Meat Free Week: Part of the bigger picture

Julia Stanyard 25 March 2015

What with the controversy surrounding Gardies, it is possible that the campaign of Meat Free Week (23rd – 29th March) has thus far passed you by. It is an Australian-born initiative (which seems paradoxical considering that this a country world-renowned for its barbecues) which works along similar lines to the somewhat more well-known “Meat Free Mondays” campaign which is widely promoted by Stella and Paul McCartney.

Both campaigns have a shared, simple aim: to encourage people to – at least for a short time – cut down their meat consumption.

This week more than ever, then, we should be thinking twice about the meat we eat. What are the ramifications of decreasing the amount of meat in our diets? What difference will it make? Is Paul McCartney barking up the wrong metaphorical tree? Big questions indeed, but ones which, to me at least, seem to have fairly simple answers.

The health kicks you can get from swapping veal for veg and bacon for beetroots are blindingly obvious. Anyone who has had the doctrine of “5-a-day” drummed into them from childhood can probably make the logical connection that replacing meat with more vegetables is generally ‘a good thing’.

The environmental concerns of meat production are also not to be underestimated: people across the UK my well sort their rubbish obediently into different coloured bins and feel smug about themselves, but if they promptly go and eat a massive steak then all their good work is swiftly undone. The livestock industry has been identified by the UN as one of the most significant contributors to climate change; producing appalling levels of greenhouse gas and leading to widespread rainforest and habitat destruction. One third of the world’s cereal harvest is fed to farm animals, instead of supporting the 800 million people currently suffering from malnutrition. Surely cutting down on the meat is a far better reason to feel smug?

Money, money, money. In the inimitable words of ABBA, it’s a rich man’s world, and a richer person is what you will be when your student loan is no longer funding a costly continual meat habit. This means that if you do choose to indulge your burger cravings from time to time – the doctrine of “flexitarianism” rather than stringent vegetarianism – you have more money available to choose ethically-sourced, free-range meat, thereby exerting consumer pressure on how meat is produced and promoting animal welfare. Neat, don’t you think?

But now, we reach the crux of the matter. As any die-hard carnivore will tell you, the delicious taste of meat is just too good to resist, overriding all the ethical concerns. To paraphrase the argument of my own brother ‘pretty much any vegetarian meal would just be better with bacon’. Rubbish – as I told him in no uncertain terms. There are cuisines from all over the world where vegetables have traditionally always been the main constituent, from South Indian cooking to many Mediterranean dishes. These provide countless ways of making delicious meals without meat, proving that this classic carnivore’s complaint is brought about by little more than a lack of culinary imagination.

So, seeing as we live in a country where thousands of people grow questionable facial hair in the name of a charitable cause, abandoning meat – for a week if not for longer – shouldn’t be such an arduous task.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Free Meat Week campaign, visit uk.meatfreeweek.org