- If going cold-turkey is too much, start by just reducing your meat intake: make one, two or three days a week meat-free.
- As much as possible, go for white meat rather than red, and buy local from your butcher rather than from the supermarket.
- Take a little time to discover and experiment with vegetarian recipes. You might – like me – be pleasantly surprised.
- If all else fails, you can rely on Maggi, the nectar of the gods.
Many of the steps outlined on this blog are easy wins – they offer that small tingle of ‘at-least-I’m-doing-something‘ without really asking too much of my everyday. But this is a big one, and an issue that encapsulates our response to the climate crisis – or lack of response. Because we all know what we have to do; the question is whether we’re willing to do it. Are we ready to give up some aspect of our lives that has become so habitual, we’ve come to think of it as a right? Are we prepared to live our values?
I come from a long line of committed carnivores. Breakfast cereal aside, I’ve always believed a meal wasn’t a meal unless it contained some form of dead animal – my idea of haute cuisine was to stick bacon on a cheeseburger. And when that meat didn’t taste quite meaty enough, I’d drown it in Maggi sauce – a (meat-free!) seasoning that somehow tastes like beef stock. I even – should I admit this? – used to sneer quietly at vegetarians and what I thought of as their self-righteous pedantry. (After all, if I sneered too loudly they’d fall over, right?)
That scorn was doubtless a result of both an unfortunate run-in with a Linda McCartney soya sausage, and a defence against my subconscious realisation that I was firmly on the moral low ground. Because now, without even touching on the health benefits of vegetarianism, or the ethics of slaughtering another sentient being just because it tastes good, I’m humbled to acknowledge the truth – they were right all along.
Despite providing only a fifth of all the calories we eat and drink, meat and other animal products are responsible for more than half of food-related greenhouse gas emissions. According to last year’s IPCC report, changing what we eat is one of the most significant things we all can do to curb climate emissions.
Put like that, how could I claim to care about the environment without changing my diet? And so, since that report was published, our general rule – and it’s not set intimidatingly in stone – is to eat meat only when we have guests or eat out. And more often than not, it’s then white meat rather than red.
Clearly, there’s meat and then there’s meat – what sort it is and where it comes from is a huge factor. But the bottom line is this: even the most tree-hugging meat option produces more greenhouse gases than the most climate-denying vegetarian protein.
‘Corn grown by small farmers in Mexico… produces 83 calories of energy for every calorie of fossil fuel energy used. Beef produced in an American feedlot… uses 33 calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food energy it produces. We have developed a pattern of agriculture that relies on using up stored energy instead of capturing solar energy.’Peter Singer’s How Are We To Live (1993)
Meat from our local butcher can be more expensive. But since we’re buying less, we can justify the difference, especially when it’s not wrapped in single-use plastic and tastes noticeably better. And since I’m useless in the kitchen, it’s full credit to my wife: she’s taken the challenge head-on and come up with some amazing dishes that I would never have thought could be so tasty. Sometimes the Maggi even stays on the shelf.
The most surprising outcome for me has been how little I miss regularly eating meat. Alright, I did start to slobber while looking for a photo of a cheeseburger to accompany this piece, and a cheese sandwich is worlds apart from a cheese and ham sandwich. But at times I’ve actually found myself mildly disgusted at the prospect of eating dead animal – perhaps just because now I’m allowing myself to consider all the implications a little more.
I’m still a long way short of being a vegetarian – there’ll always be room for improvement. But I would never have guessed that a move that could so dramatically reduce my carbon footprint would feel like just one more small step.