"A generation back, chicken was definitely a special meal. For most of Australia's history it was something to be cherished," says food writer Richard Cornish. "Now, we can stuff it down our faces at $4 a kilo. If meat is cheap, there's a reason, and it's not a good one."
This – the idea that we’ve become too reliant on meat – is the message behind Cornish’s book My Year Without Meat. Eating too much of it, he argues, comes at a cost to the environment, the animals, the industry, and our own health.
In order to re-evaluate his own relationship with meat, Cornish (a self-confessed carnivore) decided to go vegetarian for a year. We spoke to him about his experience.
How did this journey start?
I knew I had a problem with meat when I found myself eating a slow-cooked lamb shoulder off the bonnet of my ute on the side of the road. When kids in a passing school bus stared down at me in disbelief, I knew something had to be done.
What was the biggest realisation during your year off?
Almost all food production that involves animals, including dairy, creates conditions for the animals that are counterintuitive to natural husbandry and that most people, if they were exposed to modern farming, would find unacceptable.
How has this experience changed you?
It changed the way I see the world. I learned that humans are hard wired to detect the sensation of yumminess (umami). I learned just how important technique is in making vegetables taste delicious. Being in a vegetarian’s shoes for a year made me see just how negative the conversation is about meat-free diets.
Main benefits of cutting down meat consumption?
Going without meat for a year and more changed my body – I now no longer suffer from hayfever, I lost weight, had lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
Did you have to become more aware of nutrition (eg protein intake) because you’d cut down meat?
Ooh yes. You have to understand where your protein and iron are coming from. The process makes you incredibly aware of nutrition in general
Any practical advice for people thinking about cutting down their meat consumption?
See a dietician. Read about nutrition. Speak to people who have undergone the journey already. Consider purchasing a well written, amusing and thought provoking book on the subject. Such as My Year Without Meat.
Do you now consider yourself a flexitarian?
I could never consider myself anything that sounded as ugly as ‘flexitarian’. I eat well. I eat with the seasons. I eat a little ethical meat. There is nothing in cheap, crap meat made from unhappy animals except for the supermarkets.