This article first appeared in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
Diet. Climate change. Use the two in a sentence and you’ll find food has become more political than … well, politics. Opinions turn into values, and what’s prioritized becomes proselytized. The decisions we make every day about how we eat and vote with our dollar are indeed no less than a political act with great power to affect our health and that of our planet. Yet North American media and Netflix documentaries tend to romance us with an oversimplification that leaves important details by the wayside. This media contributes to an animal-food-abstinence campaign not unlike the botched sex ed of the ‘80s. I’m as surprised as you are that I’m drawing a parallel between sex education and diet dogma, yet it illustrates the issue with peddling fear and avoidance rather than creating a dialogue that includes informed options for both abstaining and enjoying responsibly. What if the answer to eating for the health of both your homes — body and planet — lies in finding common ground? Both in the values seemingly divergent diets can agree upon, and the living ground beneath your feet?
All diets can be plant-based, as long as they’re plant centric. We can all celebrate colourful vegetables and let them stretch their legs, taking up the majority of our plates. Vegetables deserve all that space; they’re full of fibre, nutrients, water, prebiotics, polyphenols, antioxidants, and flavour.
Don’t panic: eat organic
The use of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides pollute lands, degrade soil, destroy habitats, devastate bee populations, waste freshwater resources, create loss of biodiversity, and increase toxic burden on the human body, contributing to chronic disease. These inputs also devastate soil microbiota, leading to a decrease in phytonutrient content of crops, which reduce flavour, color, and health benefits. Organic farming methods can improve our health, give us more “crop per drop,” and boost yields, reducing use of water and chemicals by incorporating cover crops, mulches, and compost that improve soil quality and build up nutrients. If voting all-in on organic isn’t feasible for you now, familiarize yourself with the clean 15 and the dirty dozen on www.ewg.org.
It’s commonly believed that the production of beef emits huge amounts of greenhouse gas and contributes to climate change. The Food and Agriculture association contributed to this belief by stating that the livestock sector is responsible for a level of emissions on par with all forms of transport in the world combined. However, these statistics are misleading: the FAO compared a full life cycle analysis (LCA) for livestock with only direct (aka “tailpipe”) emissions from transportation. While the senior author of the FAO report has since admitted his error, those numbers have been repeated to the point of assumed validity. When we compare direct emissions from transport with only direct emissions from livestock, we see livestock is not even in the same ballpark. More importantly, these numbers are for conventional, feedlot beef. Research has shown that holistically managed, regenerative beef operations not only don’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, they actually sequester carbon from the atmosphere!
It’s not the cow: it’s the how
Choosing 100% grass-fed and pastured beef over factory-farmed meat frees up substantial amounts of grain production, can contribute to health of the soil, supports humane livestock production, and produces a more nutrient-dense and antiinflammatory product. Likewise, organic/free-range eggs, and organic chicken and pork, reduce monocropping required for feed, improve animal quality of life, protect longterm use of soil, and create a healthier product for you. Watch out for terms like “free-run” eggs (more aptly named crowded wobble), “farm-raised,” “natural,” “sustainably/ethically/ humanely raised” (these are potentially meaningless, unregulated terms), or “Alberta beef, Angus beef, A, AA, AAA, Prime” (these refer to marbling and say nothing about how the animal was raised or what it ate). Check out www.dolanhomedelivery.com for quality meat delivered right to your door, or ask your local Farmer’s Market and store-front vendors about these terms. When budget is an issue, pick quality over quantity and circle back to point #1. If you are carrying Veganuary through 2020, ensure you are eating whole foods and supplementing wisely.
Keep it real
I have yet to find a plant-based meat mimicker that isn’t worse for the planet than regenerativelyraised/grass-fed livestock, and isn’t full of a long list of inflammatory ingredients. Beyond Meat, for example, utilizes mono-cropped soy, and goes beyond the carbon footprint of regenerative beef two-fold. If you are set on a meat substitute, stick to organic tempeh and flavour it to your liking, or make your own burgers using veggies, grains, and legumes.
Waste not, want not
According to National Geographic, an estimated 25 per cent of the world’s food calories, and up to 50 per cent of total food weight are lost or wasted rather than consumed. In North America, most of that waste occurs in homes, restaurants, or supermarkets. Try serving smaller portions with the option to go back for seconds, making new meals from leftovers, using as many parts of both animal and plant as possible, finding reliable recipes to use up that fresh fridge food instead of letting it shrivel its way to the bin, and embracing the unique appeal of imperfection — be it a twoheaded tomato, a cuddling carrot, or a characterridden, scarred squash.
The idea that big agriculture is the answer to feeding the planet is a myth born from ingenious marketing. Our future depends on the health of our soil, and we can invest in our body and planet by supporting local, organic, heirloom, and seasonal foods at the farmers market, or growing our own. Eating local, seasonal food is exciting; it can challenge us to try new foods, provide us with the food our body needs for the climate we’re in, build excitement for that first crop of the season, and allow us to enjoy fresh, tasty heirloom varieties that didn’t travel far from pick to pocket. When purchasing imported products, look for Fair Trade labels that protect and support family farmers from afar.
Heirlooms: a legacy
Plant and animal species the majority of the world eats can be counted on two hands, leaving our food systems vulnerable to climate change. Small, local farms bolster biodiversity and increase food security by growing heirloom and non-commercial varieties. As the climate changes, keeping these varieties alive is essential to the resiliency of our food system, as plant breeders may need to use traits from one variety to make another more resilient to changing weather and disease.