Simon Bryant, meat-free ambassador

Ambassador for Meat Free Week, chef Simon Bryant, talks to us about his role in the campaign, growing food, and spending 12 hours trapped in a cage for animal rights.

Simon and Sid

Simon Bryant and his trusty companion, Sid.

Credit: Sally Harding

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Simon Bryant (from ABC TV's show The Cook & The Chef), has been an ambassador for Meat Free Week since it began in March, 2013. Green Lifestyle's intern, The Smiling Chef, was keen to have a chat with him about his reasons for his public support of the campaign – read on for some of the best snippets from their recent chat.

About Meat Free Week:
I’m very proud of my association with the week. I think people don’t always understand what it’s about, though. They need to focus more on the tagline (Eat less, Care more, Feel good. Are you up for the challenge?) and be less shocked by the title. It’s not about alienating meat eaters. It’s about awareness, health, animal ethics and the environment.

People should not be polarised. If you’re a meat producer and your first reaction to this is, 'it’s just lifestyle', then it’s not working. It’s about creating conversations. Good practice in meat production is praised in this program.

As a Meat Free Week Ambassador:
It’s not my role to tell people not to eat meat. It’s about looking at your consumption levels and looking at the backstory of the meat, that includes fish and poultry, that you’re consuming. To me it’s about your own personal health and about fair prices for farmers for good quality products.

Meat Free Week is not a manifesto. It’s the name of an initiative. If at first you don’t want to think it and your barriers go up, spend a little time reading through the
first couple of paragraphs on the page (www.meatfreeweek.org/about). You'll see it’s not anti-farmer or anti-meat producer, it’s more about the fact that our meat consumption in Australia is huge on a global scale.

On the meat industry and factory farming:
I don’t expect companies to stop supplying unhealthy, unethically raised meat.

Most farmers probably don’t want to do it that way. I think that it’s demand driven. People want cheap chicken, they want to eat it every day, and we’re often wasteful and disrespectful.

A pasture or grass-raised cow on a low-density plot is good for the animal. I would never put that meat in the same category as a mass-produced grain-fed lot.

On his interest in animal welfare:
It’s my job professionally to cook food. Putting personal politics aside [Simon is vegetarian], I’m happy to cook people meat so long as I am happy with the backstory of that meat.

People assume from my cookbook (Simon Bryant’s Vegies, 2013) that there’s no meat in it, so why should I cook meat professionally. My answer to that is well not all of my customers are vegetarian, so I’m gonna give them the best-sourced, low-density meat with an ethical backstory. I’m not opposed to anyone eating meat, I think we should eat less, smaller serves and we should seek a better raised animal. It’s your own choice; you can do what you want.

On spending twelve hours in a cage at the Sustainable Living Festival on February 14 (for more info, click here):
People feel that moon bear farming in Asia is nothing to do with a chef’s work. For me it’s about greed, profit and what we do to animals to feed ourselves or for medicine.

When I see the moon bear bile trade in China, the first thing I do is think, 'we don’t do great here with our factory farmed animals either'. It’s not about criticising another culture but it’s about the big global problem of how we profit from animal suffering.

Unfortunately, the bear bile does work in traditional Chinese medicine. It does work, but in my opinion the cruelty inflicted upon the animal is just not worth it. It’s like being in a seat the size of Economy class for your whole life and being jabbed at constantly.

I’m embarrassed because it [twelve hours] is such a pathetic amount of time to be locked in a cage compared to up to thirty years. I haven’t been trapped and maybe lost a limb, I haven’t been de-clawed. I haven’t had a catheter or a full-metal jacket inserted around me to drip bile out which causes cancer in my gaul bladder.

So for me, even if I spend a year, it would still be nothing. I’m almost embarrassed that that’s all I’m going to do.

On growing your own food:
I’ve got a small plot but I’ve got a lot of good herbs and fruit at the moment. I generally grow what you can’t get readily available, like sawtooth coriander, giant basil and Thai scud chillies.

Growing vegies without chemicals does teach you how difficult it is to grow food. You can’t be greedy. I’ve learnt from growing my own food that I never, ever, challenge a price that a veggie grower is charging because you start to really respect how much work goes into growing organically grown food. For me, growing food is about respecting it, and for me it’s quite calming.

Simon is involved in the following events:
The Sustainable Living Festival – 14 February, 2014, Melbourne: www.slf.org.au/festival14
Meat Free Week – 24-30 March, 2014: www.meatfreeweek.org
Other upcoming events to catch Simon at: www.simonbryant.com.au/about_me/catch_me