According to 2010 Newspoll research sponsored by Voiceless, only 1% of Australians call themselves vegans, with vegetarians accounting for another 5%, but the reasons why people consider veganism reveal some very interesting things about our attitudes towards food.
Overall, 56% of Australians say there are one or more things that would encourage them to become vegan. These are:
• evidence that many farming practices cause stress and pain for millions of animals every year (36%)
• evidence they can be healthy on a vegan diet (35%)
• evidence that being vegan is better for the environment (31%)
• more vegan menu items in cafes or restaurants (25%)
• being vegan costing less than their current lifestyle (23%)
• family or friends that are vegan (20%)
• more vegans in general (17%)
The research also found that “47% of Australians think making cows pregnant every year and taking their calves from them to obtain milk is unacceptable”.
Veganism is the canary of the disconnect between farmers and other Australians. Those who choose to avoid eating the food we produce on the grounds of morality are telling us we are falling short. Some will have made their minds up but most Australians are quite receptive to the true story.
The good news is I don’t think there is a large gap between mainstream dairying practices and what most Australians perceive as “ethical” farming. I do think we can bridge it if we find a way to work with others who share our passion for animals. We must also learn to talk about it with confidence and pride.
Charlie Arnot of the US Center for Food Integrity wrote an excellent post on just this topic today, which includes this comment:
For far too long, many in this discussion have resorted to attacking those who don’t share their beliefs – an “us vs. them” mentality that limits the opportunity for meaningful discussion about complex food issues. This polarizing debate is unfortunate and unproductive. What would be far more beneficial is an informed discussion of food system issues that will allow us to meet the growing global demand for food, while decreasing our impact on the environment and assuring responsible farming.
Just as a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is a sound strategy for good nutrition, a balanced discussion of the complex issues related to food is a sound strategy for making good decisions on food policy.
I learned a great deal from agricultural leaders in Australia and I look forward to learning more. The open exchange of ideas makes everyone better. I pledge to use that same approach to other issues in the coming year. The next time someone raises a concern about today’s food system I’m going to welcome the question, encourage a discussion and learn more about the issue. I’m going to reject the appeal of culinary colonialism and work to assure we all have the opportunity to make informed choices about our food.
Hear, hear, Charlie!