I always think about the fact that, in India, the cow is a sacred animal. And that, in Ancient Egypt, the pig was revered and sacrificed to honor the Gods. Or, that in many Native American cultures, animals served as spiritual guides.
I have never been a fervent carnivore. And although it may sound strange, I have learned to understand why over the years, by reflecting on different experiences and by answering those who asked me. As with many things, it dates back to my childhood. At home, my parents were neither meat eaters nor encouraged meat intake. As a result, I never developed the habit of or a love for eating meat. And although my grandfather, being the good leonés that he was (Castilla y León is a region in Spain that is known for its livestock), introduced me to pork, I maintained a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish, during most of my childhood and adolescence.
As I grew older, I began to understand that my reduced intake of meat was not only related to not having a palate for it, but also to the horrific treatment of animals in the farm industry, which was something that deeply saddened and disgusted me.
“On average, in Spain we slaughter 1,700 animals for human consumption every minute. Many are slaughtered without having seen sunlight. Industrial livestock farming crowds, crushes and mutilates animals.”
In 2009, a friend took me to see the film FOOD Inc., and from that moment forward, I discovered the third reason why I would not eat any kind of meat: the brutal impact that the livestock industry has on our environment.
From climate change and deforestation to the pollution that affects our air and water, meat’s footprint on our environment is unsustainable.
“Across the globe, livestock is responsible for 14.5% of gas emissions that contribute to global warming. This is equal to the total gas emissions produced by cars, trains, boats and planes.”
Agribusiness is also responsible for the massive-scale, illegal deforestation occurring in the Amazon today:
A study published a couple of weeks ago in the journal Science revealed that “between 18% and 22% of the soy and beef exported annually from Brazil to the European Union originates from illegal deforestation activity in the Brazilian Amazonian and Cerrado regions of the country.”
Organizations like FAO, Greenpeace, y WWF have published numerous articles about these issues. They are worth reading not only for the scientific contributions but also the alternatives that they offer.
Knowing everything that I have just explained, I am neither 100% vegan nor 100% vegetarian. As the social smoker, who kicked the habit of smoking but continues to light a cigarette on certain occasions, I still have not been able to completely turn off my intake of meat, despite the passing of years.
The obstacles and/or justifications that have arisen are multiple and varied. Some are related to the question of culture, dated beliefs and a lack of knowledge regarding what counts as a good vegetarian or vegan diet. Others are related to romantic associations linked to my childhood when I would eat sausages for breakfast with my grandfather in the patio of his country home.
So, I wonder: I do not purchase products or services that have an animal origin, which informs my choices regarding the clothing, medicines, and cosmetics that I consume. I make a stance against using animals for human recreation and entertainment (i.e zoos, aquariums, circuses). So, why is it so difficult for me to say NO to eating animal meat?
This is probably the Achilles’ heel in my commitment to living sustainably. During this last year, in response to the current environmental emergency, Jorge and I have taken many turns and asked many questions about the challenge of maintaining our family diet as one free of animal products. In doing so, we have decided to take real action.
Below, I am sharing a short list of the lessons learned throughout our process of substantially reducing our consumption of meat and animal products in our everyday lives. We hope it helps others who might be in a similar process:
- Don’t box yourself in!: Don’t stress or obsess about defining exactly what you are or what you are going to become. The list is long and the options multiple: vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, pollotarian, ovovegetarian, lactovegetarian, ovolactovegetarian, flexitarian, raw vegan… The process is what’s important, not the category you claim.
- One step at a time: If you want to reduce your meat intake, start with what is easiest for you to eliminate from your diet. Then, see little by little, what works. In our case, red meat was easy to eliminate. We hardly ate it, only occasionally consuming a burger, so it was easy for us leave behind. Doing so also boosted our self-esteem. The next thing was pork, which was a much easier step for Jorge that it was for me, and then dairy, which is again, an ongoing process for me. Jorge has decided to step forward and eliminate his intake of fish. I haven’t quite gotten there yet.
- Get informed: Making sure that you are taking in all the necessary nutrients is essential. Among many other things, nutrients are what will give you the energy to continue facing the challenge. Here, as is true throughout this whole process, I have to thank Jorge, who is often the one in charge of reading, learning and taking the lead. For example, he started this journey by making a diagram of the main nutrients that we needed to take into account, such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, iron, magnesium and calcium, and where we could get them (nuts, seeds, vegetables, legumes, tubers, fruit, and cereals). Xevi Verdaguer’s book is a good source of information regarding these issues, as are documentaries like What the Health or The Game Changers. It is important with all of these materials that one is both diligent and responsible in their interpretation, so as to always discriminate between what information is rigorous and what is more subjective.
- Start collecting a diverse mix of vegan/vegetarian recipes: For this point, I would say, “Yes, more is better.” Whether we are talking about ingredients or recipes, the more variety you have of both, the easier it will be to avoid falling back into “business as usual.” We do not have a vegetarian/vegan cookbook par excellence, but we have pulled together the books and recipes that we do have while also adapting others and at times improvising. As long as you have a good understanding of the basic nutrients you need and are not afraid to experiment and try new things, the possibilities and sources of information are endless.
- Stay open to reinforcement: Read books, watch documentaries, and talk to others who are in the same process. Surround yourself with people and information that will help reinforce and fuel your desire for committing to this life change.
- Don’t be hard on yourself: You are going to make mistakes. So as with any transformational process, cultivate compassion towards yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if one day you eat something that you know you shouldn’t have.
- Don’t buy it, and you won’t eat it.
A few disclaimers:
- With this post, I do not intend to advocate for a 100% vegan diet. In our case, Jorge is moving towards veganism while I am moving more towards vegetarianism. What I do advocate for is reducing our consumption of meat and dairy, and thus, reducing the production of such products. For becoming aware of what we eat, why we eat it and the impact that these choices have on the world. And for committing to living in healthier, more respectful and sustainable ways for both ourselves and our planet.
- This post draws mainly on experience with Jorge’s and my diet. How we feed Matilde, who is 3 years old, is for now a separate issue. Although we maintain the essence of our convictions when making choices for our daughter, her diet continues to include animal products.