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Take Our Climate Challenge: Cut Back on Meat and Dairy

Take Our Climate Challenge: Cutting Back on Meat and Dairy

Many Cup of Jo readers have been asking for posts about climate change, and we are so happy to keep up the conversation. Today, my dear friend Linsey Laidlaw is sharing one of the biggest ways we, as individuals, can help: cutting back on meat and dairy. Please take our challenge below…


Like so many of you, I’ve been holding my breath for friends and family in California and now Australia, praying their homes and families will be kept safe from the flames, mourning for those who haven’t. These tragic fires are the latest blaring siren that our planet is in crisis. “I want you to act as if your house is on fire,” the young heroine Greta Thurnberg implores, “because it is.”

The scale of the climate crisis is so big it’s practically paralyzing — how can one family’s biggest efforts make even the tiniest dent?! Too often, I’m inclined to fold in defeat. But for better or worse, my kids — ages 6, 8 and 11 — are exquisitely stubborn creatures, and they’ve been steadily (if not always gently) coaching us as we change our habits.

We try to make one or two goals per month — using up what we have and adding more sustainable tools as we go. We’ve taken up composting, switched disposables for reusables, ride bikes or use public transit as often as possible, and watch out if our first grader catches you leaving a light on or the sink running too long.

Of course these things help a little, but I was surprised to learn that by far the biggest, most effective way an individual can combat climate change is something my daughter steered us towards years ago: reducing our meat and dairy intake.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, livestock are responsible for 51% of annual global emissionsmore than all cars, planes, buildings, power plants and industry combined. There is a crystal clear line between the burning rainforests we weep for across social media and the barbecue we later gobble up.

If the image of ancient forests reduced to charred rubble doesn’t kill your appetite, this might: at this moment there are over a billion people in the world who are hungry, and our food choices are largely responsible. The affluent’s demand for animal products devours resources that could readily eradicate world hunger. In his newest book, We are the Weather, activist and author Jonathan Safran Foer elaborates, “Three million children under the age of five die of malnutrition every year. One and a half million children died in the Holocaust. Land that could feed hungry populations is instead reserved for livestock that will feed overfed populations. Factory farming starves the world as it destroys it.”

It’s often said that climate justice is social justice, reminding us that this is an issue of human rights and ethics as well as environment. Oxfam reports that the wealthiest 10% of the world population are responsible for half of all carbon emissions, while the poorest half are responsible for 10%. As we’ve already begun to witness: people in poverty, largely communities of color, are and will continue to be hit hardest by climate change, with the least ability to protect themselves despite contributing very little to the problem. Right now there are 70 million refugees worldwide — the highest level in nearly 70 years. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 200 million climate refugees — that’s 1 in every 45 people.

This is exceptionally jarring math — but can it shock us into a dietary reinvention? A gastronomic intervention? Americans really like meat.

For our family, transitioning from a pack of happily omnivorous eaters with a weakness for pepperoni pizza and Shake Shack didn’t happen overnight — (although it did for my daughter Ivy, who passionately declared herself a vegetarian six years ago and never looked back). The rest of us cut back gradually as we strived to support her, learning substitutions and great new recipes along the way. We’ve kept it pretty loose and low-pressure: my daughter Rosie defiantly claims the title of “meatatarian” (which mostly means she sometimes eats a hot dog at the park but gets to maintain her rebellious identity) while my husband and son have settled at pescatarian, and I occasionally indulge in meat at a restaurant. But eating vegetarian at home truly doesn’t feel like a sacrifice anymore — it’s become just what we do.

My friend Gisela taught me the term “reducetarian”, and I wholeheartedly endorse the method: going cold turkey is incredibly hard for something as social, emotional and habitual as eating. That every human on the planet would convert overnight to absolute veganism is as ideal as it is unlikely, but we don’t have to let perfect be the enemy of good: every single time you choose a plant-based meal, you make a positive impact on the health of our planet. Our family’s next reducetarian challenge is to cut back on dairy — an even bigger challenge for this cheese-loving group.

