A Year of Meat-Less Living

This is a re-post of a piece I wrote on my family blog in 2011, but I was encouraged to edit and re-post today by an article posted on GOOD Magazine’s website: “Eating some meat may be better for the environment than eating none.”

Factor in the intense meat-holiday of Christmas with the Taylors (and the holiday weight that needs shifting), as well as the intense work-avoidance of a Master’s assignment and the feeling that I should be blogging more about my practice and the decisions I make as an educator and here you are.

For more than a year now (bar Christmas!), we have been trying to make conscious decisions to live “meat-less.” This doesn’t mean full veggie, but we have cut a lot of meat from our diets.

An updated version of the original article is below. Here is a little TED Talk from Graham Hill of Treehugger, on why he is a weekday veggie:


A restaurant on the beach in Bali. 23rd October 2010. My last day in my twenties and the end of a long day of training for a workshop. I had  a chicken curry, which was nice but the chutney and poppadoms were the most worthwhile part. Ken next to me had something veggie which looked and smelled better.

Periplus bookstore in Bali. 24th October 2010. First day of being thirty, a foggy head from a late night and I needed a book to read. I ended up picking Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran-Foer. I loved Everything is Illuminated, his debut novel, and found the idea of a factual book by him interesting. I was expecting a rant against the industrial farming industry, an updated Fast Food Nation. Instead it was a beautifully written personal account of his relationship with meat. He looks into how it is produced. He explores the ethics and choices we make when eating animals. It was the final word the debate that has been going on in our heads for a while and so that day we decided to live a meat-less life.

Meat-less is not meat-free. We’re not full-time vegetarians or vegans (though if all restaurants were as good as Zula in Seminyak we could be). We just made the decision to make decisions; to think more carefully about our choices and how they impact our health, our future and the world around us.

We made some rules, and for a year now we have been pretty good at sticking to them. Although I am taking it more seriously than Hesty, we have both made some changes.

Eat meat a few of times a month, not every day.

This gives us the freedom to enjoy food and to appreciate the efforts of people who entertain. When thinking about meals each day we think about what we will have, not what animal we will have.

Avoid the junk and the cheapo valupacks.

Soon after beginning, I had a  hankering for a burger. I scratched that itch and didn’t really enjoy it. Now if it’s a meaty meal it has to be quality. As for extra-value meat packets: how can they afford to get so much flesh into a packet so cheaply?

If there’s a special occasion and the host has gone all-out for a delicious meal, this approach allows you to say ‘yes’! If you go home for the break and want just one pork pie or Cumberland sausage…

Don’t think like a meat-eater.

Trying to replace meat with meat-substitutes is a recipe for disappointment. Hesty is getting very good at making veggie dinners and the repertoire of new dishes we are trying is a lot of fun! Japan and Indonesia are both pretty easy for the veggie diet, and I was encouraged to see a greater diversity of good options in the UK on our last visit.

Do think like a global citizen.

Huge numbers of Indonesians eat delicious food which is not meat-heavy. Vegetarian Indian is by far the best choice on the plane. We have always had open-minded food tastes, which Hesty and I both attribute to our mothers. Both excellent cooks in their own styles, they raised us to be adventurous eaters. It is a gift and we will try to do the same for Anya and Sam. They will need to find their own niche in the world and as third culture kids are more likely to explore the planet and its cultures. If Hesty had been a fussy eater, we would not have made it to the second date!

Stay balanced and get the right nutrition.

Protein deficiency for vegetarians and the meat-less is a myth. We still eat eggs and drink milk. Indonesia and Japan are great for tofu, beans and vegetables. Without too much stress any privileged, well-fed person gets at least as much protein as they need.

Don’t go too hardcore.

We’re not pious and we’re not preaching. We’re simply making our own choice based on the knowledge we have. We take the time to read and to care, and the world is in a place where as many people as possible need to make sustainable choices. This is what we’re comfortable with and for us it feels like the right thing to do.We don’t force ourselves to completely give up meat, but our intake has dropped by at least ninety percent. Amazingly, it has not been difficult.

An interesting quote from the GOOD article that rings true with our experiences is:

The real advantage, though, is that eating less meat opens up conversations about food choices with meat-eaters, while vegetarianism often shuts them down.”

It makes for interesting conversations at parties and with friends. Sometimes people are just intrigued or feel challenged to try something new. That’s gotta be good.

Don’t force it on the kids.

Anya still eats meat regularly, but is not one for huge portions. She loves milk, eggs and veggies and is already a budding environmentalist. Sam loves dairy, but at the moment he only gets his milk from two reliable udders. As he is now on solids, his choices are becoming more varied, and some small amounts of meat do figure in there.

Why would anyone want to make the change?

It took more than a book and a turning-thirty crisis to make the change. As a biology and  health teacher, marine biologist, parent and someone who cares about the environment, it is the right choice to make.

Think about the decisions you make to do the right thing or to give back, in whatever way. How does that action have positive impacts beyond the original reason you may have had for taking that action?

