With parenthood on the horizon, I wanted to establish a healthier relationship with the planet. My childhood was full of dinosaurs, ZooBooks, field trips through Utah’s mountains, camping, and owning dozens of pets. We owned everything from monitor lizards to cats to scorpions to hermit crabs. As children, we were terrible pet owners, killing more creatures than Ted Nugent on coke. Aside from that, I’ve always had a deep connection to animals, nature, and living within the world instead of above it. My wife found it hard to believe I liked the outdoors, considering that since we met I had basically done nothing physical or spent any time outdoors for the first five years of our relationship. (I’ve gotten my shit together more recently…more on that in a later post). Even if I was indoors though, I was reading about nature, paleontology, and cultural issues with humans and nature.
Over the years I’ve been better able to process how much of an impact I’m leaving on this little hunk of rock hurling through space. Expecting a little one made me want to play a more active role in reducing my carbon footprint than I had over the past 30 something years. If you’re anything like me, at a certain point doing things for yourself isn’t enough motivation. My motivation had to start externally before I could bring it in house. For me, that was my son.
My mission was clear: I want to teach my son how to be a good citizen of the planet by setting the right example. I know I’m not alone when I say that I make so many excuses to justify the way I live. Even with the best intentions, my excuses for not exercising, or drinking to excess, or stressing out about things began to be the standard of living I set for myself. It’s part of my upbringing to justify bad habits, and I want that trait to die with me.
I won’t bore you with all the things I thought about before changing. Instead I’ll bore you with the specific things I changed. The first big change I made surprised me. I stopped eating red meat cold turkey–err cold cow. For the past few years I’ve stuck to a mostly paleo-centric diet. In loose terms, that means mainly unprocessed foods, sticking to real ingredients. I mostly leave out dairy, sugar, and grains as much as I can. Unless I’m doing a reset with a Whole30 program or something, I don’t really obsess about keeping it up 24/7. But for years I’ve been saying that I’d be a vegetarian if I wasn’t so used to eating meat. I mean, meat tastes delicious. I won’t deny that. Even now, if it flies or swims, I’ll eat it. But when it comes to pork, beef, and other red meat, I simply didn’t want to eat it anymore.
Reasons not to be a carnivore: some logical, some emotional. First, it’s never been lost on me that I am eating another living thing. To lack any kind of empathy about the things you choose to kill and consume is to be too far detached from the earth. As ass-backwards as it may seem to me, I think many hunters feel that same way. I’ve never felt that the natural world should be humans, then everything else. We’re the most technologically advanced animal to inhabit earth, but we’re still animals. I’m still divided on whether we’re better classified as apex predators or the worst invasive species on earth, but I digress.
Secondly, and this is probably more emotional, (though I am sure there’s some evidence to support it), cows and pigs are not mindless creatures just waiting to be slaughtered. They aren’t pink slime or the fatty strips sizzlin’ on a griddle. They are intelligent, social creatures. Though I have no intent of owning them as pets, over time I’ve started to lump them into the same category as cats, dogs, or horses. Most folks in our society would never consider eating category A, yet we justify eating category B. I just couldn’t make that justification anymore.
Deep Shallow down, I think one day I’ll stop eating chicken, turkey, and some fish as well.
Finally, the single biggest catalyst to dropping red meat is that eating so much meat is just not sustainable for the environment. I’m not going to shove statistics down your throat, because I don’t want to spend the time googling them and let’s face it…facts mean nothing anymore, right? They just get in the way of the argument you’re trying to make. But here’s the conclusions I came to: cows generate a ton of methane (via toots and poops) and it takes a ton of water consumption to produce beef. Because it’s such a huge market, many farmers focus on growing corn and soybeans as their cash crops because it feeds cattle, pigs, chickens, and so on. Almost none of that corn and soy go to feeding humans directly. Add in runoff from animal waste and it really wasn’t terribly difficult for me to reduce meat consumption. When I do eat meat I try to eat things that didn’t have to travel half-way across the world to get here.