While forgoing burgers and bacon can be a challenge, for me the biggest pain point is being a pain point. I dread being perceived as a nag or hypocrite or goody-two-shoes — who wants their dinner party to become a sad-trombone lecture? I’ve often coached my kids to be “quiet vegetarians” — let’s do this, but let’s not make a fuss about it.

When really, making a fuss should be our entire focus, because one family reducing their animal consumption won’t make a dent. But a million families working together and joining in the fuss-making? That’s a hefty bite, and more importantly, a loud call to businesses who respond to market demands and policy makers who listen to public outcry.

At the risk of sounding like a Times Square Prophet — our children are in peril. Climate change is a speeding bus headed for each of them, and doubly fast for our grandchildren.

This is an especially smart and empathetic corner of the internet, a community that cares for neighbors and strangers alike. I read your comments and am inspired by your actions — so many of you are leading on this and other urgent issues. I am neither a pioneer nor a perfect ambassador for this plea — but I can promise I’ll continue to think daily on how I can personally answer Foer’s invocation, “…to take less than one’s hands can hold, to eat other than what our stomachs most want, to create limits for ourselves so that we all might be able to share what’s left.”

Who’s with me?


If you’d like to join us, please comment below with how you plan to dial back on meat and dairy this month. Are there any vegetarian or vegan recipes you like? We’d love to hear…

P.S. Vegetarian dinners, and trying out slow parenting.

(Photo by Trinette Reed/Stocksy.)

  1. Clare says...

    Thank you, CoJ, for this and other recent posts about personal efforts towards minimising the climate emergency.

    I only wanted to add one thing: I would like to respectfully suggest that talking about steps we can take – whether reducing meat and dairy, changing transportation methods, avoiding flights or changing energy provider/ sources – is THE most important thing (after actually doing them, of course!).

    I’ve been a ‘quiet vegetarian’ for more than 25 years, but that was because I became a veggie in a time before the catastrophe we all face was so crystal clear, and before our obligation to do all we can to mitigate it was too. We all have to adapt to the times we live in. This specific moment in time is absolutely critical to the future of all life on earth, us included. So just as our forebears living through wartime were obliged to make changes and sacrifices for the greater good, we must too. It’s so much bigger than personal preference.

    Can we instead find ways to discuss it clearly, openly and kindly, when appropriate, rather than avoiding the subject altogether? So happy to see you doing just that here.

  2. Rachel E Dorrell says...

    Another (very small-scale) livestock farmer chiming in … Many of us should eat less meat, especially if our bodies aren’t taxed in such a way that we regularly need the calories/nutrition that meat provides. But think about transportation’s role in our global food system, as well as our local economies. People can raise animals all around NYC, for example, and get meat and dairy to the city, like to the Union Square Farmer’s Market. Buying produce and meat there, directly from farmers, puts your money into families’ pockets and into rural communities. You eat seasonally. But all of these vegan analogues are sooo dependent on so much infrastructure and factories—they’re uber-processed invented “food.” And tropical fruits and nuts, like avocados, almonds, cashews, etc., all have their own major environmental and social justice issues, plus they have to be transported literally thousands of miles. Cutting out meat entirely, when you live in the northeast or somewhere else where you depend on food from other places for at least part of the year, sounds like an easy fix but is so problematic on so many levels. Personally, I’d rather eschew avocados and coconuts and almonds for food I can get within 40 miles of where I live. Including grass or forest-fed meat and dairy.

    • Melkorka says...

      YES! Exactly – I agree SO MUCH with everything you said. Environmental impact of our food choices are so much more complex than just ‘don’t eat meat’. Think regionally, locally & socially (i.e labor practices of the production + processing of the food you consume) if you are trying to make a positive impact with your food.

    • Sarah says...

      YES, thanks for your perspective! I respect the enthusiasm that surrounds the new trend towards reducing meat consumption, but I firmly believe in what you write above: That those of us who afford to, should try to put as many of our food dollars as we can into our communities. So for me in Oregon, that means no almond milk or impossible burgers, but yes to buying a beef share from a farmer who lives in my town and raises and processes her cattle 15 miles away.

  3. Mari says...

    Can we talk about capitalism? Because this talk of “food is being produced for cattle while there are hungry children out there” is just… bizarre. In the capitalistic system, this land would go to anything else that would generate money. The kids in poor countries would still starve.

