Replace at least one meat meal per week with a vegetarian option. Land used for beans and vegetables produces 10 times as much protein as land used for raising beef.
Meat is the sleeping giant of a sustainable lifestyle. The Australian National Dietary Guidelines (published by the Federal Government's National Health and Medical Research Council) recommends one to one-and-a-half serves of meat, fish, poultry or meat alternatives each day. A serve constitutes 65-100g of cooked meat. Therefore a person consuming at the highest edge of the recommend range (i.e. 100g of meat 1.5 times a day) would consume 54.75kg of meat, fish, and poultry or meat alternatives per annum.
However, the average Australian consumes 123.8kg meat, fish, poultry per annum (ABS 1997-98) despite the highest recommended amounts being less than half of this.
If we adopted the recommendations of the Australian National Dietary Guidelines and halved our meat consumption we would save money and improve our health and the environment.
An average Australian household spends approximately $44.60 per week on meat, fish, and poultry (ABS 6403, 2010) or $2,318 per annum (prices vary by location and time). So by halving our household meat consumption we should save over $1000 per annum (Data source: ABS - 6540.0 - Microdata: Household Expenditure Survey and Survey of Income and Housing, Basic and Expanded CURF, Australia, 2009-10).
The environmental impact of halving your meat consumption is harder to calculate, however in 2005 the University of NSW and CSIRO conducted a triple bottom line analysis of 135 sectors of the Australian economy titled "Balancing Act" from which it is possible to calculate the environmental impact derived from a dollar spent in any of the industry sectors analysed. Using the 'meat products' sector the environmental benefits of reducing an Average Australian Household's meat consumption by half (to the recommended levels) are as follows:
Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions - 2,354 kg CO2
Reduction in water use - 70,145 litres
Reduction in land disturbance - 18,606 m2 or 1.86 hectares
These figures suggest that current meat consumption accounts for more a large portion of our ecological footprint. So eat well and help us move to a more sustainable and healthy diet.
How to do it now!
Making the shift from carnivore to herbivore can be a challenge. However, for those keen enough to try, there are local groups eager to assist your move with recipes, advice and support. You might even find you enjoy a more diverse and healthy diet!
The Vegan Society (NSW)
The Vegetarian and Vegan Society (VegSA) Inc
Some healthy vegetarian recipe sites include:
Learn how to replace meat in your cooking. An easy first step is to replace the meat you use in a few of your regular meals with a meat alternative. Many meat alternative products use soy-based ingredients as a meat replacement. Many are listed on the Vegetarian Network Victoria web site.
Why is this action important?
Vegetable proteins, an alternative to meat, can be produced for a tenth of the land and water cost of meat. In Australia, the sharp hooves of cattle and sheep contribute to the loss or degradation of our soil, water and native habitats. Health experts also warn that Australians generally eat too much meat, so reducing our intake would be sensible for our environment, our health – and our hip pocket!
Our choice to consume meat proteins as opposed to vegetable proteins comes at a huge environmental premium. If we removed the average beef component of one person's meat diet we would save water equivalent to the total consumption of 6.5 average households. It's mind-blowing, really.
The type of meat we eat – primarily sourced from cows and sheep - also has huge impacts for our land. These non-native, hard-hoofed, grazing animals cause significant damage to fragile Australian soils and require extensive land clearing for feeding, causing further damage to the land.
A recent report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” (PDF) from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations concluded that global livestock production contributes 18 per cent of human greenhouse gas emissions. This figure is expected to rise as more people try to adopt a meat rich western diet.
By reducing the amount of meat in your diet you reduce the chance of developing many common diseases and health conditions including heart disease, hypertension, many cancers, obesity, stroke, osteoporosis, kidney stones, diabetes, hypoglycaemia, kidney disease, peptic ulcers, gallstones, asthma, diverticulosis, constipation and macular degeneration (deterioration of the retina). In contrast, plants contain no cholesterol and are high in fibre.