Vegetarians are bullied and hated in Australia and our culture is caught in a cycle of overreliance on meat, self-confessed meat-lover and writer Richard Cornish says.
Cornish conducted a year-long social experiment in vegetarianism after recognising he had a bit of a problem.
When driving home with a shoulder of lamb for his family one day, he was overcome with the smell of the meat and decided to pull over and eat it on the side of the road.
"I found myself face-planted in a shoulder of lamb on the bonnet of my car," he told ABC News Breakfast.
"A busload of children drove past, faces pressed up against the window, and it was like them looking at a lion in a zoo.
"So I had a problem with meat, put it that way."
Cornish decided it was time to try a change. Apart from the physical changes he experienced — weight loss, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol — the most surprising things were the social reactions.
"I learnt what it's like to be a vegetarian. Most people hate vegetarians and they loathe vegans," he said.
"People are absolutely dreadful.
"It's that people who choose to put themselves on the outer are ripe for bullies and people say the most horrible things, and they try to trick you."
He said people would give him food with meat in it just to get a reaction. Or he would bring lentil burgers to a barbecue and see them treated as a foreign object.
"You'll ask for a vegetarian pasty and bite into it and go, 'there's meat', and they say, 'yeah, but there's vegetables, too'.
"There's a lot of disrespect for people who choose not to eat meat." 'We're not equipped to be vegetarian'
Cornish said he wasn't spreading a message that everyone must be vegetarian, but he did challenge the classic meat-centric Australian diet.
According to a 2010 Newspoll survey, 5 per cent of Australians identified as vegetarian and 2 per cent adhered to a strict vegetarian diet.
"Meat is the default position. You go into a cafe and it's burger or fish," he said.
"It's assumed everyone eats meat. And because everyone assumes it, everyone does it, so it's this circle."
He said other cultures had been built around a more vegetable-based diet and Australians could benefit from learning to cook with pulses and grains more.
"If you go to India, for example, you know that most of the diet is going to be rice and pulses," he said.
"Go to Mexico and it is beans and corn, and meat is more or less a garnish."
Cornish said Australians could make the transition to a similar diet and that the change could happen very quickly.
"I think what's going to happen is one night we're going to wake up and go, 'Oh, OK, it's cool, you don't have to eat meat'."
Cornish has written a book about his experience, My Year Without Meat, which was published this month.