A few months back I was flicking through some Netflix titles and catching up on some TED Talks I’d bookmarked and been meaning to watch. Naturally, it didn’t take long to stumble across the “Chew On This” series, which aims to explore some of the economic, environmental, and health related facets of modern food culture and agriculture. While skimming through the list of speakers which Netflix has opted to include in this particular series, names like Jamie Oliver and Mark Bittman were the first to jump out at me since I’ve been following their work since as long as I’ve been interested in food. Surprisingly, it was a lesser known name that really caught my eye and and made me take notice, though. That name was Graham Hill‘s. As it turns out, Graham Hill is the creator of Treehugger.com, a blog of which I am a frequent reader of, and a site I’d certainly recommend to anyone else reading this.
Now, this TED Talk resonated with me. Filmed in 2010, “Why I’m a weekday vegetarian” legitimately got me thinking. A couple days after I initially watched this clip I found myself mulling over the statistics put forth and the ways in which my own habits factored in. As a result, it wasn’t long before I started feeling a tinge of guilt creeping up on me whenever more than one of my daily meals featured a serving of meat. This was a very, very new feeling for me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this feeling would end up playing a major role in the way I now approach food in my day to day life.
The reasoning behind this particular address’ impact on me is two-fold.
First, Hill’s arguments got me looking at my own meat consumption through a new lens. His reasoning doesn’t necessarily align itself with the traditional pro-vegetarian sentiment that takes a lot of its queues from the animal cruelty side of the issue. I’ve already discussed my thoughts on eating meat here at MakeChowNotWar, and needless to say this approach has never really gained much traction with me. I’ve always viewed human beings as true omnivores, and seen meat products as perfectly viable foodstuff as a result (and I still do). Instead, Hill goes on to explore the issue from more of an environmental and economic perspective. It was only after I started evaluating my consumption habits from this angle that I started to sing a bit of a different tune. When statistics start showing that current livestock production accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all other major forms of transport combined, I figure it is probably time to invest a bit of mental energy in the matter.
Secondly, and perhaps more effectively, Hill outlines an excellent approach which encourages escaping the rigidity of strict, all out vegetarianism. This has always been a big deal breaker for me that, in the past, was very effective at quashing any thoughts I had of reducing my meat intake. The idea of completely eliminating meat from my diet has always been a rather unrealistic proposition, and as a result I had unintentionally put up the blinders and closed myself off from any compromises or alternatives. And that, to me, is where Meatless Monday really shines. The key word in this discussion is Reduction, not elimination. This “middle ground” approach champions the fact that it isn’t really necessary to make a radical and all encompassing lifestyle change in order to contribute and make a difference. This sentiment really appealed to me since I’ve always viewed issues like climate change and sustainability (which are both inextricably linked to our food consumption habits) as largely cumulative battles, where every individual is capable of making at least a bit of an effort for the greater good. Since it is most likely easier to convince 5 people to skip meat once a week than it would be to convince 1 person to eliminate it altogether, Hill’s lecture promotes the idea of strength in numbers as a way to sow the seeds of change.
In his discussion, Hill talks about how the average individual now consumes twice the amount of meat in a year than our counterparts did just 50 years ago. This is a pretty staggering statistic when you really think about it. What was once a special commodity has now become a commonplace staple, and this has proven to be problematic for a variety of reasons.
Enter: Meatless Monday.
While I don’t necessarily have the discipline to stick it out as a full on weekday vegetarian like Hill, I have been making some serious efforts as of late to do what I can. I started by making sure that I didn’t consume more than one reasonable sized portion of meat per day. In other words: baby steps. Embrace the compromise. Nowadays I am trying to ramp up these efforts by getting in on the Meatless Monday movement. While its catchy and alliterative name makes for great twitter fodder, what Meatless Monday really excels at is the promotion of a of a reduced meat diet in an accessible and entirely reasonable format. While it might not sound like much, going meat free for just one day a week can actually have some pretty major impacts. Especially if eliminating red meat is prioritized.
Meatless Monday is important since it represents a fantastic initiative on the forefront of a growing movement of people who are starting to give a damn about what they eat and how they eat it. It is a combination of social awareness, digital activism, and the promotion of a healthier lifestyle. One of the main reasons I support Meatless Monday stems from the fact that its benefits are truly multifaceted. By cutting just a bit of meat from your weekly schedule you can help reduce the burden on this country’s strained healthcare system (The Government of Canada currently estimates that $4.8 billion dollars are spent annually on obesity related medical care), you can lend an extra bit of support to your local farmers, you can provide yourself with a bit of a weekly culinary challenge which will only increase your skills in the kitchen, and above all else you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are contributing to part of the solution instead of further perpetuating the problem. While “foodie culture” is obviously booming at the moment (one needn’t look past the sheer number of blogs just like this one floating around as evidence of this fact), I like to think that there is a bit more to the current boom than just the superficial stuff. Being in the know when it comes to restaurant openings and hot up and coming chefs is all well and good, but there is a whole lot more to being a true food lover than that.
Do I skip meat every single Monday, without exception? No. In keeping with Hill’s idea of scaling down the rigidity of traditional vegetarianism, the date on the calendar isn’t the important part here.
If I miss Meatless Monday, so be it. Falafel Friday works just as well.