In Which I Talk At Length Climate Change and (Eventually) what “Eat Less Meat” Looks Like for a Household that is Not At All Vegetarian

Okay, kids. So here’s the thing. I’m freaking the fuck out about climate change. As I said to my lovely wife, this morning, I’m scared as heck about it and, while I’m taking steps to mitigate/reduce our households personal carbon/climate impact (more on that in a minute), I’m also painfully aware of exactly how little that will actually accomplish in the grand scheme of things, and how little the people who can actually effect the kind of nation-scale sweeping changes that will Save Us All are willing to do (because it will piss off their donors and threaten their hold on political power and high salaries, basically).
And I’m freaking out.
My wife said, basically, that she thinks it’s going to go like: The shit is going to get very real, very fast (…more so than it is already?) and then there are going to be some very big changes that happen extremely quickly – like Emergency Measures Act quickly.
And… I don’t want it to go that way.
I want to to be going that way NOW, when there’s still a few years of buffer to make those big energy transitions a little less bumpy.
I want my legislators to actually fucking legislate rather than approving oil pipelines that poison the ground, destroy native territories (acknowledged and unacknowledged, you guys), and put literally everything we rely on for survival at risk.
 
I want to see building codes updated across the country so that every new suburban (or otherwise) housing or industrial development has to basically be wallpaper its roofs with photovoltaic panels, and every new high-rise (apartment, office or mixed use) has to come equipped with a load-bearing green roof planted with wind-pollinated crops – wheat, corn, barley, rye, oats, for sure, but also stuff like super-dwarf chestnut, walnut, and heart-nut trees and hazelnut/filbert bushes. I also want to see requirements for extremely efficent insulation, passive solar heating-and-cooling, and the escape from reliance on Air Condition to keep offices and apartments comfortable during the summers, because that will reduce both HFCs (used in fridges, freezers, and A/C units) and the fuel requirements for heating our homes and workplaces during the six or seven months of the year when we need to have the heat on.
I want to see oil rigs and refineries and nuclear energy phased out and wind farms and solar farms phased in, and phased in QUICKLY.
 
I want to see cities adopting biochar as a way to deal with their carbon-based waste (everything from the plastic that lines tin cans & the paper-and-plastic mix of those damned window-envelopes to polyester rags & mixed fiber clothes, to human and animal poop, to grease-saturated cardboard pizza boxes, to kitchen compost) to produce both (a) enough methane to run its own water treatment plants plus, ideally, enough extra to run every gas grill currently relying on fossil fuels[1], while also (b) sequestering a huge volume of carbon in the resulting charcoal which, (c) happens to also be usable as a hell of a good soil amendment thanks to it being made out of bones and coffee grounds and human piss and kale stems and dry leaves and grass clippings and dog strangling vine and giant hog parsnip and animal poop and a million other things besides just fucking wood chips (which… biochar made only out of wood? Is not the most useful thing on its own, and I gather it can be slightly detrimental in a situation where the soil is already pretty depleted).
 
I want the laws around agriculture in my country to require grass-feeding and grass-finishing for meat animals (like everything from small/”small” stock like turkeys, meat and laying chickens, rabbits, and cavias, to Large Black pasture-finishable pigs, to ostriches and emus, to beef cattle, sheep, goats, bison, and elk) AND for dairy-and-fiber animals (cattle, sheep and goats, but also odd critters like alpacas and llamas), and to more quickly outlaw things like battery cages (Canada is in the process of phasing these out[2]), farrowing crates, and finishing feedlots (CAFOs). I want our cattle farms – beef and dairy – to be contributing to carbon sequestration through “bio-mimicking” (rotational, “adaptive multi-paddock”) grazing[3].
 
I want to see flocks of chickens and turkeys, and even rabbits, in moveable hutches, grazing under the semi-shade of solar arrays (you can do this with sheep, too, but not goats – ’cause they like to climb – and not cattle, just because cattle are HUGE). I want to see dairy and beef cattle, Large Black pigs (and any other pasture-finishable breeds) chowing down on grassland under the graceful, if slightly noisy, dance of enormous wind turbines[4]. I want the transition of farms from single-crop to multi-crop AND (more to the point) to mixed veggies + grains + legumes + orchards + livestock + green energy harvesting, to be government-subsidized for a decade or two while people get the fucking hang of it. And I want a lot of Canadian farms to be OWNED and run by the same people who are doing the farm labour. I want to see Six Nations farmers and Jamaican expat farmers and southern-Scottish-extraction farmers (yes, I mean my relatives here), and Metis farmers. I want to see Japanese, Lebanese, and Somalian born farmers growing hothouse veggies and running mixed orchards. I want it all.
 
