Meat-free month: Could you go veg?

By Sophie Barclay.

Photo: Supplied.
Photo: Supplied.

Food: October 1st saw the beginning of animal advocacy group SAFE's Go Veg Challenge where bacon and beef are traded for felafel and frittata and a month of meat-free eating.

The month, sandwiched between World Vegetarian Day on the 1st October and World Vegan Day on the 1st November, encourages first-time veggies to try their hand at delicious, vegetarian fare with the support of weekly emails offering tips and tricks, meal plans, recipes and plenty of support for nervous carnivore. You'll even be rewarded with a certificate at the end of the month for your effort.

The vegetarian diet offers an array of benefits, says SAFE spokesperson Amanda Sorrenson.

And, according to a 2010 report by the United Nations Environment Programme, in a world heading for a population of 9.1 billion by 2050, that will require global food production to increase by 70 per cent, a meat and dairy-laden diet is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

Eat your way to health
Being vegetarian is beneficial for your health. It lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of cancers, heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

This year, a report published by Journal of the American Medical Association found that vegetarian diets were associated with reduced death rates, especially for men.

The report also highlighted that vegetarian diets reduce the risk for several chronic diseases, including hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus and ischemic heart disease (IHD).

From forest to farm
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the livestock sector is the single largest anthropogenic land user, occupying an incredible 26 per cent of the Earth's surface. Crop production, much of which is diverted to feed livestock, accounts for about a third of arable land. The FAO also states that more and more land is being deforested for the expansion of grazing land; in Latin America 70 per cent of the Amazon is used as pasture. Grazed land suffers from compaction and erosion and is generally degraded.

Would you like carbon emissions with that?
Livestock are also responsible for 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions - which is greater than the emissions coming from the transport sector. This is made up of nine per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, 37 per cent of anthropogenic methane and 65 per cent of nitrous oxide.

In New Zealand, however, 47 per cent of our total greenhouse gas emissions come from the agricultural sector.

Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, has also put the case forward for a meat-free diet to solve our climate crisis. He promotes a minimum of one meat-free day per week.

'In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,' Pachauri told The Guardian. 'Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there.'

Think of the pigs!
Pigs are intelligent animals. One study in journal Animal Behaviour showed how pigs can learn to use reflections in mirrors to find food. They can dream, remember where food is stored, recognise their own names, learn, play video games with joysticks (no jokes), learn tricks and lead socially complex lives.

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) have recognised pigs' intelligence, stating that 'environmental enrichment' should be provided for farmed pigs including:
• the provision of "toys" such as a length of hanging chain, rock, tyre, buoy or "food ball"
• positive human contact (such as pats, rubs and talking)
• the use of a radio in growing sheds to accustom pigs to a range of noises and voices.

According to SAFE figures, 37 per cent of farmers were still using sow crates in 2010. Sow crates house pigs when they are pregnant in metal crates measuring 60 cm by 2 metres, not much larger than the pig's body. These pigs can't turn around and barely have any room to move at all. NAWAC have stated that sow stalls limit sows' ability to express natural behaviours.

In 2010, following public outcry prompted by SAFE's work with comedian Mike King and his exposé of factory farming (http://tvnz.co.nz/sunday-news/comic-tackles-pig-welfare-part-1-video-2742362), sow crates were outlawed under the Animal Welfare Act. Crates will be phased out by December 2015.

However, their cruel counterpart the farrowing crate is still commonly used, says SAFE spokesperson Eliot Pryor.

Pigs are placed in farrowing crates after giving birth so that they don't roll over and kill their piglets. However, SAFE say that 35 per cent of farmers do not use farrowing crates and that they do not allow animals to express instinctive, natural behaviours, such as building a nest for piglets. The Animal Welfare Act requires that animals must be given the opportunity to display normal patterns of behavior. These farrowing crates have yet to be outlawed.

Conscious celebrities embrace vegetarianism
There is also an increasing body of conscious celebrities choosing to chuck out the chicken, including Whale Rider's Cliff Curtis and The Almighty Johnson's Michelle Langstone who recently took home the title of the hottest vegetarian celebs.

The pair triumphed over other ethical actors, musicians, including X-Factor finalist Benny Tipene and singer Gin Wigmore, sports people, journalists, like Samantha Hayes, and politicians that opt for the meat-free option.

Curtis says that being a vegetarian is a moral decision for him. "Although I loved the taste of meat I don't miss it and I feel better about not killing to eat. It makes me more conscious of how I am living my life and more responsible about my health in general. Ultimately, I feel more peaceful and harmonious than I did in the past."

Michelle Langstone has been vegetarian for twenty years and is a passionate animal rights advocate. Her journey down the path of meat-free living began after she was stuck behind a cattle truck for five hours. "After seeing the distress of the animals, I decided that was it for me and I didn't want to contribute harm because of my actions."

"I am proud to be named amongst New Zealand's high-profile vegetarians. It's good for animals and it benefits us too. I have never felt as healthy and happy as I have since becoming a vegetarian," she said.

Visit www.goveg.org.nz to take the pledge.

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