Globally, more people are eating less meat. From environment to obesity, the reasons are many and varied for putting more plants on plates. We look into the benefits of vegetarianism and talk to two cookbook authors about their personal journey to a meat-free life.
In June this year a UN report stated that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger and the worst impacts of climate change. The report from the United Nations Environment Programme’s international panel of sustainable resource management said our dairy- and meat-rich diet is unsustainable in light of the predicted population surge of 9.1 billion people by 2050. The report urged people to observe one meat-free day per week to curb carbon emissions.
HOW POPULAR IS VEGETARIANISM?
The 2010 Newspoll survey ‘A Pound of Flesh’ found that while five per cent of people claimed to be vegetarian, only two per cent actually ate a vegetarian diet. Globally though, vegetarian food has been growing in popularity. In the UK, chef Yottam Ottolenghi caused a sensation with his weekly vegetarian column ‘The New Vegetarian’ for The Guardian newspaper, while his vegetarian cookbooks Ottolenghi Cookbook and Plenty became surprise bestsellers. High-end vegetarian eateries are rising fast in the UK, with an estimated 50 per cent increase since 2007, according to Alex Bourke, founder of the Vegetarian Guides to meat-free eating in Britain.
In the US, vegetarianism is showing growth, too. In a 2008 poll by the Vegetarian Resource Group, three per cent of adults said they never eat meat, up from 2.3 per cent in 2006. Figures show ‘semitarianism’ or ‘flexitarianism’ is also on the rise globally – referring to people who aren’t strictly vegetarian but adopt meat-free days. Global research firm Mintel categorises 23 per cent of the population as ‘meat-reducers’, people attempting to eat less meat.
REASONS FOR REJECTING MEAT
While traditionally the ethical issues surrounding the treatment and eating of animals was one of the main reasons people became vegetarian, more recently, the environmental impact of consuming meat has become a primary argument for encouraging a vegetarian diet. According to the UN report, agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of global freshwater consumption, 38 per cent of land use and 19 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions than the burning of fossil fuels by transport. While there has been some concern as to whether a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients usually consumed from meat, the Dietitians Association of Australia says a well-balanced vegetarian diet can be very healthy as it is lower in saturated fat and higher in dietary fibre. A 2001 study from Florida published in Vegetarian Nutrition showed that vegetarians have a lower body mass index than non-vegetarians. New research suggests the vegetarian diet may even improve mood. A 2010 study from the Department of Nutrition at Arizona State University compared a group of vegetarians with meat-eaters and found that vegetarians scored lower on depression tests and had better mood profiles.
National Vegetarian Week runs September 28-October 4. vegetarianweek.com.au.