I want big companies like Loblaws and Canadian Tire (and whoever owns fucking Loblaws and Canadian Tire) to be FORCED to change up the packaging of their store brands so than random shoppers like me get to choose between the feel-good, actually environmentally ethical option of a 12-pack of TP packaged in flimsy cardboard sleeves (think cracker-box weight), a jar of mayo in a glass bottle, a kilogram of pasta in a non-glossy, biodegradable paper envelope and – tbh, I would legit take this, even if I’d want it to be the extreme minority option and only used for freezer-case items – polylactic acid (fermented cornstarch based) “bio-plastic” bags[5] of frozen veggies and perogies in the freezer case… or taking the petroium-plastic-packaged everything from a non-store brand. Because I think both the grocery stores AND the non-store brands would quickly find out exactly how happy random, distracted, grocery shoppers are to HAVE the option of Actually Not Horrible ready to go at their stressed-out, in-a-rush fingertips, and then everybody would get of the fucking bandwagon because they want our sweet, sweet consumer dollars and brand loyalty.
 
I want an affordable, electro-magnetic, green-energy-run bullet train that can shuttle me my place to Montreal, and then from Montreal to NYC, and then from NYC to DC, in a speedy six hours (with, okay, a one hour layover here and there, maybe, because I’d have to change trains at least once). Because even though it would take twice as long, and have a crappy effect on my back, hips, and knees, it would also take a mere one third of the time that the train currently takes, and I’d still get to see my girlfriend on the quasi-regular while having a lower carbon footprint (AND less exposure to radiation) than flying.
 
I want MASSIVE reforestation projects to happen, with an eye to both re-wilding AND sustainable logging, and I want them to be led and run by indigenous people in their returned-and-acknowledged territories. I want my country to work out something where we are actually paying indigenous people WELL for short-term logging rights in their territories and where we’re required to follow High Sustainability Practices, and hire a lot of indigenous people, when doing that logging. So that Canada, as a nation, can still have a logging industry, but it works very differently, and a whole lot BETTER, than the one we’ve got right now. Ditto any kind of mining.
 
…But you guys? I’m not holding my breath on getting any that stuff.
At least not outside of the “farmers of numerous racial and national backgrounds” part, because we already have at least some of that.
 
As this article from Forbes says, “We know what we have to do to avoid a climate catastrophe: eat a plant-rich diet, change our energy mix, electrify transport, [and] reverse deforestation.” But also: Educate girls, restore indigenous territories and land-stewardship to indigenous people (and follow their fucking lead), and capture refigerants (see above re: stop relying on air conditioning units and start using good insulation and passive solar for heating and cooling).
 
So what can I personally do?
 
As a renter, rather than a landowner? Not tonnes. I can’t switch my furnace from natural gas (fossil fuel) to a pellet-fueled wood stove with catalytic converter and a thermostat-run-hopper to feed it (still burning something carbon-based – pellets made of compressed coffee, sawdust, and other plant-based agricultural waste – but at least it’s renewable, plus the catalytic converter ups the efficiency, and lowers the particulate-based air-quality-destroying pollution of a wood stove by a very substantial margin). I can’t dig a very deep well and get some geothermal heating put in. (I’m not even sure I could do that if I owned the place, tbh). I can’t cover the roof in solar panels or return indigenous territories to their rightful stewards. As a single individual without a tonne of political power, I can’t reverse deforestation – beyond what I’m doing now, which is essentially guerilla orchardry, but which isn’t very effective over the short term – or up the availability of education for girls.
BUT.
I can – provided our income gets significantly better – switch our electricity provider to a company like Bullfrog Power which adds green energy sources to the ones supplying the power grid to offset (and, in theory, eventually replace) the not-so-green stuff that is currently the majority of our energy supply here in Canada.
 
I can continue to not have a car – Which, tbh, is not likely to be how this goes. I feel pretty conflicted about this because, on the one hand? Enormous growth in our household’s carbon footprint if we do this[6]. And I don’t want that. On the other hand? A car would give us some significant freedom of movement, buy my wife an extra 2-3 hours of personal time (time for sleep and time to interact with me and her other partners) every weekday, from November through to April, and the degree to-which that benefits her mental health, her physical health, and her relationships is pretty fucking huge. So she and one of her partners are looking at potentially buying a car together. I have no idea how to off-set this, other than through the whole “have one less kid than you were planning to” thing… given that we’re all child-free, that one’s a given. But this is definitely looking like a thing that will be part of our future, and a shared car is still a car.
 
