Sausages, hamburger patties, lamb chops and T-bone steak. There is nothing like the traditional barbecue on Australia Day.
But like a piece of bone inconveniently lodged between our teeth, a small but growing segment of our society – vegans – question the ethical side of the Aussie BBQ tradition.
They ask: why is it that we continue to eat meat and animal products (such as milk and eggs), when we know (no matter how much we try not to know) how many of these products arrive on our table?
Veganism is a response to the ethical problems created by these industries, which treat animals as nothing more than raw material to be processed into food. The principles of veganism advocate the exclusion of “…flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animals’ milk, butter, and cheese” from our diet, and aim to “abolish man’s dependence on animals – and to create - a more reasonable and humane order of society”.
Despite the clear moral appeal to veganism, however, the number of vegans in Western societies remains low. Vegans constitute only 1-2% of Americans, 5% of Israelis, 2% of British and 1% of Australians. Why is this so?
In her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows (2011) Melanie Joy, a US psychologist and vegan activist, provides an answer to this question.
Joy claims that despite having an affection for animals, people consume meat because they have a mental disconnect between eating meat and killing animals; an ingrained belief that meat consumption is normal, natural and necessary; and cognitive distortions that perceive animals as lacking any individuality or personality.
You don’t have to go vegan to save the planet
So how can we break down these cognitive distortions and engage in more ethical consumption practices?
In her recent TED Talk, Joy suggests that the solution ultimately lies in normalising veganism.
We agree with this, and additionally suggest that partial solutions can help many people gradually reach this goal over time. Here are four practical strategies that people can adopt to become more ethical consumers in their journey towards veganism:
Reduce the volume of all foods we consume daily. Although this strategy is not about directly cutting meat and dairy intake, it offers a way we can indirectly reduce intake by simply consuming less food.
Ironically, some of us even consume extra food to fuel intense workout programs or exercise boot camps. Why not achieve similar health outcomes by simply having a lighter lunch or following a simpler exercise regime?
Choose ethical food. There has been a marked increase in the availability of “credence foods”. This includes plant-based, vegan options, but also animal-based products with higher welfare standards.
The strategy of choosing credence food decreases our demand from factory farms and moves us to a more ethical position.
For instance, we can select pastured eggs over battery or barn eggs, or organic, free-range meat products over cheaper, factory-farmed products. While credence products are more expensive, they become more affordable when we reduce animal products in our diets.
Become a vegetarian. Vegetarianism is essentially the midway point on the veganism journey – excluding meat consumption, but allowing dairy and eggs. This is a particularly good option for many people who still struggle to find worthy cheese substitutes.
Nevertheless, vegetarianism alone will not solve our environmental concerns, nor alleviate animal suffering.
Bring some vegan into your life. Some of us associate adopting veganism with a leap of faith, and need more confidence before committing fully to its doctrine. We can shift toward a vegan diet by weaving it partially into our lives – in other words, becoming “part-time vegans”.
For instance, we can choose one or two of our daily meals to be vegan and then eat whatever we want for the rest (aligning with Mark Bittman’s “vegan before 6pm” idea), or participate in the “veganuary” or “Meatless Monday” programs.
No matter which strategy we choose, the act of opting for a strategy is in itself a huge step forward. Why not start by throwing a veggie pattie on the barbie this Australia Day?