Photo: Day 10: More vegetarians needed

As a kid I had to watch out for chickens on butchering day (Credit: Bob Gaffney via Flickr)

Foodprint: Saving the planet from your kitchen table

Choices about what you eat can make as big a difference for the environment as how you get around. Before reaching for your favorite comfort food this Thanksgiving, join the David Suzuki Foundation for our 11-day challenge, Foodprint: Saving the planet from your kitchen table. Starting Oct. 5th, you could win an awesome prize just by sharing your story on Facebook. Plus you'll get helpful eco-advice from me, the Queen of Green.

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The planet doesn't need another fad diet. But how much do you know about where your food comes and the type of impact it's having on the planet? What are you doing to eat more sustainably?

Foodprint: Saving the planet from your kitchen table

I understood all too well where meat came from at an early age.

A few images are still burned into my brain, like the time my grandparents butchered a steer on the farm. It hung from the front-end loader of the tractor bound by its feet. Sure got the farm dog and magpies excited. Me, not so much.

Then there was chicken butchering day. My mom would help operate the feather de-plucker (technical term I'm sure) while I spent the day trying to stay out of the way — of flopping headless chickens, blood squirting everywhere, spinning across the barnyard. Again, the farm dog was very excited. Me, not so much. This was the same day I declared I would never eat another one of the drumsticks my grandmother made, and vowed to consume Kentucky Fried only. (I was nine.)

When I was about 15 my grandfather gave each grandchild a cow. My cow, Blondie, would raise a calf each year that I could sell for meat and put the money toward my university education. Wouldn't you know that I became vegetarian a year later and Blondie kicked the bucket around the same time? It just wasn't meant to be.

Today we know vegetarianism can go a long way to reducing our ecological footprint. For example, growing plant-based sources of protein generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than raising animal protein. In fact, you could say the poop hit the fan when a New York Times columnist wrote Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler. He was referring to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) report called Livestock's Long Shadow, which showed that the livestock sector is energy-intensive and creates significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Can vegetarians save the world? Surely not alone but incorporating more vegetarian meals into your daily routine is one of the biggest ways you can help the planet. Did you know a measly four per cent of Canadian adults are vegetarians? I did the math. If the other 96 per cent of adults made just one small change from the tips below, it would go a long way.

Tips on embracing your inner vegetarian:

  • Practice Meatless Mondays or meat-free Thursdays like the entire town of Ghent, Belgium.
  • Make one of your daily meals, like lunch, meat-free.
  • Next time you eat out, choose a vegetarian option.
  • Tweak family favourites — use vegetable broth in your next soup or make vegetarian lasagna, pizza or chili.

Tell us how have you embraced vegetarianism in your thrice-daily routine and you could win a David Suzuki T-shirt!

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

October 14, 2010

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Nov 14, 2013
6:13 PM

Cyndi is right. A vegan diet can never ever fail you! Only you can fail at a vegan diet. Don’t listen to your body! Your body lies! Just like when it tells you you’re in pain…

Nov 14, 2013
8:45 AM

Silly vegetarians!! There is NO substitute for red meat. Anyone who puts their children on a vegan or vegetarian diet is ignorant, uneducated and should be charged with child abuse! Veganism and Vegetarianism are fad cults. I feel sorry for all of you who are blind to the truth. Keep believing bogus altered statitics from lying unreliable sources, such as, the F.D.A. They will tell you anything to make money, including hand-picking statistics to make their studies look credible, as well as, lacing our foods with chemicals that are known to cause cancer. It is sickening how the majority of people are fooled by the big media to believe what they want you to. Eating meat does NOT cause cancer, you fools!! Being malnutritioned, eating poison-laced foods and pharmaceuticals (approved by FDA), and having your body in an acidic state, will cause cancer. Get educated, stop being misinformed by media and altered “statistics”. I bet some people are still eating toxic soy and canola too?? Lol “I wasn’t getting enough nutrition from just pastas and salads”….. WOW really? I wonder why? Its is interesting and very sad how uneducated and mislead people are about nutrition. Knowledge is power. Dont believe the media!!

May 25, 2013
8:33 PM

@Grace Cockburn

It’s possible to grow plants without poop. How about organic compost? One Degree Organics only use ingredients they call veganic, so they are not using your animal manure and they make great breads with all sorts of different grains.

Anyways, I think the environmental reasons for going vegan are very compelling, but so is the treatment of animals and I think anyone who wants to consume animal products should watch Earthlings.

