Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Cost and education: The Major Forces against Vegetarianism

Our local supermarket runs a produce clearance everyday where you can fill a bag from a pile of stuff they bring out and whatever goes in there is $3 - it's surprisingly good stuff with the occasional exception of berries and I'll probably devote a post to discussing it in the future.

During the clearance, they gave away whole 4 kilogram boxes of mushrooms. Figuring that I could freeze any excess that I didn't get through, 4 kilograms of mushrooms was good deal. Even if I only managed to use a quarter of that, it was a lot cheaper than buying mushrooms of the shelf which were around $10 a kilo.

4 kilos is a lot of mushrooms...

Since then, we've been using mushrooms in place of meats in most of our meals. It substituted for the meats, which mostly consisted of beef and chicken, into the various meals I prepared (burritos, curry, stir fry, pasta, etc...)

I've been considering going off meat but there are two main factors pull against it, and I suspect that they are the factors that most people contend with; Education and Cost

Education

While I would call myself fairly well educated, I didn't take home economics or biology any longer than I needed to. Subsequently, my education into nutrition could be said to be average at best. 

While I'm aware now that beans, tofu, spinach and mushrooms could take the place of meats, I didn't know that a few years ago - with the exception of spinach as spinach pie was an example my mum (who did take home economics) used for complete protein. 

This in itself raises an interesting point - since health is such a major factor in our lives, and that most of us can expect to cook for ourself at some point during it, why wasn't the concept of complete protein covered? We knew the food pyramid, which seems to have been tweaked quite a lot since I was first shown it, but I doubt I could have actually told you what protein was back in high school.

Education also affects what we consider to be a balanced meal. I would wager that a large portion of Australians would consider a dinner to be incomplete without some form of meats. This however is a less serious problem and is fairly easily addressed by ensuring that we are exposed to a variety of foods and cuisines.  

The serious problem with education seems to be that the concept of protein poorly defined in the general population. Cooking shows refer to dishes needing 'a protein' and it's generally accepted that this means either fish or meat. It needs to be well established what the alternatives to meats are. You might say that there's brands out there that are already doing that like Quorn. This is where we run into the second problem: Cost

Cost

Let's use Quorn as an example. A 300g pack of Quorn's mince costs $6.82 at Coles, which is the equivalent of $22.73/kilo. By contrast, I can get a kilo of mince for $8. While I would like a more ethical option, I don't really have enough disposable income in order to justify that level of expense. Mushrooms and tofu are also higher than meats, but not anywhere near the same order of magnitude. If I could get mushrooms for around $3 a kilo, I'd rarely buy meat.  

It's honestly a little surprising to me that these foods cost as much as they do. Surely the production costs of meats are much highly than mushrooms which can grow out of coffee grounds. Just as unlikely is that Tofu has a high production cost since a base product can be made from dried soy beans, sea salt and water - none of which are expensive in the home let alone when economies of scale get involved. 

I would not say that the companies who manufacture these products ignore the ethical implcations that come with these foods. Instead I would say that marketing has used that to justify marking up their product and taken it out of the shopping trolleys where it would do the most good. 

Conclusion

I believe that there are those out there that would give vegetarianism serious consideration if they were given the knowledge and the skills to do so. In that regard we should make an effort to;
  • Educate ourselves and others on foods - be aware of what's available, its nutritional content and what you can do with it. 
  • Consider alternatives where possible - it doesn't have to be a drastic change. Maybe try to use more beans, spinach or mushrooms and tofu when they're affordable and lastly;
  • Tell suppliers, manufacturers and politicians that you would use more meat alternatives if they were cheaper.
I don't see my views causing a vegetarian revolution, but it's food for thought. 

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