Environmentalist, Locavore…Vegetarian?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices we make in our day-to-day lives and what is really important. I’ve been drawn to trying to protect the Earth one way or another since I was little. My sister, brother, & myself created “The JA Club” (all of our initials are JA) when I was in elementary school and we did things like go around the neighborhood and pick up trash.

My early endeavors into recycling were more motivated by the money we could get for turning in collected cans than by a strong desire to save the planet, but I’d like to think that was part of what lead me, a few years later, to write about the importance of the environmentalist movement in my college entrance exam. In college, I did lots of the usual college things–I helped my living unit participate in a campus-wide recycling initiative (no gas money this time though!), joined Greenpeace, and wrote letters on various environmental initiatives.

During that time, I decided for a variety of reasons to become a vegetarian. Now, more than a decade later, I’m reconsidering that decision in light of new information and a commitment to local eating. As my husband put it, being  vegetarian is really a part of our world-view and so even transitioning into eating local, free-range, grass-fed organic poultry is bittersweet and something I’m sure Matt would never have done if left to his own devices.

But it’s something that I feel compelled to do for the following reasons:

Meat Replacements are…Bad for the Environment!

This has been my real sticking point and there’s just no other way around it. The meat replacements that have become staple foods in this household are just not good for the environment. They are over-processed. They are shipped long distances in gas-guzzling refrigerated trucks, planes, or train-cars. They contain ingredients grown and marketed by  environmentally-irresponsible companies. They are now largely owned by some of those same environmentally-irresponsible companies.

For example, did you know that Boca now uses soy produced, processed, and marketed by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM)? It’s sad, but true. Even if I opted for Boca’s organic soy line (organic soy foods, by definition, cannot be  from genetically-modified soy beans), I would still know that in some ways, my grocery dollar was going back to supporting Kraft (who owns Boca) and ADM, and I just can’t stomach that. Why? Because, as one of the largest middlemen between farmers and consumers in the United States, responsibility for the current crisis in food production and distribution rests firmly on their shoulders. I could write a book about this topic, but Michael Pollan already has, so go read the Omnivore’s Dilemma if you dare.

Quorn products, much beloved in this household for their texture and versatility, are soy-free, but are also very processed and travel long distances to get to Colorado. Morningstar Farms is owned, like so many others, by a major (and majorly bad!) corporation: Kellogg. Take a look at who owns most organic food labelsGardenburger is owned by Kellogg and also does not exclude the use of GMO soy, although it does, like Boca, have an organic soy product line.

Even locally-produced White Wave is not an environmentally-friendly soy source. Sure, they’re organic, but they’re owned by Dean, which also owns Horizon, which, frankly, although organic, uses factory farming techniques that are not just bad for cows, but bad for those of us who prefer clean air and unpolluted water.

Meat Replacements Do Not Support the Local Economy

And let’s talk a bit about “locally-produced.” I can’t find any information on where White Wave’s soybeans come from. As popular as the local food movement is here in Boulder County, I can’t imagine nearby Broomfield-based White Wave wouldn’t be touting their use of local soy unless they were, well, not using local soy.

The fact of the matter is that I can get free range, grass fed, organic chicken and dairy products because I am lucky enough to live in a place where there are both consumers and farmers who value this type of food. It seems downright irresponsible not to take advantage of it if the environment is as important to me as I’ve said it is.

Did I mention my pets love chicken livers? 

So this week, I purchased, thawed, cooked, and boned a whole chicken for maybe the second time in my life (if you extend this to poultry and recall my turkey cooking experience from Thanksgiving 2007, that makes three birds that I’ve thus handled). I made Mole Chicken, made stock with the carcass, and although I couldn’t bring myself to eat the organ meats, the dog and the cat were in heaven (enough so that I’m considering making their treats out of chicken livers from now on!). And the children love the chicken. Gabriel more so than Lily, but he also has more teeth than she does 😉

Eating (Vegetarian) Humble Pie

Another reason that it’s taken me so long to post on this topic is that there is a certain amount of humble pie to be eaten. During NoMeatPo Week earlier this year, I wrote rather elegantly on why we were vegetarians (I was serious when I said this has been part of our world-view for many years). And I still strongly identify as a vegetarian. I doubt meat will ever be a daily part of our diet and I know already that despite the natural red meat that is available here in Colorado, we will not be experimenting in that direction.

In the end, I’m happy with our choice to eat more local food, even if that does mean getting rid of some of our usual meat-replacement staples, going back on some strong statements about vegetarianism I’ve made in the past, and relearning certain cooking techniques. And I will still argue with my last breath that if you’re going to get your meet from McDonalds or from conventional producers, it is definitely better for the environment if you eat lower on the food chain, even if that includes eating Boca, Quorn, or other meat replacements.

4 thoughts on “Environmentalist, Locavore…Vegetarian?

  1. Oh trust me, beans, grains, & eggs are major staples of our diets. But we’ve been so far enjoying the variety of adding a bit of grass-fed local organic chicken to our diet. And it’s helping me wean my darling husband off of Boca, so it’s an added bonus 😉

  2. Please keep in mind that there are a lot more options for vegetarian protein foods than just highly processed fake meats. Home-grown beans, local grains, local eggs and the like are good options that don’t require all the processing and shipping. Fake meats shouldn’t be eaten by anyone, whether they care about local food or not. 🙂

  3. We have Madava (http://www.madhavahoney.com/) right here in Lyons for honey, and I have been buying chicken and eggs from Wisdom Natural Poultry at the Farmer’s Market. We’re just not ready to eat red meat, so we’re sticking with poultry for now. I might be tempted to eat some trout occasionally too, if it’s local…

    I’ve been trying to persuade Boulder Going Local to offer an official blog roll for people who are trying out local stuff. I think it would be a great resource for all of us who are trying to make more local purchases.

  4. A friend of mine once watched the soy being processed at White Wave. It turned him off of soy products entirely! He wouldn’t even describe it, so I don’t know what was so offensive, but there it is.

    BTW, you can get locally produced chicken and beef (and elk, for that matter) at the farmer’s market (which you probably already knew). I bought 1/4 of a cow and I’ve gotta tell ya, it’s very VERY different from store bought beef. Fantastic! Not that I’m trying to up your beef intake or anything, it’s just that it is.

    I’m excited about getting more into the local food scene as both a provider and an eater this year as well. I even have an “in” with a local honey producer via Heather. Awesome! Now if it would just stop snowing….

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