Guest post by Michael Coward
It’s an exciting time for veganism as it has experienced exponential growth, particularly since 2017. For most, however, the idea of transitioning to a vegan diet seems daunting, impractical, and maybe even a little extreme.
While I will always wish that there were more vegans in the world, reducitarianism is a more appealing alternative for most. Most people know that they should be doing more, but can’t seem to figure out where to start.
The BBC recently published a Climate Change Food Calculator to demonstrate how one’s diet impacts their carbon footprint. It is no surprise that animal agriculture–beef the worst offender–”is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming.”
(All figures are based on consuming items 1-2 times per week)
However, the were a few surprises. I had to know how beer impacts my carbon footprint. Oh no.
Apparently if I drank more wine than I drink coffee, I would be making the world a better place. And a glass of wine might be in order, because looking at these charts can be daunting.
So, what can you do? Thanks to these charts, and other similar resources, it’s not too difficult to find out the impact of one’s diet. It’s also about knowing the source of our food. We are a culture that, by-design, does not know where our food comes from.
When I was kid, my friends and I ended up battling each other with what I thought was some random, non-edible fruit that had fallen from a tree.
A few years ago, I learned that this is what the fruit of a walnut tree looks like. Maybe it’s because I’m a city boy, but with the rapid expansion of urbanization, I suspect that I am not alone in my ignorance. I once met a girl from California who had no idea that cotton comes from plants (shrubs to be specific).
When it comes to animal agriculture, how our food gets to us becomes even more nebulous. The gross majority of animal products come from factory farms, meaning that almost every egg, drop of milk, burger patty, and chicken wing came from the leading cause of climate change and from an animal whose suffering began at birth and only ended when it was slaughtered.
The unfortunate reality is that more ethically sourced animal products require more resources and generally leave a larger carbon footprint. They require more land to grow food and on which to live. For instance, a farm may treat its egg-laying hens like family pets, but there is still a question of what happens to the male chicks, who produce no usable products until adulthood, at which point they can be slaughtered and used for meat. Before the question of whether or not it is ever ethical to slaughter an animal for food, it is apparent that raising a male chicken to adulthood will require more resources than it can produce. That is why factory farms simply grind up the live baby male chicks and dispose of them from the start.
I already admitted that this is all a little daunting. Maybe two glasses of wine are in order. When showed one coworker that beer had a higher carbon imprint than wine or coffee, he jokingly asked if I was suggesting that he give up beer. I joked back that he should use a PICK chart to decide.
This is a PICK chart (credit):
This is a tool that my team uses to help us prioritize areas of improvement. The vertical axis demonstrates the impact of any given item. The more an item improves things, the higher on the axis it goes. For instance, based on the charts in the BBC link, beef should be pretty high up on this chart.
The horizontal axis demonstrates the amount of effort that any given item will require. This is potentially more subjective. For instance, the biggest obstacle for me to give up beef is that I like the taste, which isn’t all that difficult for most people. Most people would still have access to inexpensive, nutrient dense proteins without beef. If a person is, say, a butcher, they may have a more difficult decision.
An item should be placed on this chart based on the payoff relative to the difficulty. The words in each corner of the chart (the first letters spell PICK) give a general idea of whether or not any given item should be prioritized. For someone like me, who finds beef relatively easy to give up, it would go in the upper-left quadrant of the chart. I should just do it.
However, giving up all animal products isn’t that easy. It is high impact: it significantly diminishes my carbon footprint and eliminates a lot of suffering. However, it requires me to cut a significant portion of my diet. I love meat, cheese, and eggs. It means most people think I’m weird, my family doesn’t always understand my diet, servers are going to hate me, ordering from a menu or grocery shopping is way more complicated, and, well, maybe it’s time for a third glass of wine. Such are items placed in the upper-right-hand quadrant.
They are challenges and they are to be challenged. I had to do some real soul searching before deciding to adopt a vegan diet. In the corporate world, they call it root cause analysis and problem solving. I don’t have any dietary restrictions and very few aversions. I don’t know if it’s actually more expensive to eat vegan, but it’s not terribly difficult for me to budget for it. My city has plenty of vegan options in grocery stores and restaurants.
Everything else really boils down to inconvenience, and they are inconveniences that I can manage. I ultimately went vegan.
What about you?
Make your own PICK chart and make it with more than just food. Do it with anything that can make you and the world around you better. Think about where you buy your clothes, getting more exercise, taking up mindfulness and meditation, and whatever else. Now is a great time for change. What falls in your “Just Do It” area? What are the challenges that you are willing to take on?