    • Emma Balkin says...

      Yes! Reducing meat intake is fine, but what we really need is a political and economic revolution! It’s the obsession with profit, growth, consumption and general “maximization” that is driving us to the brink. We need big change.

  4. Karin says...

    I’ve been a vegetarian for 31 years. ‘m trying to eat more vegan meals, and trying to convince my carnivorous sons and husband to eat less meat. This is my current favorite vegan recipe. I add more toppings, including roasted peanuts and toasted, unsweetened coconut.
    https://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipes/spicy-tofu-lettuce-wraps

  5. Becca says...

    I love this goal and want to add to the discussion: the kind of meat you eat is a critical piece of this. Animals raised in feedlots and indoors have a far more negative impact on the environment than those raised by small farmers outdoors using regenerative practices that can often actually sequester carbon and improve things like water retention and the biodiversity of soil. If you can get to know good farmers AND reduce consumption, bonus points!

  6. As a beef farmer in central Pennsylvania, I strongly advocate for the conversation to include what is the best way for us to produce meat? On our sixth-generation farm, we practice rotational grazing. We sell all our beef locally and make small batches of tip-to-tail products. We have worked hard to reduce erosion, cut back on chemical inputs and build healthier soil. A big part missing when we talk about vegan/vegetarian diets is that when livestock and the essential manure they produce are taken out of the equation, chemical and energy-intensive fertilizers have to take their place to grow vegetable and fruit crops. Well-managed regenerative agriculture sequesters carbon. Please consider and buy local, pasture-raised meat to eat in moderation. To quote Wendell Berry, “Eating is an agricultural act.” There are so many small scale farmers like myself working hard to do right by the land we live, work, and love and livestock is an integral part of that.

    • Avigail says...

      I so much agree with you. There are BETTER ways to do things than to encourage people to eliminate an entire food group. And quite frankly eating tons of processed soy products is super unhealthy. I much prefer vegetarian options and have been a vegetarian on and off since I was 8 years old and I feel better and eat better when I include limited amounts of high quality meat. One thing I hate most about my generation is how everyone ‘has it all figured out’ and wants to teach everyone else how to ‘be a better person’. Seriously, there are many healthy and middle of the road ways to make positive changes than convincing everyone within a persons vicinity to eat vegetarian and vegan. (This is NOT a comment about the post but rather about many of the comments being posted. having to crusade against family and friends to go vegan etc.- is so unpleasant and so unnecessary)

  7. Phil says...

    Meat is 100% carbon offset. It is for example impossible for a cow to produce more carbon than it eats. It eats plants and those plants fixed the carbon in them from CO2. The problem with the statistics is that they only show emissions but cows consume as well as emit. Soil has 3.5 times as much carbon in it as the atmosphere so well managed pastures in Europe actually help to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Methane is also in balance on a 10 year cycle. To stop eating meat for global warming reasons really is peeing on the wrong fire.

    • Eslin says...

      Thank you! YES!

    • Madeleine says...

      In theory that should be true. But industrial farming changes that by allowing us to grow crops and rear livestock outside of sustainable contexts. We grow monocrops in deserts by fertilising the soil with petrochemicals (so even plants can effectively take more carbon to grow than they absorb) For animals – it depends what the cow is fed on. If the feed is grown on rainforest cleared to plant soy, the impact is vastly different to a cow on pasture year round. The same goes for the impact on the water table if beef is reared on land without sustainable water sources.

    • Thank you! This beef farmer agrees!

  8. Keely says...

    So happy to see this post, thank you for sharing this!!
    I have been vegetarian for 20 years, and vegan for the last 6. Transitioning to veganism took some time, learning, and readjusting, but now that it is second nature for me it feels so easy that I truly barely have to think about it. Thank you Cup of Jo, for starting this conversation on your platform.

  9. Alexandra says...

    This is a comment specifically for “Rusty” (assuming that all of the comments are made by the same Rusty): this is usually a very civil comments section. Can you please try to keep it that way and dial back your tone a little bit? IMHO, not everyone wants and should be a vegan and it does not add any value to shame people because of their lifestyle.