May 21, 2011
10:18 PM

@Gay Edmonds-Lang… I’ve been vegan for 6 years and I have never felt better. I NEVER get sick anymore, as an omnivore I was sick literally every other month, because I was lacking essential nutrients found in leafy grains, whole grains, beans and legumes. You obviously were not following a proper diet. Vegans need fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and fungi. It’s easier to say “I wasn’t getting enough nutrients as a vegan so I had to go back to eating meat” than “I was too lazy to educate myself about proper nutrition and just ate salads and pasta.” Diets high in animal protein come with an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, poor eye health… 75 % of cancers can be prevented with a plant food diet… etc. And for the person who said a vegan who doesn’t recycle does worse for the earth than an organic meat-eater who does… HA! Growing grain with the specific intent of feeding it to animals is wasteful and could be diverted to the 33,000 children who die of starvation everyday…

May 07, 2011
12:58 AM

There is a better idea — you already almost mentioned it. When solar power is that cheap, everybody will want to drive an electric car anyway. Electric cars have batteries and if everybody plugs in their car when they are not driving, all this storage capacity can be used to stabilize the net. Your car won’t get charged overnight — it will instead put power back into the grid, while it is charged during the day, during work time when you don’t use your car anyway.

Apr 26, 2011
2:43 AM

Hi Andy,

You asked for suggestions about how to go about going vegetarian with your family. It might be easier if you encourage them to make gradual changes, like having one meatless day a week or asking for things at dinner that are vegetarian, like quiche or tacos made with beans instead of meat. There are a lot of vegetarian and vegan recipes that are quick, easy and fun to make that you can find on the internet; you could either ask your family to make some of them or you could offer to cook one meal a week yourself that is vegetarian. Vegetarian options for breakfast are pretty easy; you can have cereal, fruit with yogurt and there are lots of recipes out there for tasty things like vegan pancakes. You can find recipes and information about becoming vegetarian on different websites and blogs and you can also checkout your local library.

I hope that this helps…good luck!!!

Apr 25, 2011
12:33 PM

I am writing mainly for Andy, who posted a comment on October 30, 2010 Here’s his post “Andy says… I totally agree with you. But I am 11 and my family believes we have to eat meat to be healthy. Any suggestions?”

Andy, I would suggest you go to your local library or bookstore and look for one of two books by Vesanto Melina

One of them is called “Becoming Vegan” and the other is called “Becoming Vegetarian”. I will speak to Becoming Vegan, but I bet the other book would have similar information. In “Becoming Vegan”, there is an excellent section you can read that will help you with first articulating, for yourself your motivations and reasons for wanting to make a change to your diet, and second with expressing these reasons to others, including your family. There are even sections in the book about different nutritional needs for different life stages — a worthwhile read for EVERYONE, not just people considering a shift to a vegan or vegetarian diet.

I have been transitioning to a vegan diet for the past year and a bit, (I’m not quite there yet, but getting closer all the time) and have found “Becoming Vegan” an excellent resource — both to develop the “hard skills” of ensuring proper nutrition, and the “soft skills” of relating to others about my choices.

Good luck! Nadia.

Nov 25, 2010
5:55 PM

I became a vegetarian 1 year ago. I did so for many reasons.

To refute Lindsay Dianne’s post below, here are some environmental reasons for being a vegetarian. Source: The Whole Earth Vegetarian Catalogue.

Conservation of Fossil fuel. It takes 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of beef protein; 35 calories for 1 calorie of pork; 22 calories for 1 of poultry; but just 1 calorie of fossil fuel for 1 calorie of soybeans. By eating plant foods instead of animal foods, I help conserve our non-renewable sources of energy.

Water Conservation. It takes 3 to 15 times as much water to produce animal protein as it does plant protein. As a vegetarian I contribute to water conservation.

Efficient use of grains. It takes up to 16 pounds of soybeans and grains to produce 1 lb. of beef and 3 to 6 lbs. to produce 1 lb of turkey & egg. By eating grain foods directly, I make the food supply more efficient & that contributes to the environment.

Soil conservation. When grains & legumes are used more efficiently, our precious topsoil is automatically made more efficient in its use. We use less agricultural resources to provide for the same number of people.

Saving our forests. Tropical forests in Brazil and other tropic regions are destroyed daily, in part, to create more acreage to raise livestock. By not supporting the meat industry, I directly reduce the demand to pillage these irreplaceable treasures of nature. Since the forest land “filters” our air supply and contains botanical sources for new medicines, this destruction is irreversable.

