Best of 2009: Sexy vegetarianism could save the world
January 06, 2010
First published November 2009
Earlier this year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced their list of the sexiest vegetarians for 2009. Portia de Rossi, Russell Brand, Christie Brinkley and Orlando Jones were among those nominated, and are all undeniably sexy.
So why is it that when most people think of vegetarians, it conjures up images of shapeless hemp pants, brown turtleneck jumpers and long unkempt toenails? Why is vegetarianism still so unfashionable?
We live in a time when most of us want to be (or at least want to appear to be) environmentally conscious. Forget to take your reusable shopping bags to the supermarket, and you risk being spat upon by your fellow shoppers. Install some solar panels and buy a Toyota Prius, and most people expect to find their Australian of the Year nomination in the post soon. When people buy large, flashy and preferably expensive environmentally friendly products it is seen as a wonderful act of benevolence, a gift to the world.
Tell people that you are vegetarian (probably the single most potent thing you can personally do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption) and you are somehow seen as antagonistic and self-centred.
You'd think vegetarians had made a deeply selfish decision purely to sabotage dinner parties. 'Well what do you eat?' the host will ask, exasperated. When surely we should be getting a pat on the back, we vegetarians are more likely to encounter defensiveness, endless 'conversations' demanding we justify our beliefs, and sometimes even palpable hostility.
In answer to your questions: no, I don't think we have a duty to our ancestors to eat meat; no, I don't hanker for a nice juicy steak; no, carrots don't have feelings too. I can't help thinking many of you protest too much.
But who or what is to blame for vegetarianism's image problem?
Partly we have to blame the celebrity chef, food porn, gourmet-at-home culture. High-end restaurants, prime time TV and over-priced celebrity chef cookbooks celebrate meat as the central ingredient in any successful meal. Vegetables are mere bit players.
And it seems the more icky the meat, the better. Nothing says sophistication like a bowl of goose intestines. And if veal and suckling pig aren't young and succulent enough for you, how about duck embryo still in the egg?
It seems that food preparation is no longer about sustenance or even tastiness. Instead it has become a challenge — and the most challenging of ingredients is surely meat. If you get the wrong cut, fail to slow roast it for the requisite nine hours or, God forbid, forget the thyme sprig garnish, all you'll have is a plate of inedible gristle. Get it right and you might have your husband tipping his head back, scratching his chin thoughtfully and delivering you a cheeky smirk of approval, Matt Preston-style.
Vegetables, on the other hand, are consistent, easy to cook and inexpensive. Where's the fun in that?
But perhaps vegetarianism has failed to win people over because of the widely-held assumption that it requires so much personal sacrifice. If the kind of sacrifices I have made include lowering my risk of getting cancer and reducing my grocery bill, then I'll take the chickpeas please.
As a bonus, I am saving thousands of animals from a life and death of suffering, and helping the health of the planet. In a 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation paper, it was reported that farming for meat generates 18 per cent of the Earth's greenhouse gas emissions, whereas all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and boats of the world combined account for a mere 13 per cent. How many Priuses will you need to buy to counter that one?
Then there is a prevailing view that vegetarians are somehow morally superior. It is an uncomfortable admission for someone who has always been apologetic about their eating habits, but maybe the truth is that we actually are morally superior. What else can you call it when carnivores put their own laziness ('But it's so easy to just cook a piece of meat and three veg') and selfishness ('But I really like the taste of meat') above the needs of the planet and all its inhabitants — animal and human.
So perhaps us vegetarians are to blame for our own image problem. Sexiness shouldn't be the issue — after all, the meat industry has Sam Kekovich spruiking its wares while we have Sadie Frost. Maybe vegetarians have been too polite, too careful not to offend carnivores. In the current climate change climate, maybe we should be wearing our ethical and environmental credentials loudly and proudly to shame those who still eat meat?
Still, I can't help thinking that it wouldn't hurt to throw out those turtleneck jumpers and Jesus sandals if we really want to win people over to our cause.
Sarah McKenzie is a freelance writer and vegetarian.
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06 Jan 2010
Sarah, non-vegetarians are omnivores, not carnivores.
The problem with vegetarians at dinner parties is not vegetarianism as such, but the rest of their baggage. Too many people who formerly had a normal omnivore eating pattern suddenly become, or say they have become, lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant or any two or three of half a dozen or more eating problems, when they turn vegetarian.
These people are impossible to feed. Their problems may be real, perhaps caused by an unbalanced diet, may be imagined because they no longer feel as well as they did under their previous regimen, or maybe just a fad. I don’t care. We take such people to a restaurant of their choice.
I am sure that cultures where vegetarianism is the norm don’t have these problems. They eat sustaining meatless meals by choosing appropriate alternatives. They know what they are doing.
It is easy to cater for people who specifically won’t eat red meat/white meat/manufactured meat/fish/shellfish. No problem. But middle class latter-day “Vegetarians” are a pain. I prefer that when they come to my house they bring their own meals. Everybody seems happier that way – but few other guests want to share their food.
06 Jan 2010
So you think you are sexy? I could agree with that but must be tough to get 6 billion people agreed. Better reduce to 20 million here in Australia. And recently two issues emerged - to cull the kangaroos and camels - over population explosion.