  10. Vanessa says...

    Hi Alexandra, I think it’s great that you found something that keeps you healthy and whole! You have my support.

    It made me think of another environmental touchpoint – driving. People who can walk and cycle and take public transport should cut down on single-person driving, and give up their “fossil fuel quota” to those with mobility issues.

    (The same way it bugs me when able-bodied people cram into lifts, leaving the person in the wheelchair waiting turn after turn.)

  11. Nicole says...

    It is soul crushing to know that us privileged top ten percent contribute 50% of the carbon. I am committing to eating less meat at home- aiming for our weekdays to be vegetarian

  12. Courtney says...

    will You be helping us along by sharing awesome plant based meals you eat??

  13. Brydie Speirs says...

    Really glad to see this post. I live in Adelaide, Australia, and the fires on Kangaroo Island (and the rest of Australia) have broken my heart and I want to make changes wherever possible to reduce my families carbon footprint. I would really love my family to move to more vegetarian meals but I find it hard to make recipes that my two boys (aged 3 and 5) will wholeheartedly consume. Sausages, bacon and beef mince are used regularly when I want to ensure the kids will actually eat! I’d love to see some ideas here for easy and family friendly vegetarian meals. Thanks Cup of Jo x

    • Daisy says...

      I am an Indian and Indian cuisine has tons of vegetarian options (that are not featured in popular restaurants). Some of the websites that I turn to for vegetarian recipie ideas outside of Indian cuisine are cookieandkate.com and Saffrotrail.com

    • Rusty says...

      Brydie, seriously…. Google is your friend in this situation…..look up kid friendly vegetarian recipes … Boom! 🙂

  14. Traci says...

    Maybe this will just get lost, but I do want to raise a point perhaps for further discussion along down the line. We’re in the Mid-South and in the minority among our families in regards to political/social/cultural leanings. When environmental talk arises, folks who lean far right often use the wide array of opinions of the “best way” to combat climate change, as well as the range of published scientific estimates and impacts, to totally dismiss the integrity of any research.
    When I read through this blog post and its comments, I’m seeing so much of what instantly turns my relatives off – “yes, veg life is the best!” “no, veg life is terrible for you!” “all we need is local food!” “food doesn’t even matter!” “together we can make a difference!” “there’s nothing individuals can do!” and then my husband tells me of his reddit scrolling where “smart people” insist factory farming is actually far more efficient and use less resources. It’s enough to make one toss one’s hands in the air rather than act, and I’m someone who DOES care about climate change – what about the people who have not yet realized it? How do we all get on the same page? Or at least the same book?

  15. Louise Montgomery says...

    Eating a balance of grass fed meat and plants is the optimum for health and our land. Anything else is going to cause imbalance, to the planet, nature and our health. Meat is the most nutritious food you can eat so please do not cut it out… But please give up junk food chain meats… Factory farmed meat.

    • Rusty says...

      I do not believe that any animal bred to be eaten is purely grass fed. It just doesn’t work that way. Theoretically, yes. In reality, no.

  16. Mimi says...

    I applaud you for going your own way and cutting back on things that are nowadays perceived as being harmful to the environment. What I find even better is the way you educate your kids about not making a fuss of it, unlike many nowadays. I consider food to be something so personal , that I think it is obnoxious to simply barge in on other people’s plates. Hats off!
    (On a side note, this is not related to food, but please consider that by 2050 the fashion industry alone is on its way to becoming responsible for almost 25% of the co2 emissions, so please let’s do something about that too)

    • Sarah says...

      Is making a fuss so bad? We have 10 years (or 8 by some estimations) to cut carbon emissions enough to keep our current climate.

      This is about life affirming action, and that will involve communication and education. Because yes, let’s give a damn.

  17. ASE says...

    Another beneficial thing: plant a garden. For half the year, I’m harvesting things from my backyard. This eliminates food waste too, since food scraps go in the compost, which goes back in the garden. I also have chickens. They eat food scraps (and bugs!), turn them into guilt-free eggs to eat and manure for soil enrichment. Being self-sufficient to what ever degree possible is also more sustaining globally. (And yes, many of you live in apartments etc., this applies to exurban people primarily.)

