Meat Free Week aims to highlight the benefits of going meat free and the pressure placed on our food supply, farming, agricultural industries and the environment due to our populations high demand for meat, including chicken, beef, pork, lamb and fish.
In 2011, 91% of Australia's 29 million cattle were used for beef, while the number of chickens used for meat increased by almost 1 million over the 5 years from 2005 - 2010. (1) Alarmingly, despite the increase in the amount of livestock, farms remain small and as such farming practices have increasingly become more 'intensive' to meet the market demand. (1) 'Intensive' farming practices are often coined "Factory Farming," to reflect the focus given to product output as opposed to animal welfare, environmental care and sustainability.
is very real, with the government producing a National Food Plan to
direct policy around these issues. (2)
Unfortunately this document has received much criticism as a
short-sighted, 'industry' focused approach to combating these issues. In
responses to this, the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA)
produced a counter document, the People's Food Plan, which aims to
create a food system with greater focus on equity, sustainability and
resilience with greater attention to a 'localised' farming industry. (3)
(On a side note, this is a cause worth petitioning as the policies which result will affect all of us and what ends up on the supermarket shelves, unlike other petitions surrounding issues such as the Heart Foundations view of margarine which serves to change very little! The preference for margarine is also supported by WHO, the DAA and Nutrition Australia, amongst other leading bodies. If you are interested in my view on Margarine and butter you can view it here)
Similarly, reducing our dependence on wheat and choosing a wider variety of grains and legumes promotes biodiversity within our agricultural system and environmental sustainability. (2) Buying locally and purchasing foods that are in season also help ensure produce of high nutritional quality. Choosing organic and free range where possible is also environmentally beneficial and a good option if it is within your budget.
Although the expense of organic foods is out of reach for many, increasing the number of meat free meals consumed can actually help your shopping budget go further. Legumes, beans and pulses are nutrition powerhouses which replace the protein usually obtained from meat, as well as being ridiculously cheap and filling. Nuts and seeds are also a must on a meat free menu as they are packed with heart friendly fats, vitamins, minerals and protein. They are also delicious, giving great flavour and texture to vegetarian dishes. Try flaxseed (just as good as Chia seeds but much cheaper!), sesame seeds, pietas, or sunflower seeds.
From a health perspective we can see the benefits of a well balanced "meat free" diet with studies showing vegetarians have greater life expectancies and have lower rates of all major diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. (4, 5, 6) This effect of a vegetarian diet can in part be attributed greater intakes of fruits, vegetables and legumes, as well as a reduced intake of animal derived saturated fats (but this is debate we wont re-spark for now... ). (4, 5, 6) Vegetarians also report 'healthier' lifestyles in general (lower smoking, alcohol and drug use as well as more physically active), which serves well to remind us that our health is holistic and we should work towards balance, moderation and enjoyment.
To help you on your way here is my 'Meat Free Week' Dinner Menu:
Monday: Mexican Bean Pizza (make a double quantity of the bean mix to keep in the fridge for Enchiladas on Wednesday)
Wednesday: Mixed Bean Enchiladas
Friday: Cauliflower Chickpea Curry with Quinoa (Sanitarium Recipe)
Sunday: Roast Veggie Lasagne (use 1 quantity of tomato pasta sauce & 1 quantity of basic white source in place of recipe versions)
Thursday:Frittata (Sanitarium Recipe. add any veggies you like)
Saturday: Potato & Spinach Gnocchi with walnuts
1. AIHW 2012. Australia's food and nutrition 2012. Cat. no. PHE 163. Canberra: AIHW. http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=10737422319
6. http://english.pravda.ru/society/stories/19-03-2012/120821-vegetarians-0/ - sorry I don't usually like secondary data but I couldn't access the original.