Welcome to 52 Weeks! A weekly tip, challenge or suggestion on how to reduce your carbon footprint over the year. Some are quick and easy, some build habits towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Starting on Earth Day, April 22nd, you will be emailed a weekly tip that gives you a challenge, or something to think about that week. It will also be posted on social media, local media pages, and here on our blog.
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You knew it was going to happen sometime. This week, we’re talking about vegetarianism. Hold on, I know some of you are rolling your eyes and tuning out already. Some of you are challenging the whole concept of whether vegetarian is better anyway. So, let’s all agree that changing your diet is a spectrum, and you can land anywhere on the spectrum that you like. There are ways to do better, even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore, and you’d rather eat meat than anything else. Trust me, there are steps we can all take, regardless of what we choose to eat, that can help the planet when it comes to food. Don’t believe me? Challenge accepted.
Modern, conventional farmers will argue that technology and science provide innovation that improve agriculture and support climate initiatives. That is absolutely true. Non-traditional farmers argue that organic, small-scale, holistic farming significantly mitigates climate change. They’re right too. So, the answer will come from both arenas, with both ends of the spectrum contributing in specific ways, and working together. But, the point is that something’s gotta give. Our current methods are unsustainable for humans, for the planet, and for agriculture itself. We have to take serious action on this at all levels, worldwide. Many organizations are already doing this. Consider Farmers for Climate Solutions Canada, which is an alliance of farmer organizations and supporters nationwide. There are tons of resources there, if you’re interested in the nitty gritty of how farming can help solve the climate crisis.
Currently about 40% of methane emissions worldwide are from agriculture. 30% is from natural sources, and 30% is “human” made, through fossil-fuel burning, etc. As the Western diet permeates other parts of the world, and other countries become wealthier, the demand for meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products has risen. This fuels deforestation, as more land is required worldwide for crops to feed the animals.
National Geographic produced an amazing series called Feeding 9 Billion, which links climate mitigation to our food habits, and the necessity of feeding a planet of 9 billion people by 2050. We definitely do live in interesting times! It cited agriculture as one of the biggest contributors to global warming, and also one of the biggest consumers of the world’s fresh water. The question they addressed was “how can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture?” They came up with 5 steps. Freeze the agricultural footprint. Grow more on existing farms. Use resources more efficiently. Reduce waste. And, shift diets.
Only 55% of the world’s cropland is used to feed humans directly. 36% is used to feed animals, and 9% is for biofuel. In Canada, 10% of our gHg emissions are directly from producing crops and livestock.
Eating lower on the “food chain” means that your food requires less energy to produce. If you’re eating that corn directly from the field, instead of using it to raise and feed another lifeform before you eat that, you’re using less energy.
Challenge 19: Try eating vegetarian
A plant based diet is not just good for your health, it is also a good way to reduce your carbon footprint. Eat one fully vegetarian dinner (Good); Eat several vegetarian dinners (Better); Eat vegetarian dinners for a full week (Best).
There is a long history of the health benefits from eating a vegetarian diet. Take a look around the world, and compare those statistics to a western diet. We’ll explore this in more detail in later challenges. However, the reality is, you can be unhealthy on a vegetarian diet just as easily as you can on a traditional diet. Sugar and salt are vegetarian. Eating a whole bag of potato chips is still bad for you. And there are questionable health benefits to highly processed, plant-based fast food. Again, the point is balance, consciousness and integrity when it comes to what you do, and what you eat. Eating whole foods, in as close to their natural form as possible, is a good guideline.
Full disclosure - I’m not vegetarian, nor is my family. We are conscious of what meat/dairy we buy and where it's from. We've replaced some sources of protein with plant-based options, and we eat vegetarian meals frequently. Laurel is a vegetarian, and moving towards veganism. My son’s girlfriend is vegetarian, for planetary reasons. It is a lifestyle choice, a journey of what works for you, and a decision to make improvements where you can.
If you’re not sure what a vegetarian meal even looks like, or how to prepare one, then start small. Start with breakfast. A boiled egg with toast works. Cereal. Yogurt & granola. A smoothie. Bagel and peanut butter. See? You’re already on the right track. Lunch is also pretty easy. Salad. Grilled cheese. Pizza. Veggie soup. Dinner is harder, because it’s usually our biggest meal, and the one we’re used to pairing with protein, starch and veg. But, you can reduce the size of your protein, and put more starch and veg on your plate. You can switch out that steak with fish, or even chicken, which has less of a footprint. Portabella mushrooms with goat cheese roasted on the BBQ is totally delicious.
If you want support along the way, Laurel’s adult daughter has been trying out a food delivery box called Cook It. It’s not quite local (it’s from Montreal), and everything is sourced as local to Montreal as possible. They attempt to minimize waste and they are planning to launch a reusable box delivered by bike. They aim for less than 4 percent food waste, and the box is teaching Laurel’s daughter how to eat Vegetarian. For someone who is very busy and has no idea how to get started, it is actually a pretty good option. The meals come with cards to show you how to shop and replicate the meals locally, and it has been working really well for Laurel’s daughter. She’s adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, has reduced her food budget, and it has reduced their weekly compost by a full bag.
If you treat the experience with curiosity instead of animosity, you’ll be more successful. The term “flexitarian” is gaining traction, which really just means, eat meat in moderation, choose plant-based options when you can, and cut out processed junk. If you don’t like what you try, then switch it up next time. The point is, find what you like, that not only supports your well-being, but supports the planet. You will be healthier, and you will feel better. Bon appetit!
Yours in sustainability, Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood
52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.