  18. Alexandra says...

    What no one ever mentions is food allergies. Every single food I’m allergic to (I’m talking inhaler and Epi-pen carrying allergies because within 2 hours of digesting the offending proteins, I can’t breathe) is a PLANT. And all of this developed in my 30s (I’m now 49). It’s so bad that my allergist had me go grass-fed on all animal products I consume back in 2008 — way before it was “cool”. Here’s my list – corn, soy, peanut, all tree nuts, almonds, peaches, and all melons. Because I am allergic to soy AND peanuts, I’ve been told to avoid all legumes. Because I am allergic to peaches AND almonds, I’ve been told to avoid all pit fruits. I don’t eat out very much because of all of this. I eat locally raised meat, dairy and eggs I prepare at home. And it’s made me feel so much better. Thanks for listening.

    • Rusty says...

      What about potatoes and rice, especially brown rice because it’s so good for you? I’d see a dietician specifically to find foods you CAN eat. x

  19. I recently make my standard American chili beans recipe, but instead of meat I added hulled barley (for texture) and powdered mushroom (for that Umami flavor). Gotta say it was delicious, no sense of missing.
    I quit buying meat/dairy about six months ago, but meat/dairy free only about 75% of the month, mainly because I am still eating from my cupboard/freezer and not throwing anything away. No eggs is hardest for me, but I imagine you get over it after a while. I have lost one clothing size in six months.

  20. I keep a vegetarian kitchen at home, but I eat meat on occasions like dining with family on holidays or when I travel. I eat meant sporadically because I want to experience different food cultures and I don’t want to offend anyone who is hosting me for a meal. This has been a great balance for me. :)

  21. Vanessa says...

    As a student, I was always vegetarian because the “two-veg-and-rice” option was cheaper than the “one-meat-one-veg”. When I started my new job, I went crazy with the meat for a while because suddenly, so many options! But weeks in, friends started sharing sustainability goals and it was a dash of reality, and really, going veggie wasn’t all that hard the first time around.

  22. Ellen Anderman says...

    Last night I made a cottage pie for my book group – root vegetables, lots of mushrooms, fresh and dried, leeks and French green lentils with a pureed cauliflower topping (lots of butter and a bit of heavy cream, this was for a gathering after all, not a cave.) Adapted from a recent NYTimes recipe, it was delicious, filling and my friends seemed to love it, coming back for seconds. It felt good; I didn’t preach, and it showed me that I could do this in public as well as on my own. I still eat meat and dairy, but am trying to follow Melissa Clark’s lead and reduce by 60%.

    • Gabby T says...

      Um please send this recipe – it sounds delicious!

  23. Denise says...

    I became a vegetarian almost four years ago because my head and my heart cannot handle the factory farming and what animals go through for us to have a burger or ribs on our plate. It is horrific and I won’t be a party to that. My goal this year to adopt a compassionate (vegan) diet at least twice a week, and aiming for 3 – 4. Really, eggs and cheese are the only obvious items I need to eliminate. This past year, I’ve used cheese as a condiment only (i.e. Parmesan sprinkled on spaghetti). I’m usually a quiet vegetarian, but I try to advocate when someone is open to it. Anything we can do is better than nothing.

  24. Rusty says...

    In case you aren’t aware … cheese usually is made with “animal rennet.”
    This is taken from those same baby calves for whom the cow’s milk was produced… out of their stomachs, after they’re killed while only a week or two old. Then, they’re called “veal.’
    Why? Because it coagulates the milk at the start ofthe calve’s digestion.
    That is how cheese solidifies!!! Mmmmmmmmm …. still worth the yummy flavor?
    BTW: a very few brands use non-animal rennet.

    READ THOSE LABELS!!!

  25. Rusty says...

    Ann, what you’ve said is purely your opinion and not based on scientific, proven, fact.
    If we needed cow’s milk, we’d be calves, not humans.
    If we needed meat, we’d be lions, hyenas, etc.
    We’re human and much of the population does not eat meat in India and other parts of Asia. We don’t neeeeeed it.
    It’s pure greed and desire…the same laziness that’s caused plastic to be at every level of the entire planet’s food chain, even in the Arctic snow!