You might, for example, have chosen to refuse plastic bags for reasons of wastage and litter. However, that simple, singular action has more wide-reaching positive outcomes: reduced dependence on petrochemicals, reduced ocean pollution and choking of marine predators, reduced deforestation and a return to thoughtfulness in consumerism.

Everything is connected. There is no longer one lone, valid reason for making any single, ethical choice. Some might claim to give up meat on animal welfare grounds alone, but their action has further-reaching consequences.

We have no single reason for our decision to cut out meat. The combination is compelling and these are some of the elements of our combination.

Sustainability is the key factor in our decision to go meat-less. We share the planet with almost seven billion others. Millions are starving or suffering drought whilst a growing number choose to eat themselves to death.  It is unsustainable to farm meat on an industrial scale to satisfy the meaty demands of the affluent west and the growing wealthy populations of the emerging economies.

Land is cleared and habitats destroyed to make way for giant farms for the grains which are used to feed the cows that make the burgers. What if that land – and the water! – were used to grow crops to feed people? The simple inefficiency of the food chain and the scandalous wastage of potential food at each link in the chain of custody of a food item should be reason enough to cut back.

High-meat diets are associated with heart disease, some cancers and strokes. Add to that a stressful job, family history and generally sedentary lifestyle and you have a recipe for disaster. Prevention is better than cure, so we’re cutting back. The hope is for a more active and balanced life in Japan. Work hard, yes, but more family time and less car transport.

Eating meat is expensive. Some people eat meat every day, or even twice a day. That quickly adds up and isn’t worth it if you don’t really appreciate it. Meat is a measure of affluence, and so there is a demand for cheap meat. However this is highly unlikely to have been produced in ethical or sustainable ways. Now when we do have a meat day we’re more likely to pay extra for a product we agree with and will enjoy. We’d much rather have a scarwnier but more delicious ayam kampung than a big and tasteless battery-farmed chicken.

Industrial farming is nothing like most people can imagine. Overuse of hormones, overuse of antibiotics, crowded conditions and the expedited evolution of pathogens are just some of the reasons to cut back on meat. It’s called factory-farming for a reason. These animals are the product of a factory production line concerned only with throughput and maximum yield and they have rarely, if ever, been near a ‘farm’.

It was very hard here in Indonesia to know where the meat comes from. If we did know, and we liked what we found out, we might eat a bit more. Recent documented cases of wanton animal abuse in factory farms there led Australia to ban live cattle exports to Indonesia.

It is not just here where these things happen though. How many people across the globe, in developed nations and developing, have lost the relationship with their food? Some kids don’t know what a tuna looks like other than a can. Plenty of adults have no appreciation for the path that their food has taken from padi to plate.

Now we’re in Japan, more pertinent concerns are fishery sustainability and heavy-metal tainting of large predators. Living on Kobe, we have still yet to try to world-renowned Kobe Beef. I have to admit, I’m curious, but it’s a big-hitter on the budget!

Replacing terrestrial meat with fish is not necessarily the quick-fix answer. After studying some fisheries management at university and more recently reading about the collapses of global fish stocks we know that we cannot keep taking more than can recover. Our desire to take – and to waste – as a species has left us in a position where we need to worry about our children’s food security and that of the coming generation. Our choices as consumers drive these industries. Even though it seems like one individual or a small group cannot make a real and measurable difference, we must try. We cannot live a life of willful ignorance just because it seems inconsequential. Seven billion poor decisions soon add up to one great big problem.

We are fortunate to live in an exciting time. Although the world may be in dire straits there are opportunities to learn from others and do the right thing. This is just one of our ways to do that as a family. With the internet, free media and technology we can be better connected and informed – quicker. We can look for labels that will tell us if our our fish and seafood are from sustainable, local stocks. Services like the MCS’s Good Fish Guide (click to download a pdf) give consumers the information we need to make the right choice at the food counter.

At the moment we eat meat just a few times a month. Way back when, there were times when we might eat meat every day – sometimes twice a day. There is no reason for that and to be honest we don’t really enjoy meat that much any more.

However, we know that we’ll most likely eat a little more meat than usual in the UK over the summer. This is because we’ll know where it has come from: a good local butcher sourcing meat from good local farmers or fish and seafood that are clearly labeled and sustainable. We know that people will be taking the time to entertain, care and cater for us and we’re not rude enough to reject their hospitality. That doesn’t mean we’ll go overboard. We’ll try to stick to our rules.

That all sounds like one great school project, and rightly so. Our generation and our parents’ generations have not made the best decisions with regards to sustainability. We are trying to change our minds and our actions but sustainable thought can begin at a very young age. Anya has absolutely loved her EC1 unit on Sharing the Planet and at four years old is knowledgeable about issues of the environment. Most importantly she thinks about her actions and is becoming principled in her decision-making. We hope that Samudra, whose name literally means ‘ocean’, will grow up in the same way.

Now this bit’s for Mum and Cumbrians. Lindsay Sullivan is curating a blog on Cumbria Wild Oceans, trying to help Cumbrians buy local, sustainable fish and seafood. Follow her blog to find out more and keep an eye out for events where this logo or banner may be on display:

Click on the banner to go to CumbriaWildOceans






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