Nourish magazine spoke to No Meat May founder, Ryan Alexander, to find out why we should all give vego a go during May.
What was the inspiration behind No Meat May?
My big inspiration was an eye-opening talk by Jonathon Safran Foer about his book Eating Animals. Up until that point, I was blissfully ignorant to most of the negative impacts of my then meaty diet. He talked about the impossibility of getting half of the world to turn vegetarian in time to address some big environmental issues, but that the same massive impact could be achieved if everyone in the world simply reduced their meat consumption by half. This resonated with me on a deep level. Eating half as much meat seems like a no brainer when you consider the devastating effects of our current over-consumption.
That talk sent me heading in the less meat direction and inspired me to bring as many people along with me as I could. I went meat-free soon after and became aware of two coexisting worlds – the island of the meat eater and the island of the vego. No Meat May is my way of building a bridge between these two worlds, so that meat eaters can wander over and experience what no meat feels like for a good 31 days. It’s a chance to break old habits, experience how good a higher fibre diet feels, and develop a more conscious approach to eating.
Most of us understand choosing plant-based is better for health, the environment and animals, but can you explain how it affects food security?
Animals (livestock) used for food are highly inefficient converters of feed, energy, and natural resources. In short, livestock consume way more food than they produce. And, we live in a world where one billion people go hungry every night. As the world continues to develop, the global demand for meat is growing, meaning demand for cereals to feed livestock will double in developing countries. And to meet this demand, the world’s farmers will have to produce 40% more grain by 2020. Also, as the climate catastrophe we call global warming hits in full force, food shortages will become more prevalent and create more malnutrition and political instability. So, food security is a big emerging issue.
We need to divert feed away from intensive animal farming operations and instead produce high quality plant protein to feed people, paying farmers a fair price along the way. We, together with our governments and the animal feed industry, are in a unique and powerful position to save lives and lead change.
What difference could cutting meat out of our diet for just one month possibly make?
So much difference! On a personal level, you will give your system a high fibre boost, reduce your carbon footprint and environmental impact, and save some animals! It is estimated that a meat eater will consume a minimum 365 sea and land animals per year, so we say you can save an animal a day during No Meat May. The high number of animals consumed is partly due to animals being fed other animals to produce the meat people eat. For example, factory farmed pigs now eat more fish than the hundreds of millions of sharks in our oceans!
From a cultural perspective, you will challenge norms, start conversations around the dinner table, and raise awareness of important issues. Never underestimate the power of your voice and your wallet. Nor can you underestimate the influence you can have on the people around you. About 94% of No Meat May participants reduce or eliminate meat beyond the month of May, with 30% reporting they stick with it permanently. You see, a big part of meat consumption is habitual, and many people find when they break the habit, and flood their bodies with high fibre plant proteins, they feel lighter and stronger.
If we cut meat out of their diets for the whole of May, what can we fill that gap with?
Simply replace meat with nutrient-rich and cholesterol-free plant proteins! And focus on healthy unprocessed whole foods to really thrive. Including some plant-based protein on every plate will make you feel fuller and ensure you are getting all the iron, zinc, calcium, and other micro goodies your body needs.
I’m all about tofu in its many shapes and sizes, and love tempeh fried with garlic, lemon, olive oil and soy sauce. I also love pulses, lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans in every shape and colour, plus all the nuts and seeds. And there is an abundance of products made with these nowadays … like edamame or mung bean pasta. How about cashew blue cheese? Yes please! There are also lots of plant-based “meat” products, from pea protein burgers that bleed to delicious vegan prawns and faux fish. If your local supermarket doesn’t stock these, check online. You’ll find some amazing vegan supermarkets and wholesalers that will change your world.
Do you ever miss eating meat now that you’ve given it up for good?
Not for a second. Vego feels way too good. I used to get occasional cravings when I walked past the bagged roast chickens, but when I unpacked those cravings, they were just because I was hungry, or craved some protein, fat or salt, which I now get from plant-based foods.
How can we stay inspired all month?
Make sure you keep it fun and bring a sense of adventure to No Meat May. Involve your besties, get your chef on and explore new recipes, or take food safaris on the weekends to find the best plant-based plates in town. Download the Happy Cow app – it’s brilliant for finding the best veggie food within walking distance. Keep connected to the No Meat May community via Facebook or Instagram. Also, our email newsletters have some fab free cooking demos from some seriously great cooks.
And finally, use this time to learn more about the issues with meat production by reading a book (e.g. Eating Animals or The Face on Your Plate), or watching a doco (e.g. Cowspiracy, What the Health, or Dominion if you can handle it).