Asthetics. Decaying animal parts, whether in a freezer case or served in restaurants, can never be as asthetically pleasing to the senses as the same foods made from wholesome vegetable sources. Only habit can allow one not to perceive this: a change in diet makes this self evident.

Nov 03, 2010
11:34 PM

I also disagree that one needs to be a vegetarian to be ecologically responsible. Do we need to eat less meat? Yes. Does it matter how those animals are raised and cared for? Definitely. But do keep in mind, as my organic-farmer friend points out, there is no vegan manure, and there is no profit in raising cattle for just their poop!

We have raised our own fruits and vegetables for over 35 years. What we can’t grow we try to buy first from local farm stands or from local grocers who use local suppliers. As much as possible we buy our meat, poultry, eggs and cheese from local farmers, and they are not the problem! Indeed, they are a key part of the solution for every organic farmer and gardener in the region.

Oct 30, 2010
1:30 PM

I totally agree with you. But I am 11 and my family believes we have to eat meat to be healthy. Any suggestions?

Oct 29, 2010
8:41 AM

I became vegetarian at the age of ten, and have been one for 7 years. It all started when my older brother caught a fish at a family friend’s cottage and he decided to eat it. I had never been exposed to the act of killing for food before. Meat had always been neatly packaged and looked nothing like the animal it came from, nor did the smiling cartoon farm animals on the package hint that anything died for me. This situation was completely different. My brother was cutting up this living, breathing thing, and it scared me. I told my dad how I felt about it (through tears) and he told me that I couldn’t do anything for that poor bass, but I could refuse to eat it. At that moment in time, I completely removed meat from my diet. No more cows, pigs, chickens, fish or even shellfish were going to be slaughtered for my plate. Once i became vegetarian, I started to learn more about meat. I learned about the horrible treatment of animals in industrial farming, and the environmental impact the factories have. I learned about the health risks associated with eating these tortured and medicated animals, and the enormous amount of energy, land and resources it requires to raise them. I have never wanted to go back to eating meat and I never will, (unless it is grown in vitro). Also, I recently acquired pet chickens (for eggs only!) as I have learned about the egg industry in my travels. If anyone is reading this, my advice to you is: get chickens. They are amazing intelligent creatures, you will know exactly what is going into their eggs, and you will be instantly cool. You don’t need to live on a farm either, providing your town/city allows it. I live in the middle of a town. =)

Oct 18, 2010
8:07 PM

Over the past few years I have slowly become more and more vegetarian, choosing to first eliminate beef and pork due to an inability to digest it properly without suffering abdominal pain. Poultry is next on the chopping block as it, too, is no longer going through my system as effortlessly as it used to. Fish is still okay, so I continue to consume it, but I agree with many of the comments below. Consuming ethically raised, local, organic meat is the way to go. Unfortunately, this is not an option for most families who are struggling on a budget. Locally grown organic meat is more expensive than imported factory grown meat which, to me, makes absolutely no sense, though I do understand the economics of it. Good ole capitalism strikes again.

If the locally grown organic meat were cheaper than the imported factory bred meat, would that not make a significant difference in consumer choice? It’s not that people don’t want to make choices that are good for the planet. I believe that, in many cases, they simply cannot afford to make the right choice because it just costs too much.

One thing I do know. We don’t need to eat meat every single day of our lives. Eating a vegetarian meal is not going to destroy anybody’s health, in fact it will probably improve it. Fruits and vegetables are highly alkaline foods and alkaline rich foods are essential for fighting off sickness and disease. Meat is highly acidic. If your body is too acidic, then it spends too much of it’s energy trying to neutralize the acid in your system. Often it has to borrow energy from your bones and muscles, and while it is attempting to neutralize the acid, disease swoops in and attacks. I do believe that is the science of it. Perhaps Mr. Suzuki could confirm this but we should be about 70% alkaline and yet many westerners are 70% acidic. And you wonder why there is so much disease and sickness.

People need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Our bodies need the alkaline. And the wonderful thing is you can grow them in your own backyard. It doesn’t get any more local than that.

Anyways, I love fresh fruits and vegetables. They are truly a gift of nature.

Everybody Love The Land!!

Oct 15, 2010
8:49 AM

I’m surprised at all of the anti-vegetarian comments. Her article doesn’t say that everyone should become a vegetarian so we can save the world. She says to incorporate more vegetarian meals into your lifestyle.