Before you get offended or defensive about anything, relax. I don’t care if you eat meat. You make your own decisions and you raise your own children. Also, I don’t think farmers raising all this meat and cash crops are unjustified in their business. They grow and harvest the things that people will buy. Farmers aren’t these idyllic representations of pure Americana. They are people who need to provide for their families and keep a roof over their head. But until we as consumers give them the profitable opportunity to grow more diverse and sustainable crops, what else are they supposed to do?
So I cut out some meat and never looked back. It’s been surprisingly easy to do. I prioritize vegetables more now than I ever have. I feel that I am exercising my influential power as a consumer. It’s not foolproof. It’s not as obnoxious as demonizing factory farming or as militant as joining PETA, but it’s one way I can do my part to change the world around me. And most importantly, I think it’s a way to raise my son to appreciate and respect the world he lives in. By the end of this year my wife and I will have our own garden and start growing our own food. It’ll save money I assume, but also save the resources needed to ship vegetables across the state or country, and get me one step closer to living in harmony with our blue dot.
As I mentioned, I still eat chicken and turkey. And I really have grown to love seafood. They all meet the same criteria I listed above for reasons to quit red meat. They are living creatures with a sense of pain and suffering. Birds eat cornmeal and soy. Aquaculture has it’s challenges. Admittedly, some days it feels like there’s no way to be a socially responsible meat-eater, but my goal is not to be perfect. My goal is to be a bit better every day.
Room for cream: The second change I made was carrying reusable cups everywhere for my coffee and water. I travel a lot. I drink a lot of coffee. As I shuffled through a single-serve world of airports and hotel lobbies, I really started noticing how much we all consume. Next time you’re in Starbucks, think of everyone in there at that moment, and then everyone that will be in there that day. Then think of how many misspelled names are written on paper and plastic cups, topped with plastic lids and sheathed in paper sleeves. Now multiple that by thousands of Starbucks around the country. Expand that to the other local and infinitely cooler coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks, but still generate the same volume of trash. Think of the many millions of disposable cups used that day. Add in the water bottles. Try to mentally process the volume of trash we created for a cup of delicious damn coffee. I tried, and it just struck me as absurd. It’s so much garbage it’s overwhelming.
I drink coffee every day. I love everything about coffee. I respond emotionally knowingf I’m drinking responsibly sourced single origin coffee from a northern Nicaragua cooperative. I drink that shit up. I spend 20 minutes brewing two cups of coffee in my Chemex because I think it tastes better (it does taste better, objectively). From the ritual of starting my day with coffee, to dealing with the unfortunate yellowing teeth stains I suffer for my habits, I love it. Cold brew, nitro, bulletproof, I love it. Just no fucking sugar and no fucking cream.
I had to accept that I was generating too much garbage. And just because I can recycle the cups, that doesn’t make it okay to just go through them. Just this morning I listened to an NPR story that discusses how we think we’re doing such a good thing by recycling that we actually generate more garbage because we feel like we’ve earned a trash credit by recycling. Recycle 12 coffee cups and get the 13th cup to throw into a landfill!
So I bought a reusable water bottle, a cold brew cup, and a normal coffee canteen. I tried measuring how many cups of coffee and bottles of water I saved by using my own cups. I gave up tracking it after a while, but it’s been significant. Two or three cups of coffee and three bottles worth of water a day add up to a bunch of plastic. I’ve had to break my own rule a time or two, but it’s so infrequent that when it does happen I actually feel guilty and it just propels me to be more strict moving forward. I’ve noticed that I also pay way more attention to the amount of sparkling water cans and beer bottles our household consumes too. Yes, we recycle all of it, but if we use less than hopefully there will be less on the planet overall.
These are just a couple changes I’ve made mostly due to my son coming into this world and me not wanting to be a hypocrite to him. While I’d like everyone to consume less, I don’t really care what you do. The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past 6 months is that no one can make me the person I want to be other than me. At my age, no one is going to change my behavior but me. But I can still dictate the hell out of my son’s life for the next few years. That’s why we have kids, right?