Plate of the nation

Plate of the nation

Is the increasing incidence of veganism a healthy choice or a case of mind over matter? Joshua Gaske reports.

Walk into any suburban supermarket and you are met with shiny white floors, fluorescent lights, the hum of 90’s pop music, and a cold corner marking the meat section. There you find perfectly wrapped trays of rump steak and chicken breast lined up in neat rows with vibrant red blood starting to pool at the bottom of the packaging.

With the icy blast of the freezers sending a shiver down the spine of those walking past, this section feels more morgue than smorgasbord. The only reprieve is the sharp juxtaposition of a poster of a cow grazing in a paddock sitting above the sliced and diced beef.

In June, the ABC’s 7.30 program exposed the practice in Indonesia of dogs being slaughtered for their meat, and served to tourists. This provoked a huge backlash, especially on social media. The continued outrage led last week to the Balinese Governor, Made Mangku Pastika, calling for an end to the practice.

Amid a renewed debate about whether we should be killing animals for their meat, some questioned why we are so appalled by the idea of eating dogs yet are not similarly disgusted when it comes to cows, pigs, sheep and even kangaroos.

Twenty-first century practices mean gone are the days of people hunting and gathering their own food from the wild. Now people put their trust in corporations to provide them with food. This has left consumers disconnected from the realities of the processes that go into literally bringing their food from paddock to plate.

Jennifer Kelly, 26, a mum from western Sydney, is a supermarket shopper with a family to feed. Her basket is filled with cold meats for the week’s meals. This ritual was passed down from Ms Kelly’s mother, who would force-feed her family sausages with mashed potatoes and peas. While Ms Kelly was growing up her mother made it very clear to her that eating meat was good for her and that she would grow up big and strong.

“Considering that I have eaten this way all my life and people have been eating this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, I have never really stopped to think if by doing this we are hurting another creature,” said Ms Kelly.

“It is just so convenient these days to pop to the shops, pick up a few steaks and feed it to my family. There is no prep. It’s all pre-packaged and ready to go for me.”

But through the use of social media and the messages of street activist groups such as Thousand Eyes, Australians have started shifting their attitudes towards cruelty-free vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

Roy Morgan Research found that more and more Australians are adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, with figures showing that in 2016, 2.1 million people, or 11.2 per cent of the total population, say they live a meat free-diet.

Norman Morris, industry communications director at Roy Morgan, said in a press release: “Whether people are embracing a less meat-heavy diet for health, environmental or animal welfare reasons, the fact remains that this trend looks set to continue.”

Research by Euromonitor International indicates that Australia will become the third largest vegan market in the world by 2020, with 9.6 per cent growth, behind China (17.2 per cent) and the United Arab Emirates (10.6 per cent).

Even the word “vegan” itself is getting traction. Data released from Google Trends revealed that Australia was the number one country in the world for searches of the word “vegan” and other related topics.

And the recent Netflix release of action adventure film Okja, which tells the tale of a young girl’s fight for the freedom of a creature meant for human consumption, is reportedly turning even more young carnivores into vegans.

However, many people are still unconvinced. Michael Carlson, 56, from Sydney, has a large gold cross around his neck and slicked-back raven black hair. He is wearing a plain grey Ralph Lauren polo with denim shorts in the middle of winter, and just the slightest hint of a beer belly or what he likes to call his “pork belly”.

Go to his house on any weekend and you are sure to see a pig roasting on the spit in the backyard. A 30kg beast with two rods protruding from both ends while someone pours a juicy glaze all over it. “This week the pig came from winning first prize in a raffle at the local RSL,” he brags.

While sitting around chatting with family and friends, he nurses his two cattle dogs on his lap. Mr Carlson provides these dogs with constant pats, loving gazes and endless praise. He declares: “These two are not just pets; they are part of the family. I would hate to think of anything happening to them.”

When questioned on whether he is hypocritical for showing such love to his dogs while a dead pig is cooking in the middle of his backyard, he responds: “I don’t see the pig having feelings or as part of the family. It is there for me to eat. It’s like you would not have a pet apple, just the same way you won’t have a pet pig. They are food and that’s how they should stay.”

However, a 2015 research paper published in The International Journal of Comparative Psychology called “Thinking Pigs: A Comparative Review of Cognition, Emotion, and Personality in Sus domesticus“, has explained how pigs share a number of similar cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species, such as dogs and even humans.

Speaking with Greg McFarlane from Vegan Australia, he discussed the ideas around why people are able to separate the cruelty to animals that end up as meat on their plates with the animals that they keep as pets.

“Often people use the term ‘cognitive dissonance’, people don’t like to think they are involved in the cruelty towards animals, but only apply that to their cats and dogs,” Mr McFarlane said.

“They have been conditioned to eat animal products… it comes out in this area where they are upset about certain animals being exploited and not others. I think that people don’t know about the cruelty in animal agriculture.”

Mr McFarlane also attributes Australia’s farming reputation to people’s attitude to the meat industry.

“The whole tradition of animal farming is respected. The belief that if the animal industry would disappear it would have a negative effect on the economy and employment is a major contributor to the attitudes and practices people have to the consumption of these products,” he said.

“Young people are a lot more liable to think about what they are doing and think critically about what society is doing… there is a huge groundswell of young people learning about (veganism) and doing something about it.” – Joshua Gaske

Main picture from plasticchef1 flickr

Joshua Gaske

Joshua Gaske

Joshua is a massive news junkie. He has a keen interest in politics, current affairs, entertainment and media. Twitter: @JoshuaGaske

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