It’s factory farming that is contributing to the ruin of our world, not local, ethical organically farmed animals. It’s the McDonalds, KFC, and other fast food restaurants and most of the grocery store meat that is doing so much destruction to the world and to the people who eat it.

I’ve been a vegetarian since April and I’m glad I’ve made the change. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else and I’m not trying to force anyone into that lifestyle. I’ve done a lot of research reading books, watching documentaries, and that has led me to where I am today. What you don’t know CAN hurt you. Studies show that processed foods and meat contribute to disease and early death. Just look at the stats, over 61% of Canadians have an unhealthy weight. Do you think they could benefit from more vegetarian meals? Probably so. Sure, not everyone is meant to be a vegetarian, but there’s a lot of people who thrive on that diet, including some top athletes, and I’m sure most people would benefit from more vegetarian meals in their diet.

Oct 14, 2010
8:35 PM

I eat a Vegan diet with the exception of the fish I catch myself. I have respect for all species. I do this for more moral reasons than environmental reasons. Thanks for promoting vegetarianism!

Oct 14, 2010
8:24 PM

From the article: “If you want to make a statement, ride your bike to the farmer’s market. If you want to reduce greenhouse gases, become a vegetarian.”

Oct 14, 2010
8:20 PM

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” — Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac)

If we break it down to a level of survival, food is about proteins, minerals and acids; food is about energy. Energy is really the basis of any growth and waste discussion that we have. Everything we discuss about what we choose to eat, with respect to our terrestrial and aquatic environments, is about the energy throughput of growth and waste. When you choose to eat a food, understand where that food comes from, understand how much energy went into its production, understand the waste associated with feed and production for livestock (so loved by omnivores), and understand the socio-economic devastation that soy products (so loved by vegetarians) have had on the developing and developed worlds arable lands. Understand the human energy that goes into that production and rearing, and understand the energy it takes to get the food from its instant of beginnings, to your plate.

That is the task that we have if we are to understand how we affect the ecosystems of this Earth through our food choices. It’s no easy task. If we HAD to think about it before we chose any product to eat, we would probably all start doing urban/rural agriculture and livestock raising!

Make choices based on your understanding of how your eating habits can limit the energy, waste and throughput needed to keep you alive and happy.

Bon appetite.

Oct 14, 2010
7:36 PM

About 18 years ago I walked past the meat counter in a safeway store in vancouver. For some bizarre reason, I started to envision all the meat pieces returning to their original form and saw a herd of cows in my mind. I had always known beef, ribs, cutlet, rump roasts were part of a cow but for the first time, I saw a meat counter that ran the full length of the store which held enough meat to come from a herd of cows. The strange connection ended my consumption of red meats but I continued to eat chicken (once or twice a year I would indulge in free run/local organic bison or steak). Even though my friends knew I ate meat, they continued to confuse me with a vegetarian to the point I started to think I should listen to them and become one. A close native friend once told me she believed that we digested the animals fear and emotions when eating them. This stayed with me constantly and made me vow to only eat ‘happy meat’ or animals that had a non abusive life style. When my vegetarian niece came to visit a year ago, I supported her by turning into what I thought would be a temporary vegetarian. Her visit went from 2 weeks to 4 months and during that time, I found myself not missing meat as much as I thought I would. For the last year I have maintained a pescetarian (fish, eggs, dairy) diet with no sacrifice to my health. I am extremely fortunate to live in a city that has vegetarian options on almost every restaurant menu not to mention really amazing vegetarian restaurants. The day is coming when I do see myself no longer eating fish or dairy products. I may be a slow learner at 44 but I believe in progress rather than perfection.

Oct 14, 2010
6:48 PM

This article is great, but short. For a more comprehensive look at the environmental effects of meat eating read “The Food Revolution”, by John Robbins. For health, read “The China Study”, by Dr. Colin T. Campbell. I have read these, and several other books and anybody who really cares about making a difference should do the same. I have been vegan for almost a year and I’ve never felt better, thank you David Suzuki for a lifetime of making a difference.

Oct 14, 2010
3:58 PM

My daughters and I started a plant-based diet 6 months ago when I was educated about the harm that factory farming has on the environment. My husband agreed that if he was going to continue to eat meat it would have to be locally produced. Over the past few years we have bought a more efficient vehicle, recycle everything possible, compost and use environmentally friendly cleaning products. How could we justify eating animal products that are produced in an environmentally harmful way?

