In case you missed it, May is a Meat Free Month. August will include Meat Free Week. And of course, there are Meat Free Mondays too.

Almost always, the debates about eating meat (what types, how much, health problems, environmental problems) can be effing overwhelming. But while some people recognise that cutting down on our red meat is important in combating climate change, is giving it up all you can do?

Giving up meat for Monday or a month certainly has its benefits – you might find you seriously enjoy a plant-based diet or you learn how to cook a certain vegetable in a totally different way (roast your cauliflower, you’re welcome). You’ll also help to raise awareness around the impacts of meat consumption, and the solutions. But when (or if!) you go back to eating meat, are you actually a more informed eater? There’s more at steak than just reducing your meat consumption for a day, week or month.

What’s missing is an open-ness to knowing more about where your food comes from and how that specific steak got to the plate.

Last year I was lucky enough to be part of a group of young consumers and producers involved in BeefJam. BeefJam was a YFM and Target 100 project that aimed to show young Australians the ins-and-outs of the beef supply chain in Australia and how the whole meat system really works here. Having learnt that most of the ‘popular stats’ you read about beef production don’t always apply to the majority of Australian production, this was a great chance to get my hands dirty(ish) and see it for real.

BeefJam group 2015

The BeefJam team sharing stories and brainstorming

For me, BeefJam was a huuuge eye-opener. Before the trip I considered myself to be pretty interested in how my meat was produced, but being ‘interested’ is really different from being inside an abattoir or on-site at a feedlot. But beyond considering what kind of meat I eat, or how much, BeefJam also drove home to me two important lessons.

Meat your maker

After BeefJam, I don’t just think about the animals. I also think a lot more about the people who got the meat onto my plate. There are so many people involved in getting your food to you, and it’s easy to make knee-jerk reactions to new information or news stories without considering the chain-reaction that can set off. Now I always keep people in mind – whether through buying direct from producers at a farmer’s market or getting to know the local butcher. Any documentary, book, or article is not going to be as relevant to you as the people who you’re actually getting your meat from on a day to day basis. Which brings us to lesson two.

Keep beefing up your knowledge

BeefJam really showed me the importance of constant learning and staying engaged. Whether it’s staying up to date with new info and ideas, or just getting out there and talking to people. The other night for example I went to a Greenhouse panel discussion all about Food Futures and the vegetarian vs. meat-based diet debate (surprise – there’s actually more than just two sides). The monthly Greenhouse events are a collaboration between The Maas, HotHouse, Green Ups and Sustainability Drinks, and are a great opportunity to hear from a variety of different perspectives – from farmer to campaigner to vegan food retailer.

You can listen to the full discussion online, but one thing the panel highlighted that I can relate to particularly well at YFM is the success of positivity. That could include making plant based alternatives appealing, as panellist Maz from Sadhana Kitchen has done so well. But it also includes meeting people where they’re at. Panellist Mark Pershin of Less Meat Less Heat pointed out that for a heavy meat eater, Meat Free Monday might be a big step – but even taking a smaller step deserves encouragement and celebration.

So where does this all leave us?

Taking a month, week or Monday off meat is a great way to start connecting with the effects your daily diet habits have on the world (and the animals). But then on Tuesday, consider how you can incorporate that mindfulness into your everyday life. Maybe (like me) you’ll generally cut down on your meat consumption, but eat it every so often. Maybe you’ll continue to take just Mondays off, but also persuade your family, friends and flatmates to do the same. Maybe you’ll head to the local farmer’s market and have a chat to the guy selling beef about his farming practices. Whatever it is, let’s make every day a mindful one.

Want to know more about what it was like inside an abattoir on BeefJam? Check out Thea’s blog post about her personal experience, or the rest of the BeefJam series

Image credit: (top) Sophie Armitage (middle) Colum O’Dwyer

Sophie Armitage