I can continue to not have an air conditioner – though the fact that I have a chest freezer, even a small one, is also contributing HFCs to my environment. (I have not done the math on the difference in Emissions between keeping a chest freezer full of food that was locally grown and put up in season versus not having a chest freezer and buying fresh produce flown in from Argentina and New Zealand – or even just California and Florida – for six or seven months of the year, but I suspect I’m coming out smelling a little better in this, even with the HFCs taken into account). That being said I can also pay attention to what local, non-frozen veggies are available from hothouse producers here in (or very close to) town during the winter months and continue to rely predominantly on non-frozen veggies like long-keeping winter squash, beets, potatoes, cabbage, rutabaga, and parsnips over the winter, so that the freezer space I am using is being used efficiently.
 
I can Eat Local – whether that’s from the garden or the grocery store or a farm that raises pasture-finished livestock that I stuff into the above-mentioned freezer to use it efficiently. And I can grow/buy/forage fruit and veggies in season and freeze, water-bath-can, dry, and/or pressure-can them so that I don’t have to rely on imported frozen veggies from a grocery store (yep… those bags of kale and squash I was so enjoying this past winter were… mostly not from around here. Dammit), let alone the fresh-and-flown-in versions.
 
I can eat less meat – Yes, even though I don’t want to. And even though, as per the links about farming and carbon sequestration through AMP livestock grazing, a locally and humanely raised Large Black pig is a heck of a lot closer to carbon neutral than industrially raised barley and lentils trucked in from Saskatchewan, let alone almonds from California and quinoa from Bolivia, despite all that, I can still eat less meat.
 
Ugh. Okay. This is going to be a bit of rant, but bear with me.
Most of the times I read about “eat less meat” or “eat a plant based diet” it’s either people who are vegan, and want everybody to eat ZERO animal products (which… if it works for you, go to it, but I’ve been eating vegetarian food for most of this week – not even vegan, just no meat – and I’m hungry to the point of being shaky, even though I know how to combine fats, beans, and grains to get accessible complete proteins, and even though eggs don’t actually take that much thinking, so… given that this is always how vegetarian eating goes for me? Probably not the best plan for my body)… OR they’re writing to an audience of people who are so wealthy they can eat beef – like actual steaks – multiple times per week without having to think about it, because the articles in question literally say things like “Eating steak one less time per week will make a significant difference to your personal carbon footprint”.
Which… You’re not wrong. It definitely would. But I’m already eating close to ZERO beef per month, never mind per week, so what even are you talking about – looking at you, Michael Pollan – when you tell your readers to “eat less meat” because I think I’m already well over your particular bar on that one. /RANT
 
ANYWAY. Either way, the “eat less meat” people don’t seem to be talking about my lived experience or my body’s particular needs, so I get to kind of make my own way about this.
AS SUCH: What does “eat less meat” mean for me and my household:
 
It means getting half a hog all at once from one of those local, humane farmers, so that (a) most of our meat for the next two years will be coming from exactly one death, and (b) most of our meat for the next two years will be coming from within an hour’s drive of our home, and (c) most of our meat for the next two years will have had a decent life where it got be an Actually Piggy Pig and got to eat food that was good for it and didn’t spend any of its life in a shit-choked prison feeling nothing but despair.
On a related note, It means getting a couple of turkeys at Thanks Giving and relying on them for non-pork meat for most of the rest of the year. Those birds don’t get a good life. I’m not under any illusions there. But 2-4 of them in my freezer is slightly less blood and misery on my hands than a dozen+ roasting chickens, so… not less meat, exactly. But fewer lives.
 
It means making good use of those lentils and barley from Saskatchewan, but cooking them in bone stock and frying them in bacon grease, so that we get the flavour from meat[7], and – in the case of the stock, at least – some of that sweet, sweet bio-accessible protein, without relying on it for a substantial part of the meal’s calories.
It means taking a shot at growing grain amaranth in the back yard, and using that – plus those Saskatchewan red lentils and/or some milk (see below) – to provide the protein in a soup or stew, whether or not there’s bone stock and bacon grease involved.
It means buying the free run eggs even though they’re twice the price.
 
It means, since I know damn well I’m not going to stop relying on dairy, finding ways to get my milk (and cheese, and yoghurt, and ice cream, and, and, and…) from local sources, ideally ones that are humane and don’t involve completely screwing over the cows. Right now, that means I’m buying foodland ontario milk in plastic bags. But getting the organic milk in glass bottles – even though that basically means spending 4 times the money[8] – is a possibility. Most likely how this would work is I start switching from getting a gallon at a time to getting a 2L carton of “normal” homo milk at the beginning of the week, and then suplementing it with 1L glass bottles as needed. Not my favourite way to go, but definitely feasible. Once I’m (financially) used to doing it like that, I can (a) track how many glass bottles I’m getting on top of the 2L carton, and (b) start switching over to only getting the 1L bottles. This is sort of how I did it with organic fair trade coffee, so I think it would work with dairy, as well.
It means eating more organ meats and less muscle meats when we are eating meat that doesn’t come from that half a hog. This means a lot of chicken liver pâté (actually liver mousse) and marinated chicken hearts, I suspect.
 
