The article begins promisingly, with:
WHEN trainee book editor Jane Winning first stopped eating meat eight years ago, she was motivated by a concern for animals and the way they died. Today it is a way of life for Winning, a keen cook who lives in Melbourne's inner north and shops for fresh produce regularly at Footscray and Preston markets.
More recently, she has become aware of the toll that meat consumption takes on the environment. She says that after being a vegetarian for a couple of years, she discovered the work of Australian ethicist Peter Singer, who wrote the influential book Animal Liberation and later co-wrote The Ethics of What We Eat.
Winning typifies a growing awareness of how our food choices have a global impact. Coupled with the health benefits of reducing meat consumption, it is changing perceptions of vegetarian cuisine and who eats it. The mung-bean-munching whiff of hippiedom has gone; today's vegetarians match pinot gris with terrine of baby heritage tomatoes and sage and goat's cheese mousse. And they satisfy their consciences to boot.
For those who have made the change or are moving towards it, the sophisticated vegetarian palate is well sated. Take Jacques Reymond's restaurant, for example, where you might sit down to a zucchini flower spiced with Japanese sancho pepper and cooked in lighter-than-air tempura batter, enhanced by the contrasting textures and flavours of cauliflower and horseradish dressing and sweet, slightly acidic beetroot glaze. Or perhaps tender white asparagus paired with green pea and mint puree and citrus emulsion.Hungry?
My goodness lordy lordy me, yes. Following comments from Vue du Monde echo the commitments of some of Melbourne's best dining rooms to non-meat cooking.
So how did it end up with our hero being KOd? Unfortunately Fisher appears to have wandered astray and taken the environmental route to the detriment of any meaningful discussion of why else people may choose to avoid meat. Like previous articles in The Age, this one completely fails to interrogate the assumption (or even recognise its existence) about the validity of eating meat in the first place. This is compounded by the linking of otherwise valid environmental concerns to the 'happy meat' argument:
Book editor Winning agrees. She says she knows several people who had been vegetarian for environmental reasons but now eat kangaroo meat and free-range organic chicken because "the farming of these animals doesn't have nearly as negative an effect on the environment as the farming of cattle does".
CARMEN Bateson, part-time food co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth cafe in Collingwood, eats meat occasionally, but it must be wild, organic or biodynamic.
I am always naively shocked by things like this. I know that many people's prime reason for being veg*n is environmental. For many animal or health issues come second, and I'm cool with that. But to feel that 'happy meat' so ameliorates all those ethical concerns that it's ok to chow down on kangaroos whose joeys may have been clubbed to death in the pouch, or on cows who may have led exactly the same existence as the ones who ended up in Big Macs except for the lack of chemicals in their feed, astonishes me. Happy meat is not ethical. It may be environmentally nicer, but the fact remains it doesn't guarantee any humanity in the life or death of creature killed, it still requires the death of living being, and I think that if you care enough about the environment to want to eat flesh that when alive hadn't consumed chemical feed, you should probably care a bit about the animal too. Eating happy meat means that you don't. At all. So just call yourself a chemical-free eater, not an 'ethical meat eater'.
I also found that the article presented vegetarianism like I imagine it was sometime in the early 1980s - tricky, unusual and at odds with the general population (oops, that's veganism!). Comments like these ones don't really do much to embed vegetarianism in the normal operaiton of society:
Winton cites gastro-pubs as being the worst offenders for offering the vegetarian little beyond a bowl of chips.Winton again:
"Unfortunately some vegetarian restaurants give vegetarian food a bad name by serving bland food with no texture," Winton says. "I wouldn't expect my friends, who all eat meat, to go to a vegetarian restaurant - even a good one - so I go to a lot of non-vegetarian restaurants and wish their menus were more balanced."In 17 years of vegetarianism across three continents I never, ever had to eat just a bowl of chips (and again ... that's veganism!). Sure, many pubs have little to offer, and many restaurants appear not to have let the 1980s with their veggie dishes, but just chips? Surely not. More to the point, though, is that these comments are not exactly welcoming or encouraging. A lot of would-be veggies are apprehensive about how they would manage their new choices in environments where they have previously relied on, say, a parma. Hearing that there's a lot of bad food out there (as though every meat dish necessarily tastes like manna mixed with ambrosia) and that friends shouldn't be expected to visit vegetarian restaurants - even good ones! - could be pretty disheartening.
Some sensible comments about health, such as this one by Dave Hughes:
Hughes says his motivations for abandoning meat were health and the environment. "I read that red meat can be linked to bowel problems. I haven't studied all the science, of course,but it made sense to me. Some of my family members had issues with bowel cancer ... once I get something in my head I just go with it."
were great. But some others made me gnash my teeth in grrrargh frustration:
"I'm no purist though," says Gowing. "If I feel like I need to eat some meat, I do."
In my year 8 Commerce class Mrs Eng taught us the difference between a need and a want. Guess which is which. Just admit you want it because you want it.
Nonetheless, the article presented a number of positive comments, although I note that most were made by people who have been involved in the vegetarian world for some time, or who really consider the beauty of cooking:
Paul Mathis, who opened Soulmama in St Kilda in 2002, has seen big changes in the business, especially in the diners at his dedicated vegetarian restaurant. "We get big, brutish men coming in now; we didn't have that six years ago," he says.Mathis believes environmental concerns have sparked the shift. "Reasons to eat less meat are becoming clearer to more and more people through the general media..."
This is the other thing that Beh Kim Un said, and I think it deserves italics:
Beh Kim Un, chef and co-owner of Carlton's Shakahari, attributes the restaurant's success over more than three decades (it is the only vegetarian restaurant consistently included in The Age Good Food Guide) to its light-hearted approach to vegetarianism and food that balances vegetarian protein and texture in a mainstream way.
"Today 80 per cent of our customers are non-vegetarian; they come to Shakahari to supplement their meat diets," he says. This includes more men and people with environmental concerns.Un brings produce from his organic farm outside Kyneton to the Shakahari kitchen. "If you have a good apple or beans you don't have to do much, and you don't crave anything else when you eat nutritious food," he says.
"The food touches people's psyche and they don't know why it is so good."
I might suggest that people who choose not to eat meat do know why, but that the universality of eating food that is as good for you as it is simply good, is a powerful thing.
So, let's get over the happy meat thing. It's okeydokey to be a veg*n whose prime motivator is the environment or health rather than the animals. But this doesn't mean that happy meat is cool. Or that vegetrianism is hard. Or that you should get all pretendy about.