How to cut your grocery budget - and carbon footprint - by going meat-free


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I am a meat eater but I understand it's not good for my health to eat meat seven days a week.

Nor is it great for the environment because of all the water, chemicals and methane emissions that come with raising animals, not to mention the fuel in getting the meat to my plate.

I've decided to give Meatless Mondays a go.

It's a movement that recommends a dedicated meat-free day once a week.

By thinking a bit more carefully about what I'm eating and cutting meat out one day a week (equivalent to 15%) I'm taking a small practical step to cut my carbon footprint and slow climate change.

The more people who join in, the bigger the impact on the planet.

Here is some of the research put forward by Meatless Mondays Australia:

  • Between 50,000 and 100,000 litres of water are required to produce just one kilogram of beef. In comparison, up to 1,550 litres of water are needed to produce one kilogram of rice. Most fruit and vegetables require much less water than rice production.
  • Animal industries contribute over 30% of Australia's greenhouse emissions. According to Greenpeace, eating one kilogram of beef represents roughly the same greenhouse emissions as flying 100 kilometres of a flight, per passenger. This is twice the carbon footprint of eating pigs or poultry.
  • Land grazed by animals for human consumption accounts for almost 50% of the Australian continent. This figure does not take into account the land that is cleared and used to produce food for these animals.
  • The beef, sheep and dairy industries account for 92% of land clearance and soil degradation in Australia.

Meat consumption is increasing around the globe and, according to the Worldwatch Institute, 56 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for food each year. Of these 67% are grown on industrial "factory" farms.

Of course, the Meatless Mondays movement doesn't say to cut out meat altogether.

Meat is important for your diet but cutting back could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease - the leading cause of death in Australia, which accounts for 55% of all deaths - not to mention other diseases such as colorectal cancer, which has been found to be linked to processed meat.

A higher intake of fibre-rich fruit and vegetables, which are full of nutrients, can potentially protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

You can also save money by cutting down on meat.

Who thought up Meatless Mondays? It has its roots in World War I, when the U.S. Food Administration told Americans that "Food Will Win the War" and proclaimed Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays.

The New York-based non-profit group Healthy Monday relaunched the idea in 2003 in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

But it really began to take off in 2009 when schools and restaurants started to embrace the idea.

While some of the incentives for Australian households going green have closed, the federal government is spending up on clean energy developments. They include:

  • $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • $3.2 billion into the research and development of renewable energy through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency
  • $200 million developing clean technologies through the Clean Technology Innovation Program
  • $330 million for local councils and community organisations' grants.

It is worth checking to see what rebates are still on offer in your state.

It varies depending on your location, but there are still rebates for solar hot water, for replacing an electrical hot water system and for purchasing an LPG gas vehicle.

Some states offer water tank rebates, feed-in tariffs if you send power back to the grid, and for buying and installing water and energy efficient products.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.