Saturday, November 24, 2012

Flexitarianism might be the diet for you

Last week’s Barrie visit from NHLer-turned-activist Georges Laraque sparked discussion about what constitutes a healthy, sustainable, or ethical diet.
Georges is vegan: not only does he not eat meat, but no animal products at all, such as eggs or dairy. He quit cold turkey (or cold tofu?) after seeing Earthlings, a film depicting the abysmal treatment of livestock in our industrial food system. He has also found his vegan diet of foods like those at local restaurant Rawlicious cured his hypertension and asthma, feels much better after eating, and has no problem maintaining a strong and healthy physique.
I went veggie over 20 years ago, upon learning the extreme environmental impact of the meat industry. Depending on the study, a pound of red meat consumes the energy, water, or soil of 10 pounds of plant food. Essentially, we feed 10 pounds of grain to an animal for each pound of meat. Clearly, this isn’t the most efficient use of farmland. Worldwide, about half the food grown is fed to livestock, so if we all went vegetarian, we could feed as many people using half the land.
But unlike Georges, I didn’t cut out all animal proteins. Swearing off beef and pork, I was too fond of cheese and eggs to forgo them. I later resumed eating chicken, which uses only about 3 times the resources of vegetables, and fish, which can be sustainably caught, so I was a “pollo-pesce-ovo-lacto-vegetarian”. What a mouthful!
Over the years, I’ve gone back to other meats, mainly from local organic free-range sources. Farms supplying our table use livestock as part of their sustainable nutrient cycle: animals graze or eat food waste, their manure restoring the soil. We see the humane conditions they are raised in, nothing like the cruel factory-farming featured in the more alarming documentaries.
Yet I still eat less meat than the average Canadian. And as I was reminded by the new caterer Urban Acorn, there’s a term that describes me: flexitarian, one who practices sustainable, healthy eating by following a plant-based diet which may include moderate animal consumption.
Flexitarians are closer to vegetarian than the average person, but aren’t dogmatic about what they eat. Meals may include sustainable seafood, small amounts of (preferably organic) meat, or dairy. But overall their carbon footprint is below average.
Some say the biggest way to help the environment is to go veg. But if the committed carnivore in you refuses to become a virtuous vegan, then try the path of flexitarianism. Just follow the simple directives of food author Michael Pollan: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Try to know where your food comes from and how it’s raised; eat local when possible. If your food dollars recycle in the local economy and you are comfortable with the ethics of how it’s produced, or better yet can visit the farms yourself, your meal will sit much better.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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