You wrote, "saving thousands of animals from a life and death of suffering, and helping the health of the planet" Are you sure?
Feeding 20 million people with edible vegetable, fruits and shoots can be tougher than making 6 billion people agree whether vegetarians are sexy. Perhaps, the brain development of the human babies needs meat products is a myth. Instead of grass and vegetation people don't eat, growing edible plants will need farming with sustainable practices. Instead of overeating animal products, the way wild animals eat in order to meet their needs of proteins, minerals, vitamins, etc, people will have to overeat the plant products. And I can't see how that will make healthier earth.
Perhaps, Australia should no longer produce Olympians but only concentrate on producing (not very skinny) models. And Australian vegetarian army will defend Australia from the invasion of carnivorous aggressors who would certainly say “you’re just VEGETABLE!”!
For me animal carcass is no different from vegetable. We all will die one day and become something else. Food is just food.
When they are on the shelves, they are food.
But what happening behind the shelves is a separate issue to be dealt separately.
May you be sexier like 'vegetable'!
08 Jan 2010
Eating meat is not the single most potent thing one can personally avoid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. The thing to avoid is motherhood.
08 Jan 2010
So, David Player has more time for the 'easy to cater for' dinner party guests who simply choose to eliminate a type of meat from their diet, than he does for the 'middle class latter-day vegetarians' who actually have an ethical reason behind their decision for not eating meat? It seems a touch hypocritical to label the true vegetarians as simply middle class modernists, whilst forming ones own judgements based on who is easier to entertain at a dinner party!
08 Jan 2010
Anthropogenic sources of methane account for around 72 per cent of total global production. In Australia, methane is mainly produced through digestion in ruminant livestock. This accounted for ~2.974Mt of methane produced in Australia in 2005. Add to that the methane generated by prescribed burns (for pasture management) and livestock manure; and the total methane attributable to livestock farming in Australia during 2005 was ~3.1Mt (58% of total anthropogenic methane emissions).
During the first 20 years after its release, methane is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing atmospheric temperatures to rise. This is stated by the IPCC in its 4th Assessment Report [2007: Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing, Working Group I Report, Chapter 2, p.212 – Figure 2.14]
Apply the factor of 72 to Australia's 2005 Greenhouse Gas Inventory, and you learn that methane from livestock will causes more global warming than our total electricity generation for the same year: 3.1Mt methane x 72 = 223.2Mt equivalent carbon dioxide; versus 194.3Mt from electricity.
Total carbon dioxide from Australian transport in 2005 (road, rail, sea and air) amounted to 80.4 Mt. Livestock will cause ~3 times the global warming, over 20 years.
Meat-eating must cease.
08 Jan 2010
We all know that! That's not the result of meat eating. Since human became hungry, they have eaten meat.
You certainly know the reason for the need of raising huge amount of livestock.
Actually, vegetarianism is not a modern ideology either. The argument against eating meat can be traced back to India 2500+ years ago. And you can find the conversations of the people of those days. Even hermits of those days, some of them were like Christian monks ( puritans), ate meat left behind by animals.
You have to figure out the reasons why people eat too much meat nowadays and other causes of global warming.
Humans produce methane. Animals including cattle produce methane whether they are to be eaten or not. As long as we are around, we make methane. If you want us reduce methane production, then you have to find another way.
09 Jan 2010
Well done Sarah. Vegetarians need to stop apologising for their decision to cease consuming meat.
Beans can sufficiently nourish a person through her entire life (not that I suggest we ahould all do this), yet we seem to think that a healthy, balanced diet consists of daily meat consumption. This is a luxury of the affluent, who attempt to justify their eating habits by criticising vegetarians as 'middle class' and 'impossible to feed'. These attitudes are lazy and conformist. Much food eaten by peasants throughout the world contains no meat. Instances of bowell cancer, one of the most prevalent and deadly cancers in the West, is increasing. It is linked with the consuption of red meat. I don't understand why many meat eaters so straunchly uphold their eating choices when their decision to eat meat is environmentally irrational and such a significant part of consumer culture.
13 Jan 2010
Contrary to what David Fisher has to say, Motherhood will be what actually saves the world. As is common knowledge now the entire Western World is undergoing a population implosion which will carry far more consequences for the future of humanity than climate change. And for those who are health concious enough to embrace vegetarianism, you may also want know that another way to avoid cancer risks is to avoid the contraceptive pill. Yes that is correct. The pill was very quietly listed as a class one carcinogen (a substance known to cauce cancer) by the World Health Organisation some years ago.
21 Jan 2010
Awesome article Sarah. I wish more people would realise the benefits of the vegetarian/vegan diet. BTW, the 2006 UN figure is low ... newest update is animal factory farming causes over 50% of all global warming gases.
11 Feb 2010
Excellent article, Sarah! And it was hoot to read all the comments made by meat-eaters. One such meat-eater, actually claims that reports from the IPCC and UN are untrue! He refutes it with: "We all know that! That's not the result of meat eating."!
So not only are we vegetarians morally superior, as it turns out we seem to be intellectually superior too: when we make our arguments, we actually have some numbers and research to back them up.