It’s on again – the week when meat is off (the menu that is). Meat Free Week 2015 takes place from Monday 23rd March to Sunday 29th March and while the thought of it might strike terror into the hearts of red blooded men, sausage sizzlers, pork belly buffs, burger addicts and butchers alike, it’s for a very good cause.
Last year I took part for the first time and found that the necessity to contrive tasty meals excluding meat or fish bred the realisation that I could quite happily do this on an ongoing basis. While I’m not a total vegetarian, these days I do abstain from red meat and find it no hardship at all. Interestingly, I’ve discovered that after some time without it, it’s totally lost its appeal. Far from suffering cravings for roast lamb or fillet steak with garlic (my old favourites), I’ve become quite indifferent to such delights. But Meat Free Week isn’t about any long term renunciations; it’s only for a week. While seven days (or even one) might be a long time in politics, with the plethora of delicious vegetarian food options around, I’m sure this particular week will pass in a flash.
The challenge I’ve taken on is to give up eating all meat , including seafood, for seven days and in the process raise funds via sponsorship. Of the total amount I raise, 70% of it will be donated to Voiceless, the animal protection institute. The remainder is used to support the Meat Free Week movement.
Founded by Lainie Bracher and Melissa Hobbs, Meat Free Week is an Australian campaign (now extended to the UK as well) that raises awareness of our alarmingly high levels of meat consumption and its impact on human health, the environment and animal welfare.
Meat Free Week doesn’t intend to convert the population to vegetarianism. Its focus is to make us think about the amount of meat we produce and consume and consider ways we can eat less and buy better. Currently nine in 10 Australians do not eat enough vegetables, yet when it comes to meat, we eat more than double the recommended dietary guidelines (and almost three times the world average). We need to start thinking seriously about meat consumption, understanding more about the global impacts involved and becoming aware of alternative options.
While Meat Free Week might seem like a raw deal for farmers and butchers, it isn’t. Farmers who raise their animals in accordance with ethical and sustainable principles (and there are many hundreds of them) are recognised and supported. Those who peddle cheap meat, the factory farmers and anyone in the industry that cares more about profit than principle stand to lose but deservedly so. Farmers of course also produce grains, fruits and vegetables and they will benefit from a week-long focus on their products. As for butchers, there’s bound to be plenty of customers who don’t know or care about Meat Free Week and will continue their normal purchasing behaviour so it’s unlikely they’ll suffer much. It can’t hurt in any case for customers to become more discriminating and informed about what they’re getting in return for their hard-earned cash. For more information about the kinds of questions you could be asking at the butcher’s counter, see the Meat Free Week Guide.
In terms of the environment, there’s no argument that we can’t go on consuming meat at current levels. It’s simply not sustainable. We will run out of resources to support an ever expanding livestock industry, and one which, let’s face it, is only growing to meet the inordinate demands of carnivorously fixated consumers. A recent book called “Meat, The Future: How Cutting Meat Consumption Can Feed Billions More” investigates such issues as the impact of animal production on resource use, waste generation and greenhouse gas production. It has to be required reading for anyone concerned about these global problems who is prepared to take action at a personal level to address them. Whatever else you might take away from Meat Free Week, either as participant, sponsor, donor, or just interested observer, you’d have to agree the option of taking meat off centre stage at the dinner table makes a lot of sense.
by Anne Green