Cuts of meat hang in a special dry-ageing room at the Victor Churchill butcher in Sydney’s Woollahra. (Supplied: Vic’s Meat)
One of the nation’s biggest meat wholesalers believes Australians eat too much meat and should focus more on quality than quantity.
Anthony Puharich is a co-founder of Vic’s Meat, which supplies high-end restaurants and five-star hotels across Australia.
In a book titled Meat, The Ultimate Companion, Mr Puharich has courted controversy with a plea for the meat industry to be more aware of its environmental footprint and social licence.
An eco-friendly way forward
“We’re one of the biggest contributors, as an industry, to global greenhouse gas emissions and methane production,” Mr Puharich said.
“We use a lot of the finite resources that go into meat production, being water and petroleum.
“It’s not about pointing the finger, it’s about taking more responsibility and I think eating less meat but eating better quality meat, meat that’s of a higher nutritional value, can only be a good thing.”
When researching his book, Mr Puharich said he was shocked to learn that Australians now eat about 100 kilograms of protein per capita per year, third only behind the United States and Kuwait.
“When you break that down, it’s like 2 kilograms of meat per week that we’re all consuming,” he said.
“It’s a lot, and I’m sure that’ll shock a lot of people.
“Obviously the infrastructure, the resources that have to go into producing that amount of meat is having an impact on the environment.”
Anthony Puharich first joined his father Vic in the meat industry 20 years ago. (Supplied: Vic’s Meat)
He said farmers could not be blamed for supplying a market demanding cheap meat, but consumers should be aware that value was more than just about price.
“It seems we are programmed to just keep churning out meat for the sake of churning out meat, and I question the nutritional value of some of that protein that’s being produced and potentially the health effects it might be having,” he said.
“The health effects of just consuming that quantity of protein can’t be good for you, so once again it’s about striking that balance.”
More than just premium cuts
Mr Puharich gave up a career in merchant banking to join his father Vic in the meat trade more than 20 years ago.
They started with a small butcher shop in Sydney’s Darlinghurst and now have wholesale and retail outlets in three states with 180 employees.
He said he was passionate about the industry, and while he does not have answers to all of its problems, he hoped his book would spark worthwhile debate.
Written with food writer Libby Travers, the 500-page volume is an encyclopedia of all things meat including history, farming, butchering and cooking.
Mr Puharich hopes his book will spark debate in the industry and for consumers. (ABC News: Rick Eaves)
Mr Puharich said writing the book gave him a chance to promote his three guiding principles for a more sustainable meat industry and healthier consumption habits.
Besides eating better quality meat and less of it, consumers needed to eat more of the animals raised for slaughter, not just the 12 per cent that make up premium cuts.
Eating more wild animals, such as kangaroos, would help move away from an over-reliance on beef, chicken, pork and lamb.
He said there were 60 million kangaroos in Australia that had a minimal carbon footprint and were perfectly adapted to Australia’s climate.
“They sustain themselves on their natural environment, native bushes and grasses, they’re lean, they’re healthy, they’re high in trace minerals that don’t exist in other sorts of proteins,” Mr Puharich said.
“They are now significantly more inexpensive than beef and lamb and I just don’t get why we don’t eat more of it.
“I challenge people out there — I reckon if kangaroos were from Italy or Spain or Europe or whatever, we’d be eating it by the truckload.”
Mr Puharich said kangaroo meat is a healthy, affordable and environmentally-friendly option for consumers. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)
Meat alternatives on the rise
Mr Puharich said a predicted global population of 9 billion by 2050 would mean greater demand for protein, but he believed plant-based meat alternatives and especially laboratory-grown meat could threaten the traditional meat industry.
“I don’t want the meat industry to be the Nokia or Kodak example of what happens when you don’t worry about what potential trends might be happening,” he said.
“When you’ve got the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and Richard Branson investing millions or tens of millions of dollars in this alternative source of meat, it’s something to be very concerned about.”
Mr Puharich said despite his clarion call for action, he was confident Australia’s meat industry could meet any future challenges.
His own company will open a butcher shop in New York later this year, modelled on its Victor Churchill concept in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, which is possibly the most expensive, extravagant outlet of its kind in the world.
Nine years ago, the company converted the oldest continuously-run butcher shop in Australia into a retail outlet — and won an international interior design award for it.
The late American food writer Anthony Bourdain called it the most beautiful butcher shop in the world.
“A temple of meat, a dream, a gift,” he said.
Victor Churchill is renowned for its expensive offerings and opulent design. (Supplied: Vic’s Meat)
Mr Puharich said New Yorkers would soon have access to Australia’s finest produce, such as 600-day ration-fed full-blood dry-aged wagyu steak, selling in Sydney for $350 a kilogram.
“New York is an amazing city, the biggest global stage for a brand or a business, but I think we’ve got something very special here and I know it’ll be warmly embraced by native New Yorkers,” he said.
“I’m super proud and passionate that we’re going to take a slice of what we do so well here in Australia, all the great produce and meat this great country produces and showcase it and give Americans an opportunity to taste it and try it.”
Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline this Sunday or on iview.