Meat is getting more expensive
In the span of just a century, meat has gone from being very expensive to comparatively “cheap as chickens” and is now swinging back to being expensive. Of course, there are cheap meat products out there (and I do mean “products”, unfortunately) but they’re often highly processed in one way or another with ingredients or knock on effects from how the animal was raised and/or slaughtered that confound the human digestive system. And with more people around the world earning enough to increase the amount of meat they can feed their families, there’s no ignoring the upward trend.
Eating more meat doesn’t equal more health
Going overboard with meat consumption (as the western diet tends to do) is not so great for your health over the mid to long term. On average, we eat almost twice as much meat as our ancestors did a hundred years ago. The movie Forks Over Knives (I found it on Netflix) does a deep dive on this topic – lots of scientific data well presented in an easily digested fashion (pardon the pun). It weaves together the stories of two doctor (one a scientist, the other a physician) and their paths to unexpected discoveries about the connection between what we eat and our health.
The surprising connection between cow burps and climate change
Eating meat is a largely hidden source of climate change (simply through lack of awareness). Eating meat contributes to climate change by emitting three gases, three ways.
Here are the three gases: Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Carbon Dioxide (CO2 ) and Methane (CH4)
The emissions happen three ways:
Producing the food that feeds the animals that become our dinner – clearing land (good-bye rainforests), planting and fertilizing feed crops, and the harvesting, processing and transporting of livestock feed.
Livestock burps, toots and poop (burps contribute a surprising 95% of the methane cows release compared to 5% coming from their other end).
Transportation and processing of livestock on the journey from farm to table.
While all of the gases are worrisome, of particular concern is the methane that is released by livestock as they digest food. Methane is a heavyweight in the climate change equation because it traps up to 30 times more radiant heat from the sun compared to carbon dioxide. That said, carbon dioxide is still the biggest player because there is so much more of it. Our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from human activities and preserve nature’s extremely effective carbon capture systems (most notably the forests PLUS the ocean algae) remain REALLY important. But if we can reduce the build-up of climate change gasses by eating less meat, that’s an extra benefit for us as well as future generations.
Making the transition to less meat
In the typical western diet, meat is the center piece of the main meal of the day. The starch and veggies are add-ons, accessories to the main event. When we plan a meal, we tend to decide on the animal protein first (what type of meat or fish) and then select any additions based on how well they complement the “protein”. Meat can also be very easy to cook (have burger, bun and BBQ, and you’re ready to go).
Forks over Knives mentions the Asian diet, where meat has historically been much less present. When meat is part of the meal, it’s a small piece of sliced meat, carefully seasoned. The meat is a taste highlight as opposed to the bulky anchor is has become in the western diet.
So if meat takes a step back, what fills the gap? Will simply steaming more broccoli fill the void and give you that full feeling we who live in the north especially crave to prop up our psychological well-being as the temperature drops and our daily allotment of sunlight becomes increasingly meager?
If the answer is “Probably not!” then what will? In pasta dishes, less meat is less missed but pasta every night gets pretty boring pretty fast. The only other solution would seem to be larger portions of more complex veggie dishes to get that “full feeling” in your rumbling tummy. Replacing the easiest part of the meal with something that requires more thought and effort may not seem very appealing, especially after a long day at the workplace. But perhaps it’s simply a matter of changing habits and finding a new set of favourite dishes that can help you settle into a comfortable routine. I’m still working on that part.
There is help out there. For example, Forks Over Knives offers a veggie meal planning guide service (including a 30 day free trial).
My first step in the right direction has been to adapt a chili recipe that uses far less or no meat with the added benefit of finding a way to add more turmeric and cumin to our diet (no mean feat when you have a school age child).