Which is better, local meat or global lentils?

free-range-organic-chicken1For day 20 of our carbon fast we were asked to stop eating meat for the day.

The suggestion read “Don’t eat any meat today, and see if you can cut down on the amount of meat you eat each week. Meat production has a large carbon footprint, with 2.2 pounds of beef producing the equivalent amount of CO2 as an average European car driving 155 miles. It takes 2500 gallons of water and many pounds of grain to make one pound of beef for your table.”  

Ok, well here goes with something that has been on my mind for a LONG time.

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years. I gave up eating meat when my rabbit died! I had been reading articles about intensive animal farming and was feeling more and more moved by what I saw. I also felt a bit hypocritical because I realised I was ok eating meat as long as I never had to deal with it – ya know, kill and gut something in order to eat … As long as I could pick it up in pretty packaging from a supermarket chiller and it was unrecognisable from being a dead animal, I’d eat it.

I had zilch awareness of the environment at that point, but I was an animal lover. So, in honour of Benjamin the bunny I gave up eating meat in my late teens.

Over the years I dabbled in veganism, added fish again, took it back out, switched to high organic food and became more aware of the environmental impacts of my diet.

I started growing a little veg in the garden, looked for as much local produce as I could and became interested in eating with the seasons. Most of us in the Western world are pretty much removed from the roots of our food. We eat strawberries in December, root crops through the summer months and foods from all over the world at any time of day.

Over the past few years I’ve started to become more interested in rubbish. Yeah, I know, go figure! We’ve reduced our landfill waste to almost zero and I have become more aware of the dreadful packaging we use for many foods.

Mr and Little Miss Green eat meat and I can go to a local butcher (thus keeping my money in the local economy) and buy anything I want without packaging at all. I take my own reusable containers and the butcher fills them with my purchases. I began comparing this to my own lentils and rice – they come in non recyclable packaging from the other side of the world. Meat comes from less than 5 miles away with zero packaging…

You can see where I’m going, right?

I’ve been mulling over this for a few months, feeling increasingly uncomfortable and unsure about the whole thing. I kind of gave up and let it up to the Universe to take care of. Well, the Universe did indeed intervene and a month or so ago I was in my wonderful local, organic shop where the owner told me he had a new supplier for chicken. It was free range, organic, humanely slaughtered, and the farm was less than 10 miles away. What’s more, he knew how I felt about packaging and they could pack what I wanted in polythene bags for me to recycle.

To cut a longish story short, I’ve been reintroducing chicken into my diet after 20 years. I started with less than a teaspoon of meat with the rest of my meal but now eat about 1/3 of a chicken breast in one go.

Do I feel any different? Surprisingly not; not at all. But I’m happy with my choice and feel it is better for the environment for me to eat local, organic chicken without packaging than it is for me to import lentils from thousands of miles away wrapped in plastic…

Have you made a life changing decision recently that challenged something you have believed in for a  long time?


  1. Preseli Mags on April 2, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Very interesting subject! We have sheep – grass reared, organically and extensively in Wales. If people didn’t eat lamb our sheep wouldn’t exist and the countryside would look a whole lot different (some might say better!)

    However I don’t much like meat. I’ve been a vegetarian, as has my husband, and my children aren’t keen on meat either. But we do eat it – we’re just very choosy about where it’s from and how it has been reared.

    Interesting point about the lentils too. Yes they need to travel and be packaged but I bet the lentil farmer is pleased we are buying them. Like exotic fruit, grown cut up and packaged in hot countries, our buying it provides jobs and money. There’s always a decision to be made when buying anything (which is why shopping takes AGES!)

  2. tartankiwi on April 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    I think the whole food miles debate is a very difficult one. Not long ago a British newspaper published an article slating NZ kiwifruit import and saying that it was terrible to fly it across the world and that Brits should stop eating it.
    The Kiwi fruit business was up in arms over here in New Zealand. The article was completely wrong as kiwifruits are sent to Britain by ship and the carbon emissions involved are minimal. In fact they are a lot less than transporting many products around Britain by road.
    That said, the fruit and veg that we get here in New Zealand is largely grown in New Zealand and as such is seasonal. It tastes SOOO much better than the nasty imported fruit that has been picked early to allow it to be transported (although it often looks like the nasty fruit that you wouldn’t think about choosing in Europe). I pick local fruit and veg over imported any day of the week but my choice is based on taste not emissions…

  3. Nazima on April 2, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    A very interesting article. It is not just the airmiles issue. It must surely be better for your body, and more nutritious to eat food that is local. However, for vegetarians in the UK there may be no option but rely on airmiles food since the UK options are pretty limited in winter.

  4. Small Footprints on April 3, 2011 at 1:44 am

    It is a hard question. I came across an interesting article recently … it is written by a vegan so, of course, it leans towards the plant-based foods side. However, she offers several links by unbiased groups that I found interesting. Here’s the link to her post: http://www.vegansoapbox.com/locavore-vs-vegan/

    Someone recently gave me an interesting scenario. Local foods have some transportation costs. Unless they are joined to the grocer’s property, they must travel to get to the store … even if it’s just a few miles. And typically the farmer isn’t transporting huge amounts which may mean more frequent trips. So there are some emissions. On the other hand, when plant-based foods travel, huge amounts travel in one transport. The argument was that the emissions per pound were less with the non-local plant based foods. Add to that the amount of natural resources used to produce one pound of meat vs. one pound of plant-based foods and the argument was that plant-based foods, even non-local ones, were cheaper in terms of the carbon footprint.

    I suppose it will continue to be an on-going debate. In the end … we each have to do what we think is right. And, in my mind, if we all do that, then it will turn out … no matter which side we take.

    Thanks for this very thoughtful discussion, Mrs. Green!

  5. Mrs Green on April 4, 2011 at 7:51 am

    @Preseli Mags: Thanks for making some really interesting points about this – you’re coming from a totally different perspective than me (a grower / producer) so this helps me see things from another angle – thank you for that opportunity!

    @Nazima: You’re right; I’ve often wondered how you could be a ‘local vegetarian’ in winter time in the UK – I guess nuts (but I can’t eat those due to allergies). eggs and cheese would be ok, but not options for vegans. It’s not easy is it!

    @Small Footprints: Thanks for the link, I’ll have a good read of that. And thanks for adding something else very thought provoking to the mix – local miles might be worse than airmiles; Mmmmm, so much to think about just to make a meal!

  6. Jill on April 25, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    This is something I struggle with quite frequently – how one green choice seems to negate another. It was the same type of struggle when my family switched to cloth diapers. No more disposables in the landfill, right? But what about all of the extra water it takes to wash them – even during a drought? I guess we just have to gather all of the info, weigh the options, and do what we can with the circumstances we are given. I can relate to your internal debate and wish you much luck.

  7. Mrs Green on April 26, 2011 at 11:03 am

    @Jill: Hi Jill, oh it’s tough making decisions and at the end of the day you have to go with what your heart / mind / gut tells you. Thanks for your comment, it means a lot and I hope you feel at peace with the diaper issue 😉