Ethical Shopper

Ethical Shopper

You can read the full article in the New Zealand Herald here.

Veg and three meat

By Pippa Grierson, Wednesday Oct 29, 2014

Each year, New Zealanders chew their way through three times the world average meat consumption. Is it sustainable, and what are the alternatives?

The way we eat food is changing. Meat is no longer just meat - it can be organic, free-range, wild, farmed, ethical, cruelty free - the list of labels goes on. Enter the generation of consumers who demand to know just what they are eating.


Hayden and Shama Lee

Hayden Lee is a classic example of this sort of thinking. He has gone from eating meat from the supermarket to now only consuming "pest" meats of New Zealand. Pest meats are not roadkill, but instead wild, introduced animals which are damaging our native environment; things like deer, rabbits, pigs and goats.

Lee is a lover of meat, but says as his awareness of the living situations of animals changed so did his eating habits - he moved away from cage and intensely farmed products to free-range and organic meats. As he continued to learn about the environmental impact of these products, it prompted the further shift to pest-control meats - which he says is a stepping stone to vegetarianism.

"It has been said that the single most effective thing one can do to combat climate change is to stop consuming meat and dairy - there's truth to that. But of course that's unpleasant to many of us so we continue to focus on transport and energy," says Lee.

Lee's meat is sourced from the New Plymouth company Moreish, a specialist in wild game meats. Lee says he has just one qualm: "If everybody switched to eating pest-control meats there could be the possibility of them becoming farmed... which defeats the purpose."

Lee's wife, Shama, has taken it one step further, becoming vegetarian and focusing on ethical foods - so much so that she has started her own company, Ethiclee. She launched a website called The Ethical Shopper, to help Kiwis buy ethical, fair-trade, vegan, vegetarian, organic, non-GMO or cruelty free food.

Shama became a vegetarian because she had difficulties reconciling the meat on her plate with the live, sentient animals she saw around her, "I felt if I don't need it, I don't want it." Following the completion of her MBA with a thesis on ethics and consumerism, she decided to offer the public the option of buying products which fulfilled their needs both ethical and physical.

Lee felt there was a disconnect between consumerism and ethics when it comes to buying products in New Zealand, so her work is aiming to provide that link for the morally aware shopper. As a vegetarian she has no problem with people who eat meat and, in fact, supports those who have seriously thought about their meat consumption and what they are eating.

"I am obviously married to someone who eats free-ranging, wild pest-control meat and I think he has good reasons for it. He gave meat consumption a lot of thought, and I think if everyone took the time to seriously consider their reasons for eating meat then we may be able to change some consumer behaviour."

New Zealand's meat addiction

Vegetarians make up a small proportion of New Zealand's population but numbers are increasing. In 2002 it was estimated that vegetarians made up one to two percent of our population, whereas the estimate now is closer to four percent. The likelihood of people becoming vegetarian also seems to be higher among young adults - particularly women.

The reduction in our meat intake a may be more necessary than we all realise - New Zealand is the fourth largest consumer of meat per capita in the world, eating a whopping 115.7kg of meat per person per year - nearly three times the world average. But what is all this doing to our environment?

Livestock is one of New Zealand's greatest contributors to greenhouse gases and, with global meat production projected to increase to 465 million tonnes in 2050, it is something that perhaps we all need to think about. According to an Oxford study published this year, meat eaters in the United Kingdom produce as many as two and a half times the greenhouse gas emissions than their vegan counterparts.

It's not only the greenhouse gases that we meat-eaters are impacting, there is also the issue of water consumption (leaving aside the environmental impacts of stock effluent).

According to the Water Footprint Network, every kilogram of beef produced uses 15,000 litres of water, compared to a kilogram of pulses (4000l), cereals (1600l) and vegetables (322l). Sheep meat comes in at almost 9000l, pig meat at 6000l and chicken meat at 4300l.

Plant-based alternative meat products, like those from Beyond Meat, are gaining in popularity in the States. Photo / Supplied
Plant-based alternative meat products, like those from Beyond Meat, are gaining in popularity in the States. Photo / Supplied

Moving beyond meat

These statistics have not gone unnoticed in the technological world, with major figures like Bill Gates and the cofounders of Twitter getting behind projects such as Beyond Meat - a company which is developing and selling new, plant-based protein 'meats'.

Beyond Meat is the brainchild of Ethan Brown, who is working to answer the question- would we continue to raise and eat animals in such staggering numbers if a perfect plant-based replication of meat existed? It's gaining traction in the US, and has been tested on many chefs and food connoisseurs who have been unable to tell the difference between the meat substitute and the real thing.

But Beyond Meat isn't just aiming at providing a new meat substitute, it's looking to redefine what we see when we walk into a supermarket. Ethan Brown's vision is that we no longer have a meat counter when we go to the supermarket but, rather, a protein counter.

Plant-based substitutes may not be our only option in the future. There is also research being supported by the co-founder of Google, Sergei Brin, to create lab-grown meats. Here the meat would come from the stem cells of animals and be grown in a lab to recreate muscle fibres.

This was achieved by Netherland scientists last year, and was eaten as a hamburger made of pure muscle protein. The projections for this type of meat is that it will be on supermarket shelves in the next five to ten years, so plant-based analogues may not be the only option for consumers.

There is, however, a more palatable third - and somewhat of a stop-gap - option: that of 'weekday vegetarianism'. Graham Hill, the founder of Treehugger, introduced this practice in his TedX talk in California in 2010. He said, knowing what he knows about the impacts of meat consumption - how could he not be a vegetarian?

Unable to give up his precious hamburgers, Hill instead chose to become a weekday vegetarian, sticking to the plants from Monday to Friday, and giving himself free reign on the weekends, a reduction of meat intake by 70 percent.

Tech-tycoon Bill Gates has invested in plant-based and alternative proteins.  Photo / Supplied
Tech-tycoon Bill Gates has invested in plant-based and alternative proteins. Photo / Supplied


The Tech-Food Crossover

Global tech tycoons with an interest in funding plant-based or alternative proteins:

• Funders of Hampton Creek Foods and Beyond Eggs - a plant-based egg substitute: Bill Gates (Microsoft founder, philanthropist), Jerry Yang (Yahoo co-founder), Jessica Powell (Google), Li Ka Shing (Horizon Ventures), Vinod Khosla (Khosla Ventures)

• Funders of Beyond Meat - a plant-based meat substitute: Bill Gates, Evan Williams (Twitter founder), Vinod Khosla

• Funders of Modern Meadows, creator of the 3D printed hamburger: Peter Thiel (Paypal founder)

• Funder of a lab-grown hamburger: Sergey Brin (Google co-founder)

Source: The New Zealand Herald

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