It means making falafel patties and waldorf-esque or nicoise salads for summer dinners, and making hummus and “artichoke asiago” (or, more likely, leafy-greens-and-parmasan) dips to go along with the brie and blue cheese rather than (or in addition to, there-by allowing us to cut down on the serving sizes of) the dry sausage and liver mousse we usually have on our Wine And Cheese date nights. It means having thick-hummus-and-sour-kraut sandwiches as often as we have chicken/pork or cheese sandwiches for lunches. An “eat steak one less time per week” situation where “steak” is pork shoulder and shredded turkey.
It means eat more vegetables, meaning I need to aim for 3-4 servings of veggies per person (about 2C, cooked) per dinner, plus some pasta/whole grains/potatoes/bread… and then worry about Where We’re Getting Our Protein (which might be chickpeas, lentils, a tablespoon of parmasan cheese + 2 tablespoons of diced dry sausage, or a cup or so of shredded frozen turkey split between three+ servings of stew. Not “fewer meals ft meat” but “less meat per meal”.
 
It means, essentially, that my whole grocery bill (as opposed to just the coffee and chocolate parts of it) is going to double (but slowly – for a given value of slowly – as I have the liquid cash to actually do this) in order to lighten the burden my particular household’s food-ways place on our home. Ye gods, I am NOT looking forward to that.
But here we are.
 
Anyway. That’s my long, loooong post about Eating Less Meat and other things I can do to not wreck the planet (as much). Thanks for sticking with me.
 
 
Cheers,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] Yes, I’m very aware that this is, in itself, not actually helping anybody’s climate change initiatives.
 
[2] We stopped manufacturing battery cages two years ago, but using them won’t actually be illegal until 2036. Dammit. Go get those free run eggs, folks!
 
[3] Yes, this kind livestock raising DOES result in more methane-due-to-animal-farts. But it also offsets 100% of that methane (apparently) through carbon-sequestration in the grasslands that are regenerated (and the root systems that get super deep because of it) through the frequent movement of the herds from one grazing area to another to another to another. You can find a blog post – with a related podcast – about it here.
 
[4] I live downtown within spitting distance of a highway on-ramp. They’re currently tearing up my nearest major intersection using a giant pneumatic hammer. Don’t @ me about the alleged health detriments of fucking wind turbines, okay?
 
[5] These aren’t ideal. Corn (or similar) used to make this stuff does contribute to the mono-cropping hegemony and, as we’re seeing with the demand for ethanol-based fuel for cars, frequently results in food-production land in The Global South being converted into fuel-production land for export… which leaves already-vulnerable and exploited populations that much worse off and more likely to face famine conditions. So, like… this is preferable to a sea of petrolium-based products, but it’s not ideal and I would rather we were able to come up with something like… I don’t know… Aluminum envelopes for frozen goods or something. I really don’t know what to do about this on an industrial scale.
 
[6] I did the math – some time last Summer, I think – and found out that, while we do have a motorcycle, which does put our footprint (as two adults) above the sustainable line per person… it doesn’t put it over that line by much. We could slide back under by replacing our last three incandescent bulbs with compact florescents, and by turning our heat down by two degrees celcius when the furnace is running. A car – even a hybrid or a fully electric one (and it’s more likely to be the former, tbh) – would squash that possibility entirely.
 
[7] My Traditional Foodways include getting a LOT of a dish’s flavour from ferments, including cured meat (such as bacon and dry sausage) and cheeses, as well as the more obvious wines, beers, ciders, vinegars, and various mustards.
 
[8] Seriously, I could get 3L organic homo milk DELIVERED to my door, in glass bottles… but it would cost me $21. Whereas a gallon of organic milk in a big plastic bag, would run me about $11 and what I’m getting right now is just shy of $6/gallon. That is a HUGE jump in price, and I’m balking at it pretty hard. Am I ready to spend $85+/month on milk alone? Because, right now, that’s more than a week of groceries. O.O

2 responses to “In Which I Talk At Length Climate Change and (Eventually) what “Eat Less Meat” Looks Like for a Household that is Not At All Vegetarian

  1. Pingback: Full Moon – Thunder Moon Waxes and Crests | Urban Meliad

  2. Pingback: Not Actually A Plastic-Free Life | Urban Meliad

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