How did you first come up with the concept for No Meat May? How has the campaign grown and developed over the years?
As a recent vego, I was keen to build a bridge between the islands of the “meatheads” and the “vegieheads”, and create a path to a “less-meat world”. After chatting to a work colleague about a “no meat” month, I was walking home from work that day and bouncing around some words in my head, coming up with “Meet May, No Meat May” … the image of a sassy switched-on re-invented 50s housewife followed, probably from attending too many burlesque shows (a great friend of mine is an amazing performer). I then developed this character with my partner, artist Guy James Whitworth. Fun, feisty, futuristic in vision, yet grounded in the sound values of our past that we have become somewhat disconnected from … No Meat May is a self-funded grass-roots campaign, only in its third year, but each year more people get involved, more people contribute, more people are signing up. It’s evolving into a real collaborative effort from a community of friends that like to have fun whilst doing good.
While being more thoughtful about meat consumption (and eating less meat) is a good thing, why is it better to abstain from meat altogether?
It’s hard to really appreciate how much meat we eat without giving it up for an extended period. I used to call myself a meat minimiser, and this allowed me a great deal of flexibility, but I found it is actually kinda tricky being honest with yourself about how much meat you consume in a culture where over consumption is the norm. Abstaining altogether for a month allows you to challenge habits and traditions, be a more mindful eater, and really experience what no meat feels like physically and mentally.
In a month of abstention what can be learned about the ethics of meat consumption? What can be learned about the health and ecological benefits of a plant-based diet?
You’d be surprised what you can learn in a month, if you seek to learn. One of my great insights was that the action of saying “no meat” for a month can lead to meaningful conversations you would not have had otherwise, often around the dinner table. Like it or not, food is political, and the ethics and economics of food are conversations we shouldn’t shy away from. Connecting on social media, or attending or hosting events in real space can lead to learning new information and building new friendships with people who have similar values. Information on the impact of meat on our health and environment is shared on the website and via social media. No Meat May-ers are also encouraged to read a book from May’s library, or watch a film from May’s cinema, online, to better connect with the many impacts of our food choices.
What sort of feedback have you received in previous years?
Many participants come out the other end of May as vegetarian or vegan, with great gratitude for a life-changing experience. Many go back to wolfing down bacon in June, but, I like to think, with a greater appreciation of where it comes from. One great friend who did last May, has returned to eating meat but looks at our culture very differently, noticing the massive amount of meat consumed and promoted in TV cooking shows such as My Kitchen Rules. “Where are the vegetarian recipes?” I don’t think she would have noticed this the year before doing May. One thing’s for certain, everyone who goes the whole month with No Meat May becomes less of a “meathead”, which is the goal of the event.
No Meat May is a fun event. Do you think sometimes we are overly earnest about ethical eating and living?
Life can be really demanding, our food should not be. Food should be fun and joy-filled, as well as nourishing. The impact of our meat consumption is huge, the issues are serious, and often sadly overwhelming. But people do not like to be preached to, particularly when it comes to what goes on their plates. I’m a big believer in fun theory, that behavioural change should be a fun and rewarding experience. Reducing or eliminating something that is not great for your health, but that you associate with great memories and fun times is hard. Replacing it with something new and associating it equally with great memories and fun times, in my experience, will create a more lasting change.