I’m a hearty meat eater. But I’m also a very mindful meat eater. I grew up on a small farm and we raised goats for milk and meat. Early summer, Dad would load us into the car, a buck on each of our laps and we would cart our goats to the local abattoir to be killed and butchered. My brothers and I saw where they were killed, we knew the butcher who then cut them up for Mum and we knew, a week or so later, when we were eating one of our beautiful goats.

image via Green Foodie

This was the beginning. I was a vegetarian for a year in my late teens, aswereweall. It made me hungry, neurotic about food and “heavy”. I then worked in the food industry on and off for about 20 years, and developed a heightened respect for meat and how it should be consumed. And today, for a range of reasons, I’m a vocal and passionate meat consumer.

I’ve recently been appointed the ambassador for the beef and lamb industry’s Target 100 program, charged with sharing information about sustainable beef, lamb and goat consumption. This is a paid role, however these blog posts are my own.

Over the next year, I’m going to share a whole bunch of information to help us love our meat more “heart”-ily and “careful”-ly. But today I’ll kick off by answering a few questions I get about how I eat my meat. Please ask me more questions below in the comments, and please, if you live in Sydney, join me Monday 17 December from 8am in Martin Place at Target100’s Virtual Farm (see more info below).

Do I eat organic meat?

Yes, and no. Put it this way, I don’t seek out “organic”. Instead I seek out “sustainable”. An organic steak can often come from cattle raised in cruel, dirty conditions. Flipside, a lot of fantastic pasture-raised meat doesn’t have an “organic” label. Not because the farmer cuts corners with chemicals, but because they can’t afford the expensive organic certification process.

Do I go for grain-fed or pasture-fed?

I personally support pasture-fed. That said 70 per cent of Australian beef and lamb is pasture-fed. Much of the brouhaha about grain-fed v pasture-fed comes from overseas where it really is a big issue.

Pasture-raised animals forage on grass and do not tend to be treated with hormones or antibiotics. Grain-fed animals are kept in feedlots and are fed corn, soy and other grains. I know a lot of restaurants actually sell in their steak as “grain fed”. Why? Because it produces a fattier, marbled meat (yep, to get fat, eat more grains).  I should point out that a lot of so-called pasture-fed beef is often “fattened” up with grain just before slaughter…so the issue is not wholly clear-cut. In Australia the average time cattle spend in a feedlot is between 50 – 120 days, equating to around 10-15 per cent of their lifespan.

Regardless, buying pasture-fed meat is a choice I make bearing in mind my budget, but is one factor that contributes to my sustainable commitment. For now I’ll just flag that most research shows it’s more nutritious, mostly more ethical and actually renders a mindful meat-inclusive diet far more sustainable than a vegetarian one.

But you rant on about the environment? Don’t you care?

Yes, yes I do! I’ve done my research and on all matters generally raised on this topic there is evidence to suggest a mindful meat-inclusive diet is best for the planet. I’ll tick off just three of the arguments here:

The farty methane and CO2 argument: A myth. Plus, it’s worth noting that atmospheric methane concentrations have remained relatively stable since 2000, despite significant increases in livestock numbers globally.
When holistically managed Australia’s cattle and sheep farmers can actually boos the carbon stored in their soil as part of the carbon cycle. A worldwide analysis of the effects of land management on soil carbon showed that there is on average about 8 per cent more soil carbon under well-managed pasture than under native forests.

According to a University of New South Wales study, eating red meat three times a week results in 164kg – 258kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions a year – vastly different to figures quoted that claim up to 1.5 tonnes.

The 50,000-litres-to-produce-a kilo-of meat argument: A myth. The accurate figure is 130- 540 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef.

The use of land argument: This is a really interesting one because when folk bang on about meat eating being bad for the environment they’re referencing badly managed farming and they’re often referring to overseas studies.

In Australia the environment v meat situation is very different.

How so? Well, due to geological, topographic and climatic factors, less than 8 per cent of Australia’s land is suitable for crop production, and cattle and sheep farming is the most efficient use of this land for producing highly nutritious protein. In other words, Australian cattle and sheep are mostly raised on arid and semi-arid rangelands that simply can’t be used for any other food sources. Plus, Australian soils are frequently unable to sustain cropping on a continuous basis and rotation with cattle and sheep provides an essential environmental break to renew soil productivity.

