More Aussies are opting for plant-based alternatives to meat, with an increasing range of meat-free food products popping up in supermarkets, health food stores and restaurants. However, even with the increase of these plant-based alternatives, the demand for meat and other animal products like dairy and eggs is still on the rise and is unfortunately posing strains on our ability to feed the planet sustainably.
Meat and animal products provide an abundance of macro and micronutrients like protein, iron and calcium just to name a few. However, when consumed in excessive amounts they can contribute to heart disease, type II diabetes and inflammation. They are recommended to be consumed in smaller amounts compared to plant foods like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.
With the impacts that the meat and dairy industries have on the planet, and their benefits versus risks on our health, what do we do? Do we completely cut out these food groups in order to ‘save the planet’ or is there a way to get the best of both worlds?
The ‘Blending’ Movement
‘Blending’ is a term used for combining meat with plants to reduce meat consumption, in order to support the planet as well as our health. Rather than completely removing meat and animal products from our diets, blending meat dishes with plant foods helps us to reap the benefits of meat/animal products plus the plant foods themselves. Blending is also economical – meat is typically more expensive than vegetables are, so bulking up your meat dishes with veggies allows you to provide the same (or more) servings at a cheaper price. Win-win!
Mushrooms are easy to hide in meat dishes thanks to their umami (naturally meaty) flavour. When finely chopped, they make a delicious addition to burger patties as they help to keep in moisture, resulting in a super juicy patty. Mushrooms also gets the tick of approval for being environmentally friendly because growing them requires minimal water, electricity and space.
Grated veggies like carrot and zucchini bring a subtle, sweet flavour that add a nutrient kick to your meat dishes. They blend well once cooked into dishes like bolognaise sauce and taco mince, so even fussy eaters won’t notice them in there. You can also try blending with finely chopped celery stalks – fry the thinly sliced celery in a saucepan with onion and a dash of olive oil until soft before adding the meat.
We’ve seen cauliflower rice and cauliflower pizza bases, so why not bulk up our meat dishes with it? When grated or finely chopped, cauliflower resembles the texture of minced meat, making it the perfect, high fibre addition to nacho mince and chilli con carne.
Legumes can blend with meat too! Lentils are rich in plant protein and fibre, giving your meat dishes a nutrient boost. Once cooked, lentils become soft and can be easily mushed up and blending into meat-based dishes. Alternatively, you can leave them whole for some texture in burger patties.
This is a fun initiative that many Australian households are participating in to reduce their weekly consumption of meat and animal products. Rather than blending meat with plant-based ingredients, Meat-Free Monday encourages vegetarian or vegan dishes to be prepared and enjoyed once a week. It gives people the opportunity to increase variety in their diets as they get to explore new recipes with a range of different plant-based ingredients.
From soups to gourmet salads, pasta bakes and stir fries, there are plenty of meat-free recipes to enjoy every Monday in your home. Perhaps you can enjoy another one or two meat-free days during the week as a way to squeeze in more veggies into your diet and to enjoy a cheaper grocery shop!
Choose quality over quantity
CluckAR is a free app you can download on your smartphone or tablet that allows you to choose better quality eggs for yourself, for the chickens and for the environment. Simply point your smart phone camera to a carton of eggs and the app will tell you how many hens are kept per square metre of land, giving you a rating of both quality and sustainability when you’re choosing which eggs to buy.
Do a google search for a supermarket or butcher near you that sells grass-fed meat. Much of the beef that is available to us is grain-fed which helps cows to grow larger, quicker. Grass is the most predominant food source for cows so choosing grass-fed beef is supporting their natural growth and digestive processes.
Is there something fishy about the fish you’re buying? Much of the fish available to us is often farmed, which is thought to help regulate marine life to avoid overfishing, however in some cases the condition of the farmed fish is not ideal with the fish being exposed to chemicals and antibiotics. Search for a fishmonger that complies with sustainable fish farming practices or see if you can buy wild-caught fish.
- Battaglia, R.E. et al. (2015), Health risks associated with meat consumption: a review of epidemiological studies, International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 85(1-2): 70-78
- Blenditarian (2020), The Future is The Blend™, Mushroom Council, cited on 24/2/2020, accessed <https://blenditarian.com/>