We’re a land of snags and steaks, a land of shrimps and barbies, but this may all be changing with more and more Australians turning to vegetarian diets each year. New research conducted by Roy Morgan has found that in the last four years, the number of Australians eating “all or mostly vegetarian diets” has jumped from 1.7 million to a whopping 2.1 million. Over 9.9 million Australian adults also admit to eating less red meat than before.
So why the shift from snags to zucchinis?
The nationwide trend can be attributed to many factors. As Australia’s cities maintain their reputation as some of the most notoriously expensive cities in the world, red meat is becoming increasingly unaffordable. Indeed, the cost of beef in Australia has risen by a staggering 12 percent and is only set to continue to rise. As an alternative, Australians are turning towards other cheaper protein sources such as chickpeas, lentils and tofu.
While our nations battles the bulge, many Australians are choosing to adopt a vegetarian diet for its many benefits to health or its associations with weight-loss. Plant-based diets are linked to lower risks of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease (Lindbloom 2009). Indeed, research has found that 63.4 percent of Australian adults are overweight or obese, whereas only 45.4 percent of vegetarians are classified as overweight or obese.
Despite the importance that meat has in our culture, Australians as a nation have been out of touch with the process that our meat goes through from paddock to plate. One could be easily forgiven for not thinking twice whilst picking up a tray of perfectly cut plastic wrapped meat at the supermarket. Looking so polished and pristine, it’s easy to believe that meat just ‘comes like that’. These perfect cuts of meat disconnect the consumer from the process entirely.
The industrial-scale of dairy and meat production not only impacts on the health of animals and humans, but it has devastating effects on our environment. Animal agriculture produces a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane emissions that are 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Indeed, the meat and dairy industry produces more greenhouse emissions than all of those produced by global transport. A 2016 study conducted by the Oxford Martin School revealed that in three decades’ time, emissions associated with food and agriculture production are predicted to account for approximately half of the world’s remaining ‘carbon budget’. This budget refers to the limited amount of carbon dioxide we can release into the atmosphere if we are to ensure that global warming remains below 2C. Researchers suggest that widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would result in a drastic 63% cut in global emissions.
As well as its contribution to climate change, meat and dairy production’s highly intensive use of land and water poses some complex environmental problems. Vegetarian author John Robbins calculated that to produce one pound of potatoes, it takes 60 pounds of water whereas a pound of beef requires around 9,000 litres of water. As the impacts of climate change worsen, direct competition for water between farming and cities is increasing with currently 70% of global water being used for farming.
Meat and dairy production is also a direct cause of deforestation, with Friends of the Earth estimating that each year around 6 million hectares of forest land – an area twice the size as Belgium- is cleared for farmland. Personally, it was the destruction to the environment that drove me to become a vegetarian two years ago.
However, Australians are becoming increasingly conscious of the ethical issues behind our nation’s meat and dairy production. There has been a proliferation of factory farms as a result of our obsession with achieving mass production at the lowest cost. Factory farms are notorious for their mistreatment of animals, with most keeping animals contained in tiny spaces, pumping them with grains and hormones to grow at scarily fast rates, before being slaughtered on massive production lines. According to ABC News, factory farming is responsible for a whopping 95 percent of the meat produced in Australia each year. The concerns of young people over this production method has meant that Generation Y are driving the growth of vegetarianism all over the world.
Vegans and vegetarians have been the butt of jokes for a long time, from memes shared across Facebook to sly jokes at family barbecues, eating less meat in a culture obsessed with meat can no doubt be difficult. Of course, there are those outspoken vegans who try to push their agenda onto you or make you feel guilty for eating meat but this is certainly not the majority and does not mean that vegans or vegetarians should be belittled or marginalised.
“It’s really not fair to paint an entire demographic with the actions of the extreme. Most of us are trying to do nothing more than reduce our environmental footprint and ethical impact of what lands on our plate, and it’s disappointing when people go out of their way to mock and belittle that.” Vinnie Batten, President of QUT’s vegan society.
Thankfully, the attitude in Australia toward vegan and vegetarian diets is changing, and at a rapid pace might I add. In fact, 2016 was dubbed the ‘year of the vegan’, and Australia is now home to the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world. Instagram accounts and cookbooks are exploding with vegan recipes and more and more cafes are introducing vegan-friendly options. In this video, well-loved Australian comedian and vegetarian Dave Hughes, released a parody of the classic Australia Day Lamb advertisements, where he challenged the tradition of eating meat on Australia Day and suggests ‘trying something a little different’ this year.
As the world wakes up to the widespread impacts of meat and dairy production, it’s becoming more and more difficult to take meat at face value. No longer can we simply ignore the processes behind the packaging, but instead we must recognise the widespread impacts on our own health, animals’ health and the environment. In order to create real, meaningful change, we must consider and encourage the alternatives, whether this is giving up meat one day per week or going completely vegan, every little bit helps.
Anomaly, J 2015, ‘What’s wrong with factory farming?’, Public Health Ethics, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 246-254.
Harvey, F 2016, ‘Eat less meat to avoid dangerous global warming, scientists say’, Guardian, <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/21/eat-less-meat-vegetarianism-dangerous-global-warming>
Kirby, M 2013, ‘Factory farming masks meat’s true costs’, ABC News, viewed 24 March, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-21/kirby-modern-meat/4770226>
Lindbloom, E 2009, ‘Long-term benefits of a vegetarian diet’, American Academy of General Practice, vol. 79, no. 7, pp. 541-2.
Roy Morgan Research 2016, ‘The slow but steady rise of vegetarianism in Australia’, Roy Morgan Research, viewed 24 March 2017, <http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/vegetarianisms-slow-but-steady-rise-in-australia-201608151105>
Vidal, J 2010, ’10 ways vegetarianism can help save the planet’, Guardian, <https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/18/vegetarianism-save-planet-environment>