A study undertaken by the University of New South Wales has revealed that Australian red meat production is much more efficient than often reported. The three year Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study has shown that the carbon emissions from sheep and cattle meat production are among the lowest in the world.

Besides, it’s been estimated that to substitute the level of protein provided by red meat production in Australia with a vegetarian diet, it would mean finding an area the size of Victoria and Tasmania combined to add to the land currently used for plant-based food production – which we don’t have!

Do I eat a lot of meat?

I eat meat – a combination of red meat, chicken, pork and fish – most days, but this is how I do it:

  • I don’t eat huge amounts in a sitting: about 100-200g per meal. Sometimes I use it to merely flavour a dish, via a meat stock for example.
  • I eat red meat 3-4 times a week
  • I use economical cuts of meat: rather than the fashionable cuts. This makes my meat consumption cheap, but it also means I’m using up the parts of the animal that often get discarded by butchers.
  •  I support nose-to-tail eating: again, this entails eating the “unfashionable” cuts of meat, ensuring against wastage. I support chefs who subscribe to the same philosophy and look out for Osso bucco and bone marrow on a menu.

For me the greatest food crime is to waste food. Eating the whole animal is the most ethical contribution we can make.

How do I buy my meat?

Where possible I shop for my meat at markets and butchers where I’m able to learn about where the meat came from. Why? It keeps the sustainable dialogue between me and the farmer going (albeit via a third person). I’ll share more ideas on this – online supplier etc – in months to come.

Want to learn more?

I mean, genuinely? Ask me questions below and I’ll get to answering them in various posts over the coming year, including sharing some great sustainable and economical recipes. But also come along on Monday to the Virtual Farm and chat to me and some farmers about what’s on your mind via a large LED screen.  Target 100 is an education program geared at connecting farmers and consumers to advance sustainable practices and ensure a sustainable food supply. It sets out 100 sustainable practice targets to be reached over the next 15 years. Some of these include conserving and enhancing biodiversity, clean air and clean water, healthy soils and natural ecological processes and providing affordable, safe and nutritious beef or lamb.


Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Rebecca Ronayne

    Any good markets in the eastern suburbs that you buy from?

  • Ruth Chen

    Hi Sarah,
    I was wondering if you think it is safe to assume that if a type of animal product (chicken, eggs, lamb, pork etc) is “certified organic” that it is free range and pasture fed as well?
    From what I’ve read I believe this is the case, but reading your blogpost made me want to double check!
    Would appreciate your opinion! Thanks 🙂

  • kelly

    Hi Sarah, I’ve found I need to eat meat (chicken, beef, pork) for my health, and I will ongoing, but at the same time I struggle with the cruelty side of it – other than visiting the farm and abattoir, is there a way I can select the lowest cruelty meat? I’ve been buying organic from a butcher on the assumption that they would be the best treated animals, however they source from a variety of places and I haven’t got much information out of the butcher when I asked them. Could you write on this? Thanks for the sustainability tips which I’m now using 🙂

  • Rob vd

    The 500Liters is solely the so called polluded or gray water, the total including rinsing, production of catlle food etc is probably around 15,000 Liters (google Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2010)) still way less than what those vegetarians will tell you, depending on the meat a factor 4-20 compared to wheat (flower).

  • Marlene

    Well, what can I say? I don’t understand how people can still eat meat and drink milk and eat eggs these days. Especially the meat and dairy production consumes huge amounts of water, but not only is it the number one reason for the global warming (unlike cars or fossil fuel production, which is still bad though) you’re also killing (or paying someone to kill) an innocent living being. You have absolutely no right to play ‘God’ and decide over the death of a cute lamb, a piglet, a cow or whatever.
    Plus it gives you cancer. So congrats on not helping this planet but rather be ignorant about it

    Ps: how can you respect a living being by eating it?

  • Kit

    One of my concerns about the dairy industry is the idea (unsure if it’s fact) that the calves are taken from their mothers after a few weeks, leaving the mothers to cry out for weeks in emotional pain and that the mothers are kept pregnant almost constantly (using some pretty awful techniques not far off rape). Do you know anything about this on the farms your gelatin is from? If I could find some gelatin from a source where the cows were treated with a little respect I’d be stoked, but at the moment I’m trying to find a source of fish gelatin that will ship to New Zealand. It’d be awesome to learn more about yours and hopefully just ship from Australia! Keen to learn more about how ethical your sources are 🙂