Dining Dilemmas: Why does meat-free cause such a fuss?

I was 16 years old when I stumbled upon Chipotle’s The Scarecrow ad. Before you continue, I’d urge you to click the link and press play. In my opinion, it’s essential viewing.

In just 3 minutes, the video brought me to tears. Weeping through the final seconds, I took a silent vow to leave my meat-eating past behind. I might not be able to stop the industry as a whole, but I could control what ended up on my plate. And to me, that felt like a step in the right direction.

Over the years, I’ve dipped in and out of my ‘meat-free’ mantra. Today, my meals are mostly vegetarian, with a serving of salmon or fish once every few days. And when abroad, I adopt an ‘everything in moderation’ approach. How could I say no to pork katsu ramen in Tokyo, right?

I continue to shy away from labelling my eating habits, purely due to the stigma and stereotyping these titles seem to attract. Terms like ‘pescatarian’ or, worse, ‘flexitarian’ feel restrictive and contrived, birthed from our social desire to categorise others into neat little boxes to be ticked on census forms and online dating sites.

When the subject of food arises, I’m still perplexed as to why ditching meat continues to cause such a stir among my friends and peers. Are we still frightened of difference, like children in the school yard picking on the kid with glasses? Or are we simply threatened by the idea of change?

Meat-free is steadily on the rise

It appears I’m not alone in my dietary shift. The latest findings from Roy Morgan Research report vegetarian Aussies have risen in number from 1.7 million people in 2012 (9.7% of the population) to nearly 2.1 million in 2016 (11.2%).

And, if the number of new veggie-centric eateries popping up across Sydney is anything to go by, this is a trend continuing to pick up momentum.

And plant-based eating blossoms in popularity

Imagine digging into a slice of pizza without gooey mozzarella, or a bowl of carbonara sans lashing of cream and pancetta. Well, according to Euromonitor International, Australia is the third fasting growing vegan market in the world (proceeding the United Arab Emirates and China).

We’re lapping up alternative milks like almond and soy (an industry now worth $158.3 million) and stocking up on cacao protein bars by the armful (with Australia’s vegan packaged food market set to reach $215 million in value by 2020).

The idea of cutting out all animal products seems a tad tough to stomach for me, but I have huge respect for anyone who can make it work. Unfortunately my love affair with parmesan and salted caramel gelato will always prevail.

Yet, there’s a lotta misconceptions floating around

‘How do you get enough protein in your diet?’

‘I’ve heard somewhere that soy is bad for you.’

‘Don’t you get sick of just eating salad?’

Sound familiar? I understand the skepticism and appreciate the curiosity, but wonder why many of us are still blindly following the belief of ‘meat and three veg’ is best. A simple Google search reveals a whole host of resources to help proactive home cooks re-imagine their weekly menu (minus the steak).

My diet isn’t perfect (far from it), but I argue no ones is. Which is fine, great even. We’re all trying, testing, experimenting to see what works (and tastes damn good).

Discussion is productive. Arguing, critiquing and dismissing, is not. We’re all figuring it out and deciding to step outside the norm should be met with encouragement.

Who knows, you may even want to give it a try too.