Matthew Evans’ latest book is described as a scorching manifesto on the ethics of eating meat
The author is a Tasmanian smallholder, restaurateur, food activist and star of the long-running SBS TV show The Gourmet Farmer as well as food documentaries What's the Catch? and For the Love of Meat.
As a farmer he is a well-placed observer of food culture and sets out to expose the truth about food production, particularly meat, which is often vilified by those who adopt a vegan lifestyle.
The author makes a pertinent point, that vegans, for all their virtue signalling, do not occupy a lofty position in the food chain.
Going vegan might be all the rage, but the fact is the world has an ever-growing, insatiable appetite for meat – especially cheap meat.
Evans grapples with the thorny issues around the ways we produce and consume animals. From feedlots and abattoirs, to organic farms and animal welfare agencies, he has an intimate, expert understanding of the farming practices that take place in our name.
Evans calls for less radicalisation and greater understanding, and for ethical omnivores to stand up for the welfare of animals and farmers alike.
In a published extract, Evans writes that there’s a lot to be said for veganism, but it doesn’t get the thinking eater around a whole bunch of ethical grey areas.
“Not eating meat, not buying products that come from animals —surely that means you’re doing better not only for those animals directly affected, but also the environment, and your health? But while veganism is on the rise in Western nations, it’s still far from mainstream. Why, then, is it so hard to convince people of its worth if it really is a win all round? The vegan philosophy is, at its heart, quite often about reducing suffering. By not eating animals, you — by definition —reduce suffering. It’s a lovely idea. And I wish it were that simple.”
Evans goes on to give the example of an unnamed farm in Tasmania. This 2700ha mixed farm rears beef cattle, some sheep, does a bit of agroforestry, and produces crops of barley and peas.
Peas, those tasty not-threatening little wonders are where Evans pricks the balloon that keeps vegan idealism aloft.
“To protect the peas, they have some wildlife fences, but also have to shoot a lot of animals. When I was there, they had a licence to kill about 150 deer. They routinely kill about 800-1000 possums and 500 wallabies every year, along with a few ducks. (To its credit, they only invite hunters onto the farm who will use the animals they kill — for human food, or for pet food — and not leave them in the paddock, as most animals killed for crop protection are.) So, more than 1500 animals die each year to grow about 75ha of peas for our freezers. That’s not 1500 rodents, which also die, and which some may see as collateral damage. That’s mostly warm-blooded animals of the cute kind, with a few birds thrown in.”
Evans argues that across the board the number of animals that die to produce vegan food is astonishing.
“According to an article by Mike Archer, professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of NSW, roughly 25 times more sentient beings die to produce a kilo of protein from wheat than a kilo of protein from beef. Thanks to monocultures, mice plagues and our modern farming systems, a hell of a lot of small animals die to produce wheat. Yes, most of them are rodents, but surely in the vegan world all warm-blooded life should be honoured equally?” Evans writes.
“On average, 1 billion mice are poisoned every year in Western Australia alone. According to a 2005 Senate report, if we didn’t kill mice the cost of food would rise drastically; even with heavy baiting programs, mice cost the Australian economy about a $36 million a year.
“Let’s look at birds. Over a five-year period up to 2013, rice farmers in NSW killed nearly 200,000 native ducks to protect their fields. That’s right, to grow rice. That’s in addition to the animals indirectly affected, such as those that once thrived in the waterways drained by such a heavily irrigated crop on a dry continent. That’s how farming works. To grow something, other things are affected. Sometimes it’s an animal, sometimes it’s a helluva lot of animals.”
On Eating Meat by Matthew Evans (Murdoch Books, RRP$32.99)