My Year Without Meat
By Richard Cornish
When food writer Richard Cornish was so overcome by the aroma of the roast leg of lamb he had buckled into the passenger seat next to him that he pulled over to the side of the road and tore it apart with his bare hands, he knew he had a problem. He began to examine what it means to eat meat by becoming vegetarian for a year.
My Year Without Meat is a surprising and bittersweet journey that changed Richard's body, his values and how he cooks. It's a meditation on ethical meat, an ode to vegetables and a cautionary tale about our relationship to food—as told by a self-confessed meat lover. It will make you rethink the contents of your supermarket trolley, how you prepare your evening meal and where your food comes from
This is the book that has it all! Where do I start? It is fascinating, humorous and enlightening in equal measures. It contains some truly delicious sounding recipes, many intriguing discussions on ethics, aspects of a travel guide and also a lot of interesting historical tidbits.
The first thing that captured my attention was the cover of the book followed by the blurb. On opening the book I liked the dedication,
This book is dedicated to the farmers who grow our food, without whom we would starve to death.
The author of this book was asked initially to write about his experiences of living for a week without meat but he decided to live for a month without it as it would be more of a challenge. During the experience certain things occurred for him to want to extend that time to a year and thus this book was born.
I knew I would like this book as soon as I had read the opening lines,
I knew I had a problem with meat when I found myself carving a roast shoulder of lamb on the bonnet of my HiLux ute on a lonely country road.
The mouth-watering descriptions of food in this book meant that I was constantly hungry whilst reading this book. For example,
together with my thumb pierced off a strip of crisp dark-brown meat from along the neck. It was salty, crunchy with intensely concentrated flavour.
One bit in particular made me laugh out loud:
“The fresh-faced students looking on passively at what I can only imagine was a truly disturbing sight: a large middle-age man standing by the side of the road gnawing on the…shoulder of a sheep. The bus edged away. I looked down. I had eaten most of the exterior muscles of the lamb. There were brown, sticky, caramelised cooking juice, around my mouth.”
One thing I found interesting was the extreme reactions some people have to news that someone is a vegetarian. It is something I have witnessed on occasion but I was still surprised at the venom in some people’s reaction.
“It wasn’t until I decided to stop eating meat that I realised just how ubiquitous chicken, bacon, ham, preserved and fresh meat had described in the Australian diet and other Western nations. It forced me to confront how narrow meat free food choices are for those living in the everyday world. We are drowning in a sea of animal products and it takes a good navigation to chart a course for a healthy diet without them it threw me the challenge of creating a new way of eating. It revealed that we live in a society almost devoid of animal compassion, and contempt for those who make the choice not to put meat into their mouths.”
This was illustrated time and time again, from the man who deliberately gave him a pasty with meat in to the restaurateur whose only vegetarian option was a risotto because “it was their own fault” that they were vegetarian! This kind of attitude occurred time and time again.
A goal of the author’s in doing this experiment was to see if there were any ethically acceptable farming practices for those who do eat meat. His frank discussion on some of the practices used in both the meat and dairy industry really opened my eyes and made me question my eating habits. He argues that one of the ways in which Western society is failing is by making meat so cheap that people can afford to eat it every day.
Seventy per cent of the protein in Western diet comes from animal protein. In the rest of the world more than sixty per cent comes from vegetable proteins.
In this book Richard Cornish explored some truly tempting recipes for vegetarians or people who simply want to try more meat free dishes. Between the ‘low carbonara’ and dishes like baked artichoke with pieces of almond and buffalo mozzarella it is no wonder my mouth was watering much of the time. At the very least I finished reading this book with a number of recipes I want to try.
Just before he decides to extend his meat-free month to a year Cornish states,
I thought I would learn something by giving up meat. I didn’t realise it would re-educate me. The unintended consequence was that I was learning something every single time I went to talk to someone about what I was doing.
I was interested to learn about nutrition and the different things you need to eat to replace the meat in your diet. I was also intrigued to read about the different chemicals used in the process of manufacturing meat-like substitutes and how one chemical used in some of them is
banned in several countries and not recommended for children in the European Union. But not one animal died in its making.
I enjoyed learning about different cultural and historical practices both in Australia and abroad. I particularly enjoyed his discussion about Skippy The Bush Kangaroo, a programme I can remember watching when I was little and one which he says was
the Game of Thrones of its day. I also learnt about why meat plays such an important part in Spanish diet and why some areas of Spain are reluctant to eat mushrooms post-Franco.
Cornish makes an interesting point about modern meat eaters,
“Meat eaters have a similar system of complicity. This is how we are able to live with the reality that what is lying on a polystyrene tray was once a living animal. It is a tribal complicity where no one person takes responsibility for the taking of an animal’s life. We didn’t kill the cow. All we did was pay the butcher.”
More disturbingly he points out,
“our relationship with animals has been defined by the premise that animals are not sentient. It has been as fundamental as the presumption of innocence. But the foundation principle of our society – that animals don’t have emotions or fish don’t feel pain – is slowly being eroded. Scientists are digitally dissecting live animals using magnetic resonance imaging and they are telling us that lobsters do have pain receptors and that cattle experience fear. These studies bring into question the very tenet on which we allow ourselves to eat meat.”
He argues that,
“Once it is understood that at the heart of every mouthful of meat there is the forced, traumatic death of an animal, then we have no other option than to make important choices about what we eat. Once people like you make this connection, many chose the path of vegetarianism. There, for many, is the only ethical path.”
I would definitely recommend this book to others.
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