Meet The Vegetarian Who Became A Butcher

Tammi Jonas was a vegetarian for a decade. Now she has turned a full 180 and is a butcher on her very own pasteurized pig farm in Victoria.

Jonas made the decision to ditch meat from her diet when she was just 19 years old.

Like thousands of others, she had flicked through 'Animal Liberation' -- a ground-breaking book written by Australian philosopher Peter Singer in the 1970s, and was disturbed by the revelations.

Tammi went meat-free for a decade. Image: Supplied

"He detailed the treatment of pigs and poultry in sheds in a way that I just couldn't, in good conscience, keep eating meat," she told 10 daily.

"My immediate response was -- I don't want to participate in treating animals that way and the only way I know how to do that is to stop eating meat."

For close to a decade Jonas stuck with her vegetarian diet, successfully navigating two pregnancies without any major deficiencies or health issues.

But as she reached her thirties and fell pregnant with her third child, Jonas became extremely anaemic. Despite taking various supplements and eating a number of iron-rich foods, her body simply needed more nourishment.

"I was at work one day and just thought: 'a burger would fix this'," she said.

And it did.

Tammi Jonas admits that becoming a butcher was a steep learning curve after a decade of vegetarianism. Image: Supplied

"I went back to red meat, so beef and lamb, once a week throughout the pregnancy, and it was some years longer before I had any pork or poultry," she continued, admitting that she was mindful of only eating meat from ethically farmed and slaughtered animals.

"I never thought it was immoral to take an animal's life for food -- I've always been comfortable with my place in the food chain, but I thought it was immoral to treat [animals] cruelly, to not allow them to go outside and breathe fresh air and to be confined in crowds in sheds," she said.

Being on land and around livestock was always second nature to Jonas, having grown up on a cattle ranch in Oregon in the United States before moving to Australia in the early '90s.

Throughout her thirties, as she was slowly reintroducing meat into her diet, Jonas found herself drawn to the land more and more.

Image: Jonai Farms

"When you're from land it's in your bones," she explained.

So she and her husband did some research and learned that they could make an honest living by farming on a small scale and treating animals properly.

"The penny dropped and we realised that we were going to be farmers and, for me, I knew immediately pigs because they are some of the worst treated in industrial systems," Jonas said.

The plan was to grow the pigs on pasture ethically to give consumers a choice when it came to buying cruelty-free produce.

Jonas and her husband Stuart moved to a property in Victoria's Central Highlands, outside of Daylesford, and set up Jonai Farms. As Stuart dealt with the infrastructure, Jonas learnt how to butcher the animals from scratch, a steep learning curve after a decade of vegetarianism.

Jonas admits that the slaughtering is done offsite and the transport of the animals, which have lived their whole lives on pasture, and the exposure to other animals, still makes her feel uncomfortable.

"I think they find all of that stressful and we'd like to take that part of the stress out of our system and be able to walk them to a death they didn't know was coming," Jonas said.

"I feel the most justified in eating the meat when I know they had no fear, no pain, they were just alive and then they were dead."

Her reasons for becoming a vegetarian are shared by millions of Australians.

According to research conducted by Roy Morgan, vegetarianism is on the rise, with 2.5 million people, or 12 percent of the population, now eating all or almost all vegetarian, up from 1.7 million in 2012.

Jonas believes that the growing movement is a very logical response to the information being published about climate change and is "sympathetic" to the shift,  but added that "there is a lot of bad information out there".

She said the key is understanding how to run livestock on pasture without overgrazing.

"I am trying to help people who are choosing [vegetarianism] while also still trying to figure out what is the best way to eat on a finite planet."

She claims that eating meat from farms like theirs is part of "what can help reverse, or at least mitigate climate change".

"Hats off to you if you don't want to participate in any livestock production but try not to have too hard a go at those of us who are trying to restore landscapes with livestock and doing a much better job of it than your vegan impossible burger," she said.

Jonas is speaking out ahead of the controversial Natale Portman film, 'Eating Animals', which is about to drop in cinemas across the country.

Unlike many other documentaries and vegan-based series, this film doesn't urge people not to eat meat but asks us to be more mindful about where the produce comes from.

For session times, click here. Note: all tickets must be pre-purchased online before the screening.