  26. Anna says...

    Just downloaded this based on your recommendation and it’s brilliant! Thank you :)

  27. Susan says...

    My favorite vegetarian substitution is to add red lentils to any soup or pasta sauce to make it more substantial.

    • I will try red lentils in my pasta sauce, thanks. I added hulled barley to my American chili, and it was perfect.

  28. C says...

    As a 30-year plant-based eater I am happy to see this become more mainstream. I also understand climate change is more complicated than any single issue and that the main problem continues to be that humans do not do the research necessary to create change, often relying only on the statistics that best suit their personal agendas/ideals/appetites. So while I am thrilled to see the change because of my love of animals and the horrific suffering their short lives hold, I also hope that this newest sweep of plant-based meals takes into consideration both the reality of animal abuse as well as all the other ways we can each make positive change when it comes to this earth and all who live here.

  29. Shem says...

    Thank you for posting about this!
    My husband and I have been vegetarian/pescatarian for several years (with some long periods of veganism). I particularly love that there is more than one benefit: the environment, the animals, and our health.

  30. Virginia says...

    I really appreciate this post and the connection between our consumer choices and larger global issues like the fires at home and abroad.

    My fam eats meat once a week but I’ve had a harder time cutting back on eggs and cheese. My bean game is strong!

    I was surprised by a lot of the comments and wondered if this was Astro-turfing.

    • Sasha L says...

      I didn’t knowing what “astroturfing”, meant, so thank you for a new term. You may be correct in this thought. The meat and dairy industries are enormously powerful and they do not like vegetarianism and veganism and certainly put out a lot of misinformation about health issues in particular (like children can’t be raised vegan and be healthy, that it’s super hard to get nutrients, that these things lead to eating disorders – all bull shit). I think you can trust them at the same level you trust cigarette companies.

      But I think there’s another thing going on too- many, many people flat out hate Vegetarians and especially vegans. I think it’s pretty socially acceptable to bash them personally and the ideas behind them. Why? People don’t like the perception of being told what to do, esp Americans. People don’t want to be confronted with animal cruelty and the cognitive dissonance that arises when they are forced to see the truth of what animals are put through. They don’t want to admit that they are very wrong. And the associations too – that vegans are all a bunch of liberals etc. I heard a pod cast that started a study that showed vegetarians and vegans experience as much bias in American as POC (I’m in no way equating the choice of veg and veganism with the systemic structures of racism or that the experience of a vegan is the same as the experience of a poc, simply pointing out how much veg and vegans are hated). So I think these comments, from probably otherwise kind people, who say they care about the environment and animals, are very reflective of current attitudes. Even in such a nice corner of the world as COJ. It’s quite disheartening. But I’m so proud and happy that COJ is taking it in nonetheless. I would LOVE to just never see another reference here to eating meat or dairy, or another recipe featuring. What a beautiful step that would be.

  31. K says...

    We decided to eat vegetarian during the weekdays a couple of years ago and got so used to it that it was jarring to spend some time staying with the inlaws who eat meat almost every day and realizing how MUCH that is and that we would never want to go back to that. Beyond the environmental benefits there are so many health benefits…plus vegetarian meals can be just plain delicious!

  32. Stacy says...

    This is such a thoughtful post-thank you! I love reminders of doing what you can, when you can. I remember after the 2016 election, I read an older quote from Barbara Bush: . “Your success as a family…our success as a nation…depends not on what happens inside the White House, but on what happens inside your house.” I’m with Babs on this one. It’s overwhelming when you think of all the big picture things happening around us: climate change, political landscape, and so much other Big Stuff. It is so helpful to me to think of what we can do everyday- the choices we can make about how to treat people and our beautiful planet better. We can learn so much goodness from one another. And Dory, maybe? Just keep swimming. :)

  33. Kate says...

    We inadvertently became “vegetarian at home” and it’s been fun and stress-free to keep it up. We just stopped buying meat products at the market and choose to easy whatever we like when out. Once you master a few recipes like curry or grain bowls its so easy to make different variations. My new kitchen staples are lentils, coconut milk, veggie stock, canned chickpea, any any veggies you desire. Now I’m more interested to try veggie dishes out so I can get more inspiration to cook it at home! Thanks for featuring this topic!

