Father's Day and a Food Feature
Some steps my family has taken towards sustainability
Editor’s note: this is relatively rambly but who cares because it’s a Father’s Day weekend issue
A Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all those celebrating! Today, I figured that I would discuss a bit about how my family has become more sustainable in hopes that it might reveal to any of my readers the ease at which you could become so, too.1
The realms of lowering emissions that I want to discuss center around one topic: food. Specifically, they deal with means of emissions reductions that occupy prime real estate on the list of the top 20 climate solutions. As that link only goes up till the 11th best solution, you must view the video version if you want to see listed the relevant two. In any case, fear not, I reveal them now: solution #4 and #3, a plant-rich diet and reduced food waste.
The latter is the more straightforward, easier, and likely more impactful option, so I shall lead with it. Big picture, reduced food waste means a lot of things. In poorer countries, it means better infrastructure and food transport so that food does not spoil before arriving at its destination. In richer countries, it means the reduction of the huge amount (about 1/3) of food that we throw away. So, most of those reading this article will have to reduce that which is thrown away. This will crucially involve different purchasing habits, but what I want to focus on is an even easier change.2
That change is composting. Until a short time ago, my family threw basically every food scrap (whether it be spoiled or already used and in need of disposal) into the trash. This meant it went to a landfill and met conditions poor for natural decomposition. And we were not alone. A recycling guide for my town of Morgan Hill notes that “organic waste makes up to 30% of what Morgan Hill sends to the landfill.” Organic waste is not always, but is more often than not, compostable.
I’m not saying you have to start your own backyard compost/worm-bin (though, have at it if you desire!), but I am saying that you should start3 funneling all that food waste into your green organics/compostable bin. You can check with your locality to make sure that all organic/compostable waste is ok to put in your yard waste bin, but it is more than likely the case that it is ok. Greasy pizza boxes, banana peels, egg shells, table scraps, moldy bread, apple cores,4 half-eaten sandwiches, coffee grounds, withered vegetables, onion husks, napkins/paper towels/used tissues/any other used/food-soiled paper, and even meat bones: send all this and that which is like it to the compost pile, not the landfill.
My fam got a white, mini-trash can that we throw organics into in the kitchen, so we can just take that out to the green bin once a day. In doing just this, you can drop the amount you send to the landfill drastically and, in doing so, lower your carbon emissions by some decent chunk (and you can lower them even more if you reduce the amount of food that goes bad/you have to throw out before it gets any use).
Now, I just referenced meat in an article about how to lower your carbon emissions through food-related habits and choices. I would be remiss to not include a section on the other main way to reduce your food related emissions: eat less meat.5
I am not a vegan, nor a vegetarian; I am not even a pescatarian. You don’t have to be either to lower your food related emissions. (Everything I would like to say is covered eloquently by this Vox+UC joint video about diet and climate change:
The punchline is so: reduce as best you can. Eating a smaller portion steak is better. Substituting chicken for steak or lamb is better. Dropping meat from a meal is better. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good (or better in this case). My family surely is not animal-product free, but we did have Beyond Meat (or Impossible Meat, I get them mixed up frequently) instead of beef for our burgers this past Memorial Day7 and we have skewed strongly in the direction of plant-based meals.
Aside that I need to include in the way of the main text: leave the conversation if you are about to get upset at how meat substitutes like Beyond and Impossible taste. You prove yourself way too ideologically biased if you cannot admit that these foodstuffs easily fall within the range of an average beef burger (or ground beef in general). I’m not saying they are amazing or taste equivalent to a ribeye, but they unquestionably meet the market of an average barbequed burger, perfectly suitable for a Memorial Day or July 4th cookout. If you disagree, you have no tastebuds or you cannot separate your sensory stimuli from your ideology well enough.
The environmental argument has been, for whatever reason, more convincing to me than the moral argument. The treatment of animals, in much of the world, easily constitutes a form of torture and, if you are one to give animals any form of moral consideration (which most people are),8 then you would have to condemn such practices. Even though this was(/is?) the boat I would put myself in, I don’t know if I ever would have turned such condemnation into action if not for the environmental side.
My first step was to stop buying beef/slaughtered cow. I gave myself an out to eat it if I did not buy it (I still do grant myself such an out. Not that I go and seek out beef that I haven’t bought; I am relatively good-faith about the effort because it is a personal one, and I don’t care much to lie to myself). This was prompted in part by the horrid conditions of factory farming, in part my assessment of cows as a relatively intelligent creature which grants them a seemingly greater capacity to suffer,9 and in part the significant impact cattle farming has on global warming.
This position developed to pork/slaughtered pig. This step, I believe, is more chiefly prompted by the ethical and my assessment of pigs as relatively intelligent, like cows. Obviously, pork production does have an environmental impact, but it is less so than beef or lamb by a fair margin, so I attribute the related diet change more to ethics than to environmental concerns.
I believe that changing my diet (in an admittedly small way) for a chiefly environmental reason opened the door for me to change my diet in general, which led to the change for an ethical reason.
I still, despite my moral concern, eat beef and pork; now, I just eat less than ~10% of the amount I ate before. I still let myself indulge when trying new cuisines if I am in a new environment/culture and that is likely morally wrong. Any continuation of animal product consumption is likely morally wrong, within the usual factory farm systems where the vast majority of animal products come from in the majority of markets.10 But I’m trying not to let the perfect be good’s enemy. I can do something I think is morally wrong because I’m a hypocritical human, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to be better.
I would not have expected my family to follow a similar path, but they have, moreso because of my mom than me. We eat a much more plant-based diet now. We still have meat and milk and eggs, but, on the emissions side (and I guess on the ethical side, too), we are doing better. We could definitely be a lot better, but that’s no reason not to make the steps we have made. I would hope this article communicates that, if nothing else. Try to take some steps, even small ones, that could have a better impact. You might be surprised at how easy some sustainable options are. Options like tossing your food waste into the green bin. If you’re not doing that, then it’s a no-brainer to start.
All of the above is great to do because it lessens the amount of emissions produced and landfills filled. However, personal action is POINTLESS11 when it comes to making strides against climate action. I don’t really care about your emissions or your corporately-conceived carbon footprint or your sustainable actions, at least relative to how much I care about policy action. We need policy action to make significant change. So, it is good to be better in your daily life, but far and away the most important kind of personal, daily life action is to lobby and push for political change through voting, calling your representatives, protesting, and talking about the issue. The actions discussed above can be a great way to start these conversations or show others you’re serious about the problem; so do them, just also push for political action.
Either that or I reveal how primitive my family and I have been when it comes to sustainability in the topics discussed
The easiest changes are the most feasible place to get the ball rolling for future, harder changes
If you are not already
Which are actually fully edible
And animal products, in general
this hanging parenthesis is intentional
Though, all-meat hot dogs were still on the menu
not that this is an argument which justifies moral consideration; I am simply operating off the well-founded assumption that most people do grant animals some level of moral consideration
as opposed to just feel pain
I am open to the argument that sustainable, natural ways of farming animals (moreso for byproducts like milk and eggs, but somewhat so for their meat as well) or hunting could find some moral justification, but our current acquisition of animal products is far removed from such a consideration that it does not really merit much room in the conversation.