That unfortunate encounter with a hamburger raised a red flag about the true cause of my meat malady, but I continued life as a fishetarian for environmental reasons. Knowing that it takes thousands of gallons of water to grow one hamburger and that millions of people could be fed with the grain eaten by commercially-raised livestock, it didn’t seem right to go back to my carnivorous ways.
But now that there are so many local, responsible sources of meat, I’ve begun to question the true sustainability of my eating habits.
It seemed logical that catching a fish had a much smaller impact on the planet than raising an animal. But as with all things human, scale matters. Too many of us are eating too much, and now fish are being harvested to the brink of extinction.
What about fish farming?
Well, it’s often full of crap. Literally.
OK, so what about other environmentally-friendly sources of protein, like quinoa?
Got some bad news. a) Those grains have traveled approximately 4,000 carbon-spewing miles to get to your table, and b) its trendiness overseas has caused some complicated side effects for Peru and Bolivia. Too bad growing it at home has proven difficult thus far.
That brings us back to responsibly-raised, local meat.
Now I’m not talking about the scary CAFOs like we saw on our trip out West, where the animals were nauseatingly crowded and pumped full of antibiotics.
Rather, several friends have created what’s known as a “closed system” on their organic farms using livestock — letting the critters roam, aerate the soil, eat pests and blemished veg, and naturally provide, um, fertilizer — and that’s imperative for the long-term health of their land. The meat is harvested, and nothing goes to waste, including the fat that can be used as a replacement for processed vegetable oils.
With that in mind, incorporating a few animal products into our whole-food diet makes sense.
Notice I said “a few.”
We still believe moderation is the key. Meat three times a day, seven days a week is lousy for you and for the environment. But cooking one big meal a week with pork, chicken, or lamb purchased from small-scale farms has had a surprising effect. I find myself feeling fuller, more energetic, and making fewer trips to the grocery for snacks. And, so far, no tummy problems.
To meat or not to meat is a personal decision, informed by all sorts of moral, cultural, and medical influences. What’s right for us isn’t necessarily right for everyone. But we wanted to open the door for dialogue and bring to light some of the complex factors that make our food system so difficult to navigate. We hope you’ll share your thoughts with our online community and continue the discussion.