Vegielicious: How to Engage with Your Food Guilt-Free


WORDS Belinda Bean

I made a choice – a lifestyle choice that is both simple and radical: A decision that stirs both admiration and fierce criticism, and that has lead to me both being dumped by a partner whilst spurring another’s intrigue enough to ask me out on a date. So what is this controversial lifestyle choice?

I have become a vegetarian.

Being a vegetarian means I’ve made a conscious decision to not eat the flesh of other sentient beings. Why? I’ve given a variety of explanations for my choice over the years, none of which either the questioning party or I have been satisfied with.

“I like animals” is my favourite cop out, when I can’t be bothered getting into a full-blown argument with someone who is in no way affected by my choice. Yes, it is true that I do like animals (they’re really tasty too), but that’s not the real reason I chose a life of lentils. Life and death are both part of the beautiful duality of the planet we live in, and a natural pecking order keeps our delicate ecosystem in balance. This is more to do with the essence of it – we’ve disrupted the ecosystem by removing ourselves from the process of putting the meat on our plates.

A few years ago, I was confused when my friend refused to peel prawns for a feast because it made her feel bad – but she happily consumed many of them at the dinner table and looked as though she felt pretty good about it. This inherent hypocrisy has become commonplace, with people preferring to be detached from the source of their food to ease their conscience. It is because of this prevailing attitude that many children around the world think that meat and milk are just food and drinks that come from the supermarket – end of story.

It scares me that we’re so detached from our food, a basic human right. We are often unaware of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of our food production, which gives space for deplorable practices such as inhumane treatment of animals, sub-standard working conditions for employees, the use of chemical additives, genetically modified organisms, and degradation and exploitation of the environment. Our current food supply systems will only exacerbate these problems:

[quote]“The growing push toward industrialization and globalization of the world’s agriculture and food supply imperils the future of humanity and the natural world.” (Manifesto on the Future of Food – International Commission of the Future of Food and Agriculture [ICFFA], 2003)[/quote]

Our detachment from the meat we eat has enabled “industrialized ‘factory farm’ and similar systems for beef, pork, chicken and other animal production, [that] are notorious for inhumane conditions, as well as tragic ecological and public health consequences.” (ICFFA, p6, 2003). With an increasingly globalised economy, large-scale production of animals for consumption also brings the added use of irradiation and anti-biotic medication that is associated with lower nutritional value and health risks to humans.

I do, however, encourage and celebrate small-scale farmers employing traditional, ethical and organic techniques. The reason I do not support them by buying and consuming their meat is to make a statement – to start the conversation with people who may or not be aware of our increasingly industrialised, globalised, unethical and unsustainable food supply. Maybe I should stop with the “I like animals” cop out and start engaging the real conversation about the white elephant in the food production room.

[Note: Always consult your doctor before embarking on a new food lifestyle]

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Belinda Bean is the Sustainability Officer of Macquarie University. Her role is about engagement, education and outreach. She coordinates initiatives that involve university staff, students and wider community in sustainability. Belinda is also a national ambassador for 1 Million Women – a campaign that empowers women to take action on climate change.

If you’re a student aware of sustainability issues and passionate about making a change, join the Student Sustainability Network (SSN). SSN is a network of Macquarie University students seeking to mobilise and engage our community in sustainability. Students in SSN receive full support from the Sustainability team, through capacity building, professional development, resource allocation and recognition.