Eating is the most profound way we affect the world. Feeding 7 billion growing bellies is harder than it looks, and it has taken a toll on our land, labour, and health. In Australia, no issue illustrates these problems better than meat eating. Australians eat three times as much meat as the global average, but it’s no secret that animal agriculture has an overwhelming effect on our environment. Nearly 15% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are a result of agriculture, and two thirds of that are from sheep and cattle alone. Factory farmed pigs and chickens in Australia come with their own host of squirmish problems too.

To deal with some of the problems that have arisen, the phrase “vote with your fork” has become popularised within the last decade. Put more plant proteins on your fork. Ditch doing the weekly grocery shop at the supermarket, and hit up your local farmer’s market instead! Buy organic! Not only will the environment thank you, but your body will also. Sound familiar?

The question is whether voting with your fork will be enough in the battle for the alternate food economy to become the primary food economy. It’s important. But we also need to vote with our vote. In a recent essay looking back over the progress in the last ten years, Michael Pollan believes that although we have shifted the ways we think about and consume food (yay for progress!), the real challenge for the next decade is shifting the fight from the consumer to the citizen.

If we are going to be fo-real in taking down food system problems like climate change, we have to exercise our citizen muscles. But what does that actually mean?

Voting with our forks is important. But we need to vote with our vote. Be a food citizen.

Changing the rules of the game through policy

What comes to mind when you hear the word “citizen?” Exercising your democratic rights and casting a vote? Yes, that might be the textbook definition, but it’s more than that – it’s about changing the day-to-day goals, and the rules that determine whether we can actually achieve those goals.

At the moment, our global food system is obsessed with making that cash cash money. Yields, outputs, and maximising profit is the aim of the game. However you feel about these, they have been leading to climate change. And if we don’t fix that, we won’t have anything left to fix. Of course, fixing the rules is no easy feat, either. If you followed the cluster fuck that was the 2016 Federal Election Campaign, did you notice that issues surrounding climate change quietly faded from the political radar by both major parties? Earlier this year, The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth surveyed 3,369 Australians, aged between 12 and 25. They asked Gen-Y what key three topics they wanted to be addressed during the Election. The millennials surveyed ranked climate change as the #3 issue of importance. We give a damn, but the government clearly wasn’t paying attention. I can hear the collective, audible sigh from Gen-Y across Australia. Our government – and much of the media, who continually glorify meat consumption – did not want to bring the climate change issue to the Election Campaign. Yeah don’t worry about our rising global temperatures, or anything. It’s all chill. (Sarcasm discretion advised).

It’s up to us to pay attention not just to what we buy, but the societal rules and goals (aka policies) that are determining our menu of options. So what new rules and goals do we need to add to the mix? Even if you don’t 100% agree with it, the People’s Food Plan is laying important groundwork for a new food rulebook in Australia. Over in the States, even cooking sites like Food52 are creating spaces for dialogue on food policy they’d like to explore (including regulating on cow burps). But how do we get enough momentum behind a new rulebook, so that it becomes a reality? That’s where culture change and movements come in.

Get pork off your fork and get on the veg.

How can we make it easier for everyone to get pork off their fork and get on to eating more veg?

Banding together: creating change through community and culture change

Australians may care about climate change, but when it comes to changing our diet to fix our climate woes, things get a little tricky. Even though The Climate Institute revealed in its Climate of the Nation Report that 77% of Aussies believe that climate change is legit, we’re still the second biggest meat eaters in the world. By reducing our meat consumption we can hit those #goals to drastically reduce carbon emissions, and in the process we avoid the inevitable setbacks and political debacles that will most likely do our heads in. But why are the majority of us reluctant to this maj life change? Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said laid down some truths, stating that “it is easier to change a man’s religion than his diet.”

Most of us agree that action needs to be taken to address climate change, but when it comes to moving to a meat-free diet to drastically reduce emissions, suddenly we’re not so keen, writes Ruby Hamad. But change is easier when we’re doing it with a community of supportive peeps. Join or volunteer with groups like YFM Australia to create your own campaign or join a team running one from the ground up. Passionate about food security? The Right to Food coalition will have you advocating for food policy like a pro. Or if Less Meat Less Heat gets you going, hit them up and volunteer. Change the collective conversation. Create social proof that our culture and collective goals are changing, and when it comes to casting our food votes, we can do it so loudly, we can’t be ignored.

Image Credits: Nikki To

Siobhan Parry