C.S. Lewis described his conversion to Christianity this way: “I was dragged kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of God.” Those are words that describe my reluctant conversion towards a vegetarian diet.
The simple truth is I love being a carnivore. BBQ ribs, chicken masala, grilled Alberta steak, souvlaki skewers, pulled pork sandwich, cedar-plank salmon, tri-tip, filet mignon, ossobuco, bratwurst, roasted lamb, the ordinary hamburger … you know I could go on and on. I love meat. Come on, I live in Alberta, home of beef ranches and beef lovers. And yet, as much as I hate to say it, I think my long, very carnal affair with meat may be drawing to a close.
So why consider such culinary madness? It’s not a health issue, definitely not a moral “animal cruelty” issue (as one restaurant says, there’s plenty of room for all God’s creatures, right beside the mashed potatoes). It’s the carnivore’s dilemma – how can the world sustain the consumption of meat at North American rates? Simply stated, you can’t.
Tomorrow, October 16, is is World Food Day (here’s a new acronym for the file, FAO-UN, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). I’m not a big fan of all these special days but this is an issue that needs not only our focused consideration in the west but our changed dietary practices.
Here’s the nub of the issue – increased standards of living and wealth means many people worldwide are wanting the lifestyles we, in the West, take for granted as normal. More and more people want to eat more and more meat and dairy products. This shift is driving up the demand for and the price of animal feed. All these grains, often the staple of most of the world’s diet for bread, pasta and other grain based food, are now gobbled up in meat production.
Track out the net effects of this and a number of compelling arguments for an increasingly vegetarian diet emerge. There’s the basic humanity argument – should we not be using grain to feed fellow human beings instead of raising protein? This is a no brainer – how can we fatten a cow to grace a dinner plate yet watch a fellow human wither from famine?
There’s the justice argument – how can I deny to other humans the lifestyle I expect to enjoy as a basic norm (accessible meat at pretty much any meal). If giving every family in the world a pig to eat breaks the limits of sustainability for earth’s resources, how dare I expect to enjoy meat every day?
There’s the energy argument – a 6 oz. steak requires 16 times more energy than a caloric equivalent (360 calories) of vegetables and rice. In the same comparison, growth of beef generates 24 more times of greenhouse gasses than the vegetables and rice (from NY Times – see here). A vegetarian diet simply has a much smaller carbon hoofprint.
There are a number of writers on the matter but I really like the approach of Mark Bittman (author of How to Cook Everything, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and Food Matters – my good, food-conscious friends Pam and John say this is the one to check out). I like Mark Bittman’s flexitarian approach (check out his website for articles on the matter and loads of recipes). He has some basic principles that make this conversion do-able. Here are a few:
- Eat one pound of meat a week (two pounds at most). (Besides, going “cold turkey” is still carnivorous so this is a more attainable goal)
- Rely on meat for flavour more than bulk.
- Think of eggs and dairy as treats. (oh, but I can’t do without the cream in my coffee)
- Go crazy on plants. (Ok, but teach me how to cook these in an interesting way instead of boiling the life out of them into a mushy, tasteless, greyish-green blob)
- Eat legumes every day.
- Vegan until six (p.m. that is. Again, this seems pretty do-able).
So I’m thinking flexitarian. I’m shooting to start out with a meatless meal a week. I could spiritualize it and call it a fast from meat … and maybe that wouldn’t be a bad way to frame it because I think this is a grace issue, a way to map out the meaning of the gospel for daily life. 2 Corinthians 8:8,9 says “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
I know that grace, so why can’t I become a little meat-poor so someone who shares God’s image can become life-rich. And because I know that grace there’s a little less kicking and screaming going on.