Humans have evolved to be omnivores, eating both plants and animals, and so we face a mind-boggling choice three times a day: what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Accredited Practising dietician Amanda Benham has been a vegan for 27 years and an APD for 18 years – specialising in vegan and vegetarian nutrition. “I believe a healthy diet for a human is a diet of plant foods,” Ms Benham says.
Community Communications Manager of Meat and Livestock Australia Samantha Jamieson says it’s up to individuals whether they prefer the intake of protein and other nutrients through one “convenient” product of meat or through a range of products. “Humans don’t need to eat meat; it’s a choice that we have,” she says.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend humans eat lean red meat three to four times a week as it contains a bundle of nutrients essential for good health including iron, zinc, omega-3s, vitamin B12 and protein. Ms Benham claims virtually all the nutrients humans need can be obtained from plant food.
For example, iron can be obtained from whole grains and cereals, green vegetables and legumes, and calcium from tofu, almonds and sesame seeds. She believes humans have been conditioned to eat meat as there is no evidence that proves humans need to eat meat and other animal products to be healthy.
“People are actually brainwashed, obviously if people can live to a ripe old age and grow properly as a vegan, how can anyone turn around and say meat is essential for health?” she says.
Ms Benham says a lot of nutritional information is coming straight from the food industry.
“If you read the fine print at the back it’s actually paid for by the meat industry or dairy industry – of course they’re promoting their products,” she says. “I believe it really is the truth versus the status quo, which is heavily dominated by a couple of industries that are trying to brainwash [people] into believing they need to eat animal products.”
Andy Lamey is a vegetarian and PhD student at UWA, writing his thesis on the moral status of animals. He believes food should be regarded as an ethical question and animals as individual sentient beings that have the capacity to experience suffering.
“I think very few people would say it would be okay to torture a dog for fun and if we agree with that common sense idea then it seems less than crazy to think that we can have ethical obligations to the kinds of animals that are raised for food, such as pigs or chickens.”
Gareth Simpson is the owner and cook at Hippo Creek, an African steakhouse with restaurants in Scarborough and Hillarys. “I’m trying to get [customers] to ask more questions, funnily enough,” he says. “I do think that WA needs to be more aware of where beef comes from, the different types of beef and what sort of beef you should be using for meat dishes.”
Meat Standards Australia is a beef, lamb and sheepmeat eating quality program that labels meats with a guaranteed grade and recommended cooking method.
Mr Simpson says its introduction basically ensures good control of livestock from the paddock to the plate. “If you’re going to stand up and say you want to serve some of the best steak in your restaurant, then there’s no point in being blasé about where it comes from or how it was produced,” he says.
Mr Lamey says the preference for the taste of meat over vegetarian food is not a good enough reason to consume meat. “If you weigh up the human interest versus the animal interest, particularly when you’re talking about factory farming and methods of slaughter than involve pain to the animal, the loss of the animal seems to outweigh the trivial gain for us,” he says.
Mr Lamey says factory farming sprang up in an era when the idea that people might have ethical obligations to farm animals was given zero weight. Factory farming is a practice commonly associated with raising livestock in confinement on large mass-production farms.
“Animals were treated as less than sentient beings and really just as units of production,” Mr Lamey says. “It was more profitable to design systems that put an emphasis on volume rather than things like moral concern or mercy.”
Ms Jamieson from the MLA says factory farming is something you hear about more in the US and Australia still associates with the “old traditional image of cattle farming with a family operating a farm.” “The majority of cattle and sheep here in Australia are raised in open,” she says.
“I think that everyone involved in farming has a genuine love for animals and are very concerned about the welfare of those animals,” Ms Jamieson says.
Mr Lamey says there is “absolutely no question” that factory farms exist in Australia. “Australia has industrialised agriculture just like any other Western country,” he says.
Livestock’s Long Shadow is a United Nations report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN in 2006. The report names the livestock sector as one of the most significant contributors to all of the Earth’s environmental problems, including an 18 per cent contribution towards greenhouse gas emissions.
Ms Jamieson says the report was criticised for not comparing “apples with apples.” She says 11 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the livestock section, which is significantly less than other industries.
She says only seven per cent of Australia is actually arable – land that is suitable for growing crops – and it would be hard to produce the same level of protein and vitamins by replacing livestock with vegetables.
by Laura Beckett