Have you ever had a 'Meat Free Week'?

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If you like to set yourself challenges (think triathlons, juice cleanses, charity bike rides, the 40 hour famine etc), or simply trying new foods and educating yourself in a fun way, then MEAT FREE WEEK will be perfect for you. I love the concept. Meat Free Week is a national campaign aimed at raising awareness of how much meat Australians eat and the impact this has on our health, both individually and as a nation.  Participants sign up for the challenge of giving up meat for seven days and raise money via sponsorship. The money they raise is donated to their choice of Bowel Cancer Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation or Voiceless, the animal protection institute.  The website hosts a great range of delicious recipes and a star studded team of ambassadors. Check it out here and join in the fun!

Dedicating yourself to a diet change for a week pushes you out of your comfort zone and gets you to source new recipes and spend some time focusing on what you are eating.

Meat Free Week happens in March, every year. In 2014, Meat Free Week is from the 24th – 30th March.

Meet free week

The inspiring brains behind the concept, Lainie and Melissa shared some of their personal journey below.

 lainie&melissa

Firstly, could you tell us a little about yourselves? 

We're long term friends, having met through our respective roles in magazine publishing. Lainie is based in Sydney and Melissa in the Byron shire.

When and why did you become vegetarians? 

Melissa: I’ve been vegetarian for over a decade (and a semi vegetarian on and off prior to that). I made the connection that animals feel pain and suffering, and realised that none go willingly to their death. I also thought that as I wouldn’t eat a dog or cat, it made no sense to eat other animals simply because I’d been conditioned to do so. More recently I’ve made an effort to reduce all animal products, in particular limiting dairy in my diet. Animal welfare is the primary reason for this.
Lainie: After watching the ABC’s A Bloody Business, I started removing meat from my diet. Initially it was red meat, but when I became aware of the issues associated with other animals, I became a committed vegetarian. Like Melissa, I made the connection between what I was eating and the origin. It wasn’t just “meat”, but rather an animal that once was alive.

How did Meat Free Week come to be? 

We were talking about the injustice of intensive “factory” farming and how many of our friends were not aware of the practice. We decided to take action and explored several ideas on how we could best instigate positive change. The idea that resonated was Meat Free Week. We were awarded $15,000 as part of the 2012 Voiceless Grants program which enabled us to establish the inaugural Meat Free Week in 2013. For 2014, we have again been fortunate enough to have the support of Voiceless, the animal protection institute. In addition, we have also partnered with two other charities – Bowel Cancer Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

What is your vision for Meet Free Week?

Meat Free Week seeks to engage people who may never have considered their food choices before. We aim to get people thinking and talking about meat consumption and production and the subsequent impact on their health, the environment and animal welfare. With more knowledge, we hope the natural progression will be that participants choose to reduce their meat consumption. For some this may mean adopting a vegetarian/vegan diet, for others it may mean eating less and buying the highest welfare they can afford.
Our longer term goal is to take Meat Free Week to an international audience.

What do you believe the main issues with meat production in Australia are?

 Growth in intensive “factory” farming. In the last 25 years our consumption of pork has doubled and chicken has tripled. This demand now means that over 90% of all pig and chicken meat in Australia is intensively "factory" farmed. We do not have the data for ducks, turkeys and rabbits, but understand that the majority of these animals raised for meat are intensively farmed. Factory farming is considered the number one cause of animal cruelty in the world today and in Australia, causes the most suffering to the largest number of animals – more than half a billion every year.
Lack of laws protecting farm animals. Animals raised for meat are subjected to many painful procedures without anaesthetic, including having their teeth pulled out and their tails and beaks sliced off. Animal sentience is beyond any scientific doubt. Yet the corporate nature of intensive farming means we raise animals for food without consideration for their capacity to feel pain, boredom and suffering. The conditions associated with intensive “factory” farming of pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and rabbits needs to be addressed - Pigs in sow stalls, the use of farrowing crates, high density chicken farming where chickens each have less space than an A4 size piece of paper , water deprivation in duck farming etc.
Increasing use of feedlots for cattle. While the majority of cattle in Australia are extensively farmed and grass feed, the use of Feedlots in Australia is increasing. Feedlots are used to “fatten” cows up before slaughter. Typically in feedlots, cattle are fed energy-dense grains as 95% of their diet. According to the Australian Lot Feeders Association, approximately 40% of Australia’s total beef supply, 80% of beef sold in major domestic supermarkets and the majority of production growth in the beef industry over the last 10 years has been due to the expanding feedlots sector. While this may not be a huge problem today, it may well become an issue in the future as we utilise more grain to finish cattle. There are also a number of welfare issues associated with high density feedlots.
Distance travelled to abattoirs – the size of Australia means that animals are transported long-distance before being slaughtered. This includes the stress of being rounded up, limited food and water, goaded through stock yards and the transport itself.
Antibiotic use. While Australia is considered to have one of the safest food supplies in the world, this doesn’t encompass the imported meat and seafood we are eating. When it comes to meat, 70 per cent of all small goods (think ham, bacon, salami etc) sold in Australia is made with imported pork and 72% of the seafood Australians eat is imported – from countries that do not adhere to the same strict guidelines. Antibiotic use in animal husbandry is widespread in the countries we are importing meat and seafood from. This is one of the factors thought to be increasing antibiotic resistance and the prevalence of superbugs.

What do you believe are three effective ways for people to affect change for the better?

  • If you choose to eat meat, take a more active role in the food choices you’re making and the origin. Eat less and buy the highest welfare you can afford.
  •  If you’re a meat eater, eliminate processed meat from your diet –research clearly shows the link between processed meat and disease.
  • Participate in Meat Free Week, get informed and help spread the message – eating too much meat is bad for your health, the environment and animals. Give it up for a week and raise money for a good cause while you’re at it.