  34. Tess L says...

    I have to recommend the app Mealime! My fiancé found it a few years ago – basically you put in your dietary preferences, it gives you a bunch of recipes to choose from – you can pick like 3 or 5 or however many. Then, it compiles a grocery list for you based on what you need to make those meals for the week. SO HELPFUL!!! And we love the recipes.

  35. Lauren says...

    I’m vegetarian but this is motivating me to find additional ways to cut out dairy/eggs. Many thanks for this post.

  36. Kat says...

    I’m in! Thank you, COJ, for this post. Would love to see more plant based recipes featured this year!

  37. Jen says...

    Thrilled to see this topic come up here! And not surprised by many of the responses. As someone who was a sustainable food systems academic and now works for a sustainable food systems not-for-profit, here’s the choices that I make based on climate research:
    I eat a very small amount of meat that is farmed regeneratively (in a way that draws down carbon) – even free range isn’t doing enough for the environment in terms of climate change – or is pest meat (e.g. rabbits) or wild meat (e.g. kangaroos) that can be harvested sustainably. I definitely believe that “it’s not the cow, it’s the how” when it comes to farming, but there is such a minuscule number of regen farmers that we can’t access most meats this way in our area (which means, for example, that we only eat chicken a couple of times a year). I don’t believe there’s a healthy ecology without animals in it, but we’re not at risk of that any time soon, so hypotheticals of “if everyone went vegan” don’t seem relevant to the debate to me. We all need to reduce our meat consumption to be sustainable – a sustainable amount of beef to consumer (even if farmed regeneratively) is something like no more than the size of your palm, once a fortnight.
    I eat a very small amount of sustainable seafood, which is the stuff at the bottom of the chain like sardines and calamari.
    I try to eat like this at home and when I have choice over my meals (like ordering out) and I tick vegetarian when it’s offered as a catering option because I try not to eat meat that doesn’t meet these standards. But that said, I too am not a loud vegetarian – I believe that cooking and food are also about coming together, connecting, and sharing. No matter what someone puts on the table in front of me, as a guest I will eat it. And if I have a real craving for something, I’ll have it, but this is only a few times a year. For me, this a good balance between trying to reduce my impact without it ruling my life.

    • Sarah says...

      Hi Jen, your approach seems so level headed and actually do-able! Can I ask you, as someone who obviously knows what they’re talking about, what you consider to be a sustainable amount of seafood per week/fortnight? Thanks in advance!

    • Linsey Laidlaw says...

      Thank you for sharing this studied approach Jen! I would love to learn more about your work and the nonprofit you’re currently with if you’re open to sharing?

    • Alexandra says...

      Jen, thank you for your very well thought through and level-headed comment made by a person who knows what she is talking about. So much appreciated, as there is soooooo much emotion in the various lifestyle choices. I also try to eliminate meat where possible, working on that for my family as well, but will not be an aggressive and preachy vegetarian or vegan. The same applies to reducing waste: I have a dishtowel under my desk at work, use porcelain cups and bring my silverware and napkins (for my own leftovers) for lunch. Several of my coworkers are now working on doing the same, no need to be preachy about it, but I think trying to be a good example of small change to our lifestyle can do a lot of good. Thank you again. Would love the name of your non-profit, I am trying to have good arguments in that food choices discussion.

  38. Anna says...

    THANK YOU for this post! I love this idea so much. I’m a vegetarian, and this year I’m also focused on reducing the single-use plastic from my home (bars of soap! bees wrap instead of saran wrap! stasher bags!), biking to work more often, and volunteering with Sister District to get more climate-focused representatives in office.

    Food is a difficult and sensitive topic for all of us—I myself am the survivor of an eating disorder and have a difficult relationship with food to this day—so if you’re not interested in changing the way you eat, please consider other ways to reduce your carbon footprint: https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2018/12/27/35-ways-reduce-carbon-footprint/

    Thank you again, CoJ!