About 10 or 11 years ago, I stopped eating meat.
It was strange, but I had this dream with a chicken, and when I awoke, I knew that was the end of my chicken eating days. Other meat sources soon followed, with bacon bringing up the rear.
Since I can remember, I always felt strange about eating meat. And I sure as heck didn’t eat ribs because, well, I have ribs. Gnawing on the ribs of another being was akin to gnawing on my own ribs, and I just never got past that as a child or as an adult. But, I’m a mid-western gal raised on a pretty typical mid-western diet of meat, bread, ‘taters, and more meat.
When I decided to stop eating meat, my culinary adventures really began and my relationship with food spilled open. My seemingly separate love of food and the environment started coming together.
It’s amazing to me how disconnected we are from our food in this country.
I have been growing food since I was seven, and I love it so much I made it my profession. I’m addicted. I wake, sleep and move through the rhythms of planting, harvesting, cooking, eating, digesting, and thanking food.
And yet I still don’t fully understand my relationship with food and how our cultivation of it is severely impacting our health and the environment around us. We are killing ourselves through the cultivation of a life force. And the problems, and solutions, are not easy.
Or maybe they are easy, there just aren’t enough of us (including big government and corporations) championing towards a better, more stable food system. And I’m talking about going way beyond just getting folks to eat organic foods.
Last week I saw Anna Lappe speak at the University of Colorado about her newish (2010) book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can do About It.
I’m not finished with the book, as it’s one of those that is so chock full of information you know you can’t retain enough information if you read more than 15 or 20 pages at a time. But one figure that I can’t shake is this: Nearly 30 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the agricultural sector, and more significantly from the meat and dairy industries (time we put that quarter-pounder in the same playing field as that hummer).
This 30 percent figure accounts for almost all aspects of the agricultural industry, including making fertilizer (most of which is synthetic and fossil fuel based), running tractors, transporting food, processing food and running coolers at the market.
When did food get so complicated?
Even if you don’t believe in human-inflicted climate change, we have a food system that relies heavily on non-renewable resources. Non-renewable. We have created a system we rely on three plus times a day for life that relies on a polluting resource we are running out of, and killing our soils at the same time.
So, back to my culinary adventures.
Taking meat out of my diet left a void. What do I eat if I’m not eating meat? Well, I think some common training wheels are fake meats. And boy did I love my facon and veggie sausage.
But these items definitely violated Michael Pollan’s “avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients” rule (Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual). Thankfully, I soon moved in with a roommate who not only loved to cook, but also was a vegan turned vegetarian. I was shocked the first time she put kale and broccoli in our morning eggs.
Growing up, I didn’t really eat veggies for breakfast. Now I crave them.
Jump ahead a few years and I now attempt to grow at least three vegetables I can’t find at the market, any market, and figure out how to cook with them. This year I grew my first black beans. I felt like a giddy five-year-old when I cracked open that first pod and low and behold, there were perfectly beautiful and dried Hopi black beans inside, all ready for the pot.
And while I grew just a few plants providing enough beans for only one or two meals, I learned something. Every time I go to open a can of beans, I am a bit closer to understanding what went into those beans and how they got to my plate. I also learned that they grow well here, so perhaps apart from growing more of them next year, I can get others to do the same thing.
And we start to bring our food a little closer to home.
The other day I surprised myself when I vocalized to my roommates that I wanted to try eating vegan one week each month. Giving up meat wasn’t that hard, or at least I say that now.
But vegan? It’s easy to make up excuses when making our food choices.
The one I’m working through right now is that I love cheese. I mean, really love it. But the more I learn about the industry, the harder it is to feel good about eating it. My quest will be to find foods that provide enough fat, as a super low-fat meal leaves me feeling ravenous.
And then there’s the deeper challenge of figuring out my foodprint of those alternative foods. Is local cheese better than a few avocados from California? Well that depends partly on what that dairy cow is fed.
Is it corn and soy from a mono cropped field trucked in from Ohio? Is it eating grass that relies on imported fertilizers and water pumped over from the Western Slope?
I currently live in a land that did not evolve with lush produce and a lot of people. If I followed the diet of the native people that once inhabited this space, meat would likely be back in my diet. I spiritually and emotionally cannot do that, so now what?
I started raising chickens for eggs just over three years ago. I wanted to get closer to that source. If I rely on eggs for protein and fat, then I better raise ’em myself.
After the first year, I started thinking more about what I fed them. Sure, their food is organic and is packaged by a Colorado company, but where are the grains coming from and how are they grown?
So this year, I planted some crops that I thought they would like. It turns out they didn’t like the amaranth too much, and even if they did, with my 1/8th of acre, I just can’t sustainably grow enough food to feed my chickens and my household. Again, complicated.
I surely don’t have all the answers, but I will continue on my quest to re-acquaintance myself with simple, yet lost and diluted, art forms of growing and processing food. I will continue to enlighten myself as much as possible so that I can continue to strive to make the best food choices for my body and the planet, and then to teach others.
We can vote with our dollars just as well as with our shovels, seeds and forks. We all don’t need to be farmers, but we surely need more people growing food. I encourage everyone in some capacity to go one step further and know your farmer, know your food.
Laura Ruby is an avid foodie enthusiast, sniffing out fresh, local and yummy food wherever she goes. She worked as the Garden Coordinator for the Growe Foundation for the past three and a half years installing gardens and teaching garden curriculum at Boulder Valley elementary schools. She is also the founder and owner of YummyYards, an edible landscaping company, working to co-create more functioning, self-sufficient landscapes, and is a co-facilitator and teacher at the Lyons Permaculture Design Course at the Farmette. When not teaching about growing food, you can usually find her in a garden somewhere.
Editor: Lara C.
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