One day a long time ago I looked a cow in the eye and made a pact to stop eating beef. I quickly forgot my promise and spent many years making excuses for why I could keep eating meat. At the point last summer when we bought a 1/4 cow at the farmers market from a “sustainable beef farmer” I had pretty much closed my mind to the concept of vegetarianism of any kind. I wouldn’t have even given it a second thought until I heard about the dedication of Lent to climate change action this year.
For Lent this year Catholics worldwide will fast for climate justice http://catholicclimatemovement.global/fast/ . Each country participating has a designated day. Canada’s day is March 4th. Participants are encouraged to fast (either from food or fossil fuels) on their Country’s set date.
I was immediately captured by this and by the concept of Lent. I wanted to both participate in the global fast dedicated to climate change mitigation (even though I am not a Catholic) while at the same time benefit from the application of the discipline required to give something up for 40 days. I thought it might be doubly meaningful to choose something to give up that had a direct connection with climate change.
After reading this article by Chris Hedges http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/all_forms_of_life_are_sacred_20150104 I knew immediately what I should give up. His article based on the work of Gary L. Francione http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/ is a bluntly convincing argument for eliminating the use of animal products.
I have long known there is a connection between the industrial meat production system and greenhouse gas emissions. This now much quoted study by the Food and Agriculture Organization “Livestock’s Long Shadow” http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM reports that “The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport (pg. xxi).” Captain Paul Watson from Sea Shepherd says it like this “In fact a vegan driving down the highway in a Hummer is contributing less to creating greenhouse gases than a meat-eater riding a bicycle” http://www.seashepherd.org/commentary-and-editorials/2014/05/06/v-648.
I have long struggled though with what is the most sustainable diet since I have also spent a great deal of time promoting local food and the regionalization of food systems. I had all but abandoned the concept of veganism after reading “The 100 Mile Diet” by J.B. MacKinnen and Alissa Smith which demonstrated the difficulties of trying to eat within one’s local “foodshed” while not eating local protein sources like meat, eggs and dairy. It also seemed to me that vegans who fill the majority of their diet with soy products from china, fruit from the tropics and packaged foods that travel thousands of miles, and take incredible amounts of energy to produce, as far from innocent in the climate impact of their food choices.
I am wary of what seem like the easy answers – the black and white – I have always been a fan of the grey and feel that sustainability solutions tend actually to be much more complex and context/geography driven than they are made out to be.
But, Chris and Gary convinced me to take another look. I greatly admire people who will do an about face when presented with good information to proves the contrary of their beliefs. I decided to eat a vegan diet for 40 days for Lent. I could try to see if the diet would work for me while I meditated on the reasons both for and against such a diet. While I enjoy my coffee sans milk and learn that humous comes in 18 different flavours I will research the case for veganism as a solution to multiple ecological and compassion related reasons. I’ll try to post the interesting things I learn along the way.
At the end of the 40 days if I find more reasons to stay a vegan than not I will continue on after Lent.
The adventure begins…