After seventeen years as a vegetarian, I recently switched back to an omnivore. My motivation for not eating meat was environmental, since, on average, a vegetarian diet requires much less land, water, and energy. This is still the right motivation, but over the last year or so I’ve been rethinking my decision to not eat meat.
My concern was that I’d stopped paying attention to my food choices and a poorly considered vegetarian diet can easily yield a bad environmental outcome. In particular, modern agriculture now takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce a single calorie of food. This is clearly unsustainable. We cannot rely on non-renewable, polluting resources for our food, nor can we continue to transport food great distances – even if it is only vegetables. My unexamined commitment to a vegetarian diet was no longer consistent with environmental sustainability.
I think the solution is to eat local, organic food. This also requires eating seasonal food, but Canadian winters are horrible for local vegetables. This left me wanting to support local agriculture, but unable to restrict my diet. Returning to my original motivation to choose environmentally appropriate food convinced me it was time to return to being an omnivore. My new policy is to follow Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” In addition, I’ll favour locally grown, organic food and include small amounts of meat – which I hope will predominantly come from carefully considered and sustainable sources. I’ve also deciced that when faced with a dillema of choosing either local or organic, I’ll choose local. We need to support local agriculture and I’ll trade this for organic if necessary. Of course, in the majority of cases local and organic options are available, and I’ll choose them.
This is a big change and I look forward to exploring food again.