Oct 14, 2010
12:10 PM

Like any other sane, caring, and intelligent person aware of the man made perils facing us, I too believe that humans need to curb their ravenous greed, destructive and toxic practices and their uncontrolled population growth — simply to allow the other life forms and the natural beauty of the inter-conneced eco-systems on this beautiful earth to survive.

However, I am totally offended at the suggestion that one must be vegetarian to save the planet. I have used many approaches to overcome longterm health issues over the past 30 years. I spent 15 of those years wanting to be Vegatarian because I was so inspired by the compelling information spread by Vegetarian Communities, John Robbins and others — and I hoped it would also help to improve my health.
Win — Win — Win — Win fon all sides. Seemed idyllic.

We (family) finally improved our health far enough to convert to Vegetarian for 5 years. Our health worsened and we developed signs of deficiency. We returned to Omnivorous Diet and regained some of our health. After adopting to a Primal Diet 2 1/2 years ago — acheived 10X the recovery of any other approach. Like millions of others — we discovered we need to be omnivorous. After that I consider it inconceivable to promote Vegetarian diets as a means to save the Planet. It is at the expense of so many who simply do not tolerate the Vegetarian end of the spectrum of our Human Omnivorous Biological nature. I know of thousands of Vegetarians who become so sick they have to revert to diets that include meat/animal products. Our experiment proved to me it is very unwise and unkind to promote this so fervently.

In retrospect — I have realized it should not have been necessary to use an omnivorous diet to improve our health so we could tolerate a Vegetarian Diet. If Vegetarian was what we are designed to thrive on — our health would have recovered on the great veggie foods we were eating. And yes I did do my homework and ensure a reasonable choice of foods etc for a Veggie Diet.

I suggest a more moderate path. One that emphasizes using only what animal products one needs. That those animal products be raised in sustainable, organic, free range, ethical manner. That wild harvesting be done only in ethical and sustainable ways that does not threaten species, habitat or environment.

At the end of our Kitchen Table Experiments — saving the World will have to be Omnivorous. If the Earth can not sustain the current population as omnivorous — it suggests to me that we need fewer humans — so that the rest of the Planetary life can survive. Converting to Vegetarian will not save the Earth. Unless we recognize the need to limit human population -eventually the Earth would be unable to support even an all Vegetarians human population. Then what?

Lindsay is quite right about FoodPrints. Local Chickens top Imported Lentils in my books too!

Another promising idea is to have Omnivorous Permaculture and Urban Organic Agriculture, Organic Backyard Chickens and Rabbits. Pigs are easilly domesticated if one has a larger space. Some Cuban cities now raise more food than their own Citizens need. We can do a lot in that direction — even with our long winters here in Canada.

Saving the World Around Our Kitchen Table includes understanding that plants derive their nutrients from not only sun, air, water, minerals and plants — but also from dead animal materials — just like humans, pigs, dogs, bears etc. Being Omnivourous to me means being at peace with the Cycles of Life and Death — like other omnivores — we are part of many interconnected cycles — which function best when counter balanced with one another.

Peace and Namaste

Oct 14, 2010
9:52 AM

If my chickens come from down the street, and your lentils are flown in from tanzania…. how is being a vegetarian more eco friendly? i enjoy growing food for myself, and eating as best I can.. but the idea of vegetarians being more eco friendly by default, as well as healthier is kind of silly to me. There are people who are vegetarians who still aren’t extremely conscious of their health or wellness, and there are meat eaters alike. the same could be said for eco-consciousness. Someone who eats meat, watches their water use and recycles could conceivably be doing more for the earth on a daily basis than a vegetarian who wastes water and doesn’t recycle. Right? :) And I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just saying to all those hoity toities out there that are just vegetarian and act like it’s some big holier than thou end all be all trick to saving the planet. I’m glad to see you say in this article that there is more to being ecofriendly than just opting out of meat. Because that’s true. Vegetarians alone won’t change the world, though it’s certainly something that can be helpful paired with other lifestyle choices.

Thanks for a great post. I know that despite my disagreeing with it, a lot of effort goes into writing posts with useful content that people care about, so good for you!

Oct 14, 2010
9:46 AM

I personally feel that it’s possible to be a responsible, sustainable omnivore. Does it include the industrial practice of meat production? Hell no. Does it include meat being the center of every meal? Hell no.

Oct 14, 2010
9:26 AM

I was born and raised vegetarian. I am 39. I have 3 daughters who have also been born and raised vegetarian. I am sure that this will continue with their children.

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