Becoming Vegetarian….. (Nearly).

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I’ve been reflecting on my first two blog postings and the irony that I spent most of them navel gazing, despite stating that commitment to action was my critical objective.

(Actually, I didn’t make this reflection, it was pointed out to me by Mrs Laughing Cavalier).

This post will be a bit more action focussed – why the Cavalier clan have become vegetarians (nearly) over the course of the last couple of years and how successfully we have managed the transition.

Why vegetarianism?

 A number of related factors motivated our decision to move to a predominantly vegetarian diet.

Firstly, we want to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Clearly, consuming commercially farmed vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and eggs will have environmental impacts (particularly the latter two). However, moving to a largely vegetarian diet does have significant environmental benefits:

  • Livestock production is one of the major direct contributors to greenhouse emissions.
  • Vegetable production will generally be less resource intensive than meat production (ie. it tends to require less land, water, fossil fuels, chemicals etc to support its production)
  • The extent of habitat destruction associated with vegetable production should generally be less pronounced.

I’ll acknowledge there are some generalisations in the above statements, and there are some good examples of livestock management becoming more environmentally conscious and symbiotic with nature. This is brilliantly described in a number of the case studies in Charles Massy’s recent book Call of the Reed Warbler, which will be the subject of an upcoming Laughing Cavalier book review. Even taking these examples into account, it is hard to argue against the basic proposition that eating less meat is better for the environment.

Secondly, animals in commercial farms don’t tend to have a great experience. Again, this is obviously a generalisation and there are examples of animals being treated humanely and ethically (and these farmers should be supported). Nonetheless, I’m comfortable with the working assumption that eating fruit and vegetables is less ethically vexing than eating commercially farmed animals.

Thirdly, although advice on food and health can be excruciatingly conflicting and complex, a fairly consistent theme is that a diet high in vegetables and low in processed food is better for you than a diet low in vegetables, high in meat and high in processed foods. I’m pretty comfortable with Michel Pollan’s advice to “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Fourthly, it probably is a bit more cost effective the eat mostly vegetarian meals and we can grow at least some of our own vegetables (although, meat can be pretty cheap depending on the choices you’re prepared to make).

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Home grown summer fruit and veg from our old garden.

Finally, our choices around what we eat is one of the most powerful ways we can influence cultural norms and affect social change. I’ll return to this issue in future postings.

How successfully have we made the transition and what have we learned?

 Have we become vegetarian?

The short answer is no. The longer answer, as the title of this post indicates, is that we’re pretty close. I’d estimate that we now eat meat or fish once a week, to once every 10 days.

The approach that we’re seeking to take to meat consumption is as follows:

  • occasionally purchasing an ethically farmed chicken as a “feast” meal.
  • occasionally having goat meat (again, as a “feast”) on the basis that this is helping to eradicate an environmental pest
  • continuing to consume fish semi-regularly (I don’t have a good excuse for this, other than the fact that Mrs Laughing Cavalier still loves salmon).
  • seeking to avoid processed meats almost entirely.

The Feline Cavalier and Canine Cavalier are not vegetarians (and, as far we’re aware, don’t plan to be in the foreseeable future).

How have we coped with the transition?

Pretty well, although its been a bit of a mixed bag.

In truth, I was never a huge meat lover and I’ve found the transition fairly easy.

Mrs Laughing Cavalier probably had (and still has) a greater hankering for meat (she’s a product of a ‘meat and three veg’ upbringing), but this has dissipated over time.

One of the Junior Cavaliers was a fairly committed carnivore (understatement!) and other one does not like all of the vegetarian dinner options we prepare (understatement!!). However, over time, we have been able to largely transition them both to a predominantly vegetarian diet.

Adopting a vegetarian diet has made us more creative and resourceful cooks. We have become better at using up all of the food that is available, combining ingredients and using a greater variety of spices to flavour dishes (we’ll include some favourite recipes in upcoming posts). We’ve also become better at planning our meals across the week.

I’ve lost weight and the entire Cavalier Clan has been largely healthy over the last 18 months.

Where to from here?

The major questions for us going forward from a dietary perspective are:

 

  • Will we seek to remove meat and fish entirely from our diet?
  • Will we remove (or reduce) our dairy and egg consumption?

 

The answer to the first question is probably not. We think we’ve probably found the right balance, although we will continue to reassess this on a regular basis.

The answer to the second question is more difficult.

We have reduced our dairy consumption considerably and we recognise that there are significant environmental and ethical issues with dairy and egg consumption. However, at this point, cutting out dairy and eggs is a step too far for us.

 

But we’ll see.

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