I Was Raised in Cattle Country. Here’s Why I Became a Vegetarian.
My vegetarian diet won’t solve climate change, but it still matters
When I think of the meals I loved growing up, I think of meat. I think of burgers, handmade in a big Pyrex bowl at our kitchen table and grilled on our ancient back yard barbecue. I think of my dad’s famous pork chop recipe — orange juice and garlic and rosemary and I’m not sure what else — which was a weekday staple. I think of my mom’s special pasta sauce, simmering on the stove for hours, chock full of lean ground beef.
I was raised in Canada’s cattle country. Each fall throughout my childhood, our family would buy half a side of beef and work our way through it over the course of the winter. Meat — and especially beef — was an essential component of nearly every meal in my childhood.
My mom grew up on a farm, and although her parents sold their land when they retired, ranching is still very much apart of her family’s identity. My uncle owns a livestock auctioning business where he travels around the country operating cattle sales at hundreds of ranches, and when I visit my grandparents, I can expect locally grown beef on the table.
Despite all that, I became a vegetarian at age 23, after considering it for years. Although my childhood meals are treasured memories, the choice to go vegetarian felt right.
Some people choose vegetarianism for health reasons, or because they’re passionate about animal welfare. But for me, it has always been about the climate. The turning point was when I learned about the colossal amount of energy it takes to produce meat. A quarter pound of beef requires over 52 gallons of water and generates a carbon footprint of four pounds when you factor in the resources needed to grow crops that feed the animals
I believe in taking action to prevent climate change and that starts with action in my own life. So when I graduated from university and I had a consistent routine and income, I made the shift.
Still, I’m a pragmatist, and if I’m being completely honest, I know there are huge holes in my logic. After all, cutting out meat won’t make a significant difference for my personal carbon footprint, much less humanity’s. It won’t even make up for the single plane flight I take across the country to visit my family each Christmas.
But for me, vegetarianism is about walking the walk. Agriculture is one of the world’s major sources of carbon emissions, which means we need to cut back if we have any hope of fighting climate change. I felt like I couldn’t very well call for large companies to cut back on their emissions if I wasn’t at least attempting to do the same. Going vegetarian was something concrete I could do.
Besides, although my actions alone don’t make a huge impact, the normalization of plant-based diets can make a difference. We’re getting there — with high profile athletes moving to vegetarian and vegan diets, it’s become less of a fringe choice and more of a viable option for many. The market is recognizing it too, with more plant-based meat alternatives such as Beyond Meat popping up over the past few years. And the number of vegetarians and vegans is growing. According to recent polling, 5% of Americans and 10% of Canadians consider themselves vegetarian.
More importantly, more than half of the vegetarians and vegans in Canada are under 35, meaning that we can expect vegetarianism to continue to grow as Millennials and Zoomers become a larger portion of the adult population — and raise children on plant-based diets. Those big, demographic shifts are the key to seeing meaningful reductions in emissions.
That’s excellent news. Still, even though I’ve chosen to go vegetarian (pescetarian, actually — I eat fish sometimes too) the real goal isn’t for everyone to do the same. The hope is for plant-based foods become a larger portion of everyone’s diet, whether you’re a 20-something in Toronto or an octogenarian in rural Alberta. There is nothing wrong with eating meat, but we cannot keep eating this much meat if we hope to protect our climate.
My grandparents don’t really understand my choice, but they support it. When I visit, my grandma doesn’t mention my diet, but somehow plenty of meatless side dishes always appear on the table alongside the sirloin or burgers or pork chops. I know those dishes were set out especially for me.
And every now and then, I steal a little bite of steak, too. Meat is not a major part of my life anymore, but it still tastes like home.