Sustainable Eating – Karl Walker Finch

How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?

roast chicken vegetarian
roast chicken vegetarian

There was a time, in the not too distant past when I turned to my wife, after debating what we should cook for dinner, where I used the phrase “it’s not a proper meal if it doesn’t have some meat in it”. I’d stress the importance of protein in my diet for energy, to strengthen bones and muscles (despite the distinct absence of a gym in my life) in in staving off my insatiable appetite. “We’re carnivores, we have the teeth of meat eaters”, a half truth perhaps. 30,000 years ago, our Homo sapiens ancestors were mainly forages, gaining most of there food from the much safer past-time of picking fruit from trees, cooking roots and tubers and then occasionally taking the more difficult and dangerous decision to hunt animals.

I still enjoy eating meat now, but it’s becoming patently clear that even if we overlook the ethical dilemma, the environmental impact of farming animals on mass is staggeringly bad. In the UK, we currently generate on average 5.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, the nice concise single figure used to roughly apportion our contribution of greenhouse gases) per person per year and we need to get this down to at most 2.1 tonnes if we want to make a meaningful difference to climate change. We already have a head start on countries like the US and Australia in reducing our carbon footprint, though they’ll no doubt point to their constant need for air conditioning, the inordinate quantities of coal still mined and used probably has a more significant impact, and I want to use this advantage and the many other advantages we have living in the UK to show the world what making a meaningful difference looks like. 

The biggest impact can still be had with choosing a green energy provide and ditching the car or at least swapping to electric, but consuming what we consider in modern times to be a “normal” amount of animal products, has a significant impact on our CO2e output.

I don’t do Veganuary, just as I don’t do crash diets or make sudden radical overhauls in my lifestyle for the simple reason that it’s never sustainable. It takes an enormous amount of willpower to make wholesale changes and once the initial spark of passion has died away, we all too easily plateau back to our old ways. I’m going to pass on the cold turkey, it’s just not sustainable. Let’s make things easy for ourselves. Let’s make a couple of small changes here or there and start chipping away at the problem and let’s have some fun while we’re doing it.

I loved experimenting with different milks on my cereal, finally settling on unsweetened coconut milk as being my number one choice, closely followed by the quite sickly richness of hazelnut milk which is frustratingly harder to find. This one small change hasn’t only improved my breakfast but it’s reduced my consumption of cows milk by a couple of pints a week.

Upgrading my coffee to barista oat or almond milk* was another step in the right direction. And no, it doesn’t taste exactly the same as milk, it’s better.
*technically we’re not supposed to call it “milk” any more, some farmers go upset and paid some very good lawyers to convince a very expensive judge to rule with words to the effect of you’re only allowed to call things milk if they contain the hormones intended for rearing calves or kids. Oh except coconut milk, that’s one’s ok.

I’ve also diversified our dinner menu, I’m always looking for new recipes to try and so instead of looking for meaty dishes, anything new I add to the list of regulars is veggie or vegan, from a vegan moussaka, to a hoi sin tofu stir fry. I also make a mean vegan peppercorn sauce with oat cream.

A lightbulb moment for me was when I gave up trying to pretend that these veggie sausages were real sausages, or the vegan chicken pieces were real chicken. I have no idea how it works, but there is something in the way the the veggies infuse with the spices that just doesn’t happen with meat that introduced me to a new world of flavour. No longer am I sat wishing that what was on my plate was beef, I now enjoy the vivacious variety of colours, textures and flavours that bring every meal to life.
I still enjoy a roast chicken on the occasional Sunday, or a good steak if I’m out for a meal, but they’re not the be all and end all. It has never been easier to buy, cook and consume exceptional plant-based food and by gradually incorporating plant-based meals into my life, I’ve never enjoyed my food more.
Week by week, I’m noticing less animals on my menu as I’m choosing the meals that I prefer eating. I’m feeling healthier than I ever remember feeling before, I have more energy, I’m don’t need to obsess about protein intake, it’s all there and my carbon footprint is smaller than it has ever been, in the region of a quarter of a tonne of CO2e per year smaller, just based on changes in my diet alone.

Let’s say no to cold turkey, it’s just not sustainable. We can make a much more meaningful long-lasting difference by gradually building change one step at a time, improving our diet is another brick in the wall.

Karl Walker Finch BDS

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