If there’s one thing guaranteed to ignite debate in a zero waste Facebook group, it’s the topic of diet. I don’t think anyone can deny that a plant-based diet is better for the environment, but not everyone is ready for full-blown veganism. Furthermore, everyone’s dietary needs and lifestyle situations are different. A young, singleton in their twenties or thirties with no dietary restrictions has a much easier time deciding what to have for tea than someone cooking for a large, multi-generational family, some of whom may have allergies or wildly differing preferences.
When ‘environmentally-friendly’ and ‘food’ are used in the same sentence, discussions can, in fact do, become emotional and high-spirited. Passionate vegans don’t seem to understand why anyone would choose any diet other than vegan, or at the very least transitioning to vegan. And everyone else seems to get very defensive about their choice of diet, leaping in to justify their various decisions about meat, fish and dairy. The fact of the matter is that everything we do has an impact on the environment in some way. We just need to weigh up what impact we’re going to have.
I’ve mentioned before about our decision to buy locally-farmed meat from a local butcher. To offset the higher cost of this, we decided to eat less meat and we now eat three to four meat meals a week. An interesting thing happened when we cut down our meat meals. I started to lose my appetite for it, even Bovril on toast, which I’ve eaten all my life. Conversely, my husband’s appetite goes through phases of almost craving it, dreaming of steak in various forms. This works well in a ‘Jack Sprat’ kind of way. When I cook a meat meal, I manage one or two mouthfuls of meat and my husband eats the rest of my share.
I’m not keen on labelling my diet. I think it puts me under pressure to live up to a certain expectation. I would never announce that I was ‘going vegetarian’, because I know it would lead to a huge amount of ‘calling out’ every time a meat product passed my lips. However, I’d heard the term ‘reducetarian’ in the zero waste groups a few times and realised it described my diet. I also enjoyed this article on reducetarianism, which covers how the term came about, the reasons why cutting down our intake of meat products is a good idea and why it’s so hard for some of us to do.
Having grown accustomed to the idea of labelling my diet, I’d also like to add a new label – conscious eating. This involves generally becoming more aware and more questioning of everything I eat:
- Where has it come from? How many air miles were involved in bringing it to my plate?
- Has it been ethically produced? Were the workers paid fairly and able to work in decent conditions to enable me to eat this? What is going on politically in the country of origin?
- What is the environmental impact of the product? Does it use excessive amounts of water? Has it been grown using pesticides and how do I feel about that?
- Is it going to make me feel good whilst I’m eating and when I’ve eaten it?
This is quite a recent thing for me. Up until now, I’ve been quite happy just to avoid plastic packaging. I also have a family of five to feed and nourish without bankrupting us and without turning myself into Public Enemy No 1! As usual in our family, it’s all about compromise. Yes, we still buy bananas that have flown half way round the world, but I do look for Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade certification. Yes, we still eat some meat, but I know the farm where it’s come from. Yes, we still drink cow’s milk, but it’s in glass bottles from a local dairy. Yes, I buy cucumbers wrapped in plastic and probably not grown in the UK for half of the year, but if I stopped buying cucumber I’d have a full-scale mutiny on my hands!
This all sounds very time consuming (you’re probably wondering how long it takes me to do my shopping!) and full of angst, but I assure you it’s not. Rather than giving in to mindless consumerism, I’m aware of what we’re eating. I weigh up the pros and cons of the choices available to me and make a decision based on those. I also still maintain that a little of what you fancy does you good. We’ve just celebrated Easter, so my chocolate consumption has gone through the roof, but I hope to get it back down again. We also enjoyed some amazing fish and chips in Middleton-in-Teesdale yesterday and managed to avoid the usual disposable cutlery and styrofoam trays and cups. I’ll leave you with a picture of Teesdale at its very best, snapped by my brother-in-law.