The Global Ideas Forum addresses a complete spectrum of topics, and each year it gets the cogs turning. One speaker from this year’s Forum left an indelible mark on my mind: Philip Wollen. I know I’m not the only one; friends who also attended GIF15 have mentioned his name with a knowing glance on more than one occasion. Phil gave a rousing presentation about being a transformative leader, joining Nicholas Gruen, Adam Ferrier and Kon Karapanagiotidis in the #Reflect plenary. In contrast to Adam’s amusingly cheeky style, or the hypnotic rhythm that Kon employs, Phil is softly spoken and rather proper, the performance a perfect foil for his meaty message, given that his message is about animal welfare illustrated with shocking photos of cruelty. He spoke about the impact of considered food consumption on the global food supply: “The world can produce enough food for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed”. Despite his former fondness for foïe gras and fillet mignon, he made the switch to vegetarianism and urged us all to reconsider our meat-eating habits.
Smugly, vegetarians in the audience nodded vehemently. I confess… I sat proudly among them. I don’t eat red, white or ‘deep blue’ meat and I avoid dairy and egg most of the time.
I haven’t always been a vegetarian. In fact, I was raised on home kill. As a kid I ran in the paddocks with the spring lambs until December, then listened to the shotgun snap without flinching. I would sit at the dinner table and enquire into the name of the former pet we were consuming that evening. So sordid!
A few years ago, arriving home from months of heedless gallivanting around Europe, I decided to detox. I went off everything except organic produce and the flavour of the month, apple cider vinegar. It carried on far too long and I lost far too much weight, but boy did I feel healthy! Grains, legumes, nuts, oils and the odd sugar hit crept back on to my plate over time, but I never really got back into animal products. I don’t know why.
So Phil’s talk got me thinking… Why don’t I eat meat? The question has come up in my conversations with dead-set carnivores and virginal vegans alike, and several timely articles and events in the last month have contributed to my musings. Here are my attempts at an explanation:
- I don’t like the taste. Nope, this isn’t it. There’s no denying the deliciousness of pork. Nothing breaks the will of a vegetarian like bacon.
- I can’t stomach it. If it’s been too long without eating a certain food, your gut just cannot tolerate it. Hence, some longtime vegetarians might be physically sick if they swallow meat. This isn’t me. I could digest it just fine, if I wanted to.
- It’s cheaper and easier. Yes and no. I love that I can save time and money by keeping my diet animal free and full of quick salads. But vegan food is exxy and being the “fussy” one at a dinner party is never fun, nor is going hungry when the only suitable dish at your family Christmas is lettuce.
- It’s the healthful option. This has always been a huge motivation for me. A vegetarian diet is inherently healthy because we consume less four-legged fat and cholesterol and instead consume more fiber and more antioxidant-rich produce. I already enjoy having more energy and higher immunity, I’ll hopefully reduce my chance of the pesky cardiovascular disease that runs in my family, and research suggests that if I continue my vegetarian diet, I’ll live longer with less disability!
- It’s the ethical choice. In October the IARC declared the consumption of processed meats a high risk for cancer and suddenly people panicked because they had to quit bacon. I laughed at the absurdity. But I couldn’t help thinking that, while the headlines were ridiculously misleading, I kind of hoped that it might just deter somebody from eating an innocent piglet. You don’t need to watch Earthlings to know that the treatment of animals in factory farms and live stock trade is disgraceful and the practice of animal slaughter utterly barbaric. I look back to my childhood on the hobby farm where we ate animals that we raised to live happy lives and were then killed in such a way that the trauma and pain they suffered was minimized. Even considerate farming practice like that conflicts with what I consider humane, since the animals have no say in the matter.
- It’s better for the environment. The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all combined forms of transport. What’s more, A Loma Linda University study found that vegetarian diets create a third less emissions than omnivorous diets. I’ll admit that crop farming isn’t entirely guilt free and that giant monocultures and water consumption on huge plantations are also detrimental to the environment, but once again, livestock farming can share that guilt. In fact, meat production eats up more than 30% of the world’s grain production, even though it is so much more efficient for us consume the grain directly. Imagine how many people could be fed in regions that are already struggling with insufficient crop yields!
We should be concerned about climate change because of its impact on global health, among other things. Droughts, wild fires, intense storms, floods and landslides will all increase in frequency as the global temperate rises. Not only do weather-related natural disasters have direct impacts on human health and safety, there are knock-on effects too.
Floods and droughts are key causes of food insecurity. Food is the key to a healthy and productive life, yet there is a scary possibility of malnourished and sick populations in the future because some of today’s society overindulges.
Food insecurity in turn, could cause political instability and conflicts, and injury, disability and death that result from war are entirely avoidable.
What’s my best answer, then?
I became a vegetarian for my own personal health – to be clean and lean. But the more I think about it, the more I understand just how much of a beneficial impact this lifestyle has on all the world. I’m doing my part for animal welfare and reducing my carbon footprint by being a vegetarian and the flow-on effects are all positive.
I will never condemn meat-eaters for choosing to eat meat, but I do encourage them to have an open mind. I find myself up against a bit of opposition when it comes to the vegetarian diet discussion. An especially common omnivore defense is that I’m only one person and that my choices alone won’t make a difference.
Phil’s initiative Kindness Trust has the mantra “One man can make a difference and every man should try. Just because you can do little does not mean you can do nothing.” What a winning response.
We’re not talking about a radical switch to legally enforced vegetarianism (although it has been proposed). Every small change on an individual level has a huge effect on a global scale. If you care for your own health, if you care for animals and if you care about the future of humanity, maybe try Meat-Free Monday next week.
Emily Arbuckle, Community MAnager