURATIVE USES OF THE PHRASE
The earliest figurative use of meat and two veg—in the above-defined sense—that I have found is from the column written, under the pseudonym of Cassandra, by the English journalist William Neil Connor (1909-1967), published in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Tuesday 16th January 1951:
The great—and the famous—are often destined to die with mundane and foolish words upon their lips or stupid thoughts meandering across their minds.
The great William Pitt * on his deathbed was first attributed with the resounding farewell: “Oh my country! How I love my country!”
This was rightly thought to be a very handsome line in goodbyes and everybody was quite prepared to let it go at that until a stickler for detail begged to observe that what the great statesman had really said was: “Oh my country! How I leave my country!”
The mourners probably thought that Mr. Sharp-Ears was a bore, but they agreed to substitute “leave” for “love.”
This emendation had just been satisfactorily settled when Mr. Really-Down-to-Earth blurted out the true last words spoken by William Pitt. They have the genuine meat-and-two-veg. sound that all good reporters recognise as the real thud of authenticity:
“I think,” said the great man, “that I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies.”
* This probably refers to the British statesman William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806).
However, the phrase meat and two veg denotes choice food in Juno thinks our railway trucks are first class, published in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Saturday 17th December 1949—Gilbert Ellam was a “circus man who [was] escorting Juno from Barnsley, Yorks, to her Christmas holiday stable at Mr. Harry Cody’s farm near Towcester”:
Gilbert Ellam, 24, was beginning to feel a bit fed up with Juno, his elephant girl friend, last night.
She had her digs in a railway truck on Towcester, Northants, sidings. It was comfortable. There were several changes of bedding—and though bran and oats don’t appeal to Gilbert it’s meat and two veg to Juno.
Likewise, in his column, published in the Daily Mirror (London, England) of Thursday 14th November 1963, Rex North used meat and two veg to liken the French actress Brigitte Bardot (born 1934) to a “tasty dish”:
Brigitte Bardot, who spearheaded a successful campaign to cut out cruelty in French slaughterhouses, has now been asked to assist market gardeners. They want B B to help them get rid of surplus cauliflowers and lettuces. Meat and two veg . . . Bardot has always been this sort of tasty dish.