DON’T HAVE A COW: Eating Less Meat as a Family
by Hans Bauman
Don’t get me wrong: I used to love a juicy steak as much as the next guy. But when my wife and I realized the impact our diets were having on the environment, we decided to stay away from Costco meat counter with its bulk-size offerings of cheap beef.
Climate impact was a big initial motivator. The fact that it takes so much water and feed to produce beef, compounded with the high carbon impact of the cow’s waste, means that I couldn’t call myself an environmentalist unless we stopped buying beef.
So over the past decade, my wife and I shifted our family from being weekly omnivores to a diet that contains lots of local vegetables, sustainable fish, and regional poultry and eggs. As a special treat a couple times a year, we’ll splurge big and buy local, grass-fed beef or lamb at the farmer’s market. Our three kids are on board, and I’m amazed we don’t have to argue about it as a family.
The industrial nature of food production means that the lovely slabs of meat at the grocery store were shrink wrapped in an industrial warehouse that completely disconnects us from the animal. I think it’s important that you understand what you’re eating. Beef comes from a once-living animal called a cow! Once you really consider what goes into a hamburger—and share it with your kids!—that used-to-be-my-favorite McDonald’s Quarter Pounder becomes a LOT less appealing.
We talk about these food concerns with the kids, including why we try to eat local produce as well. They realize now that a steak is an extra-special treat and that at certain times of the year there are going to be lots of greens or no tomatoes. Sure, my wife and I get complaints from the kids sometimes, but we also find that, as the Rolling Stones say, “you can’t always get what you want” isn’t a bad message in life.
When making pasta sauce, ground turkey works as a great beef substitute. We often make burritos, and if you’ve got some good stuff to put in there (avocado, fried spinach, or maybe fried zucchini), you really don’t need to add meat. Veggie pizza is a crowd pleaser and, of course, pasta with cheese and a side or two of vegetables is a meal any kid will scarf down.
As a culture, we Americans eat too much high-impact meat. I know that entirely cutting out meat would be even better for the planet, but I feel good knowing that even our less-radical approach is lessening our impact on the world. And by instilling these values into my kids, we’re building these values into the next generation of eaters.
There are lots of resources to help either scare you into eaten less meat (the film “Food, Inc.” really opened my eyes) or to help you make more sustainable choices:
• Check out the upcoming issue of the Green American on why it’s important to eat less (or no) beef in particular, as well as less meat overall. Select articles are available here.
• Forks Over Knives is another eye-opening film that’s also available on Netflix.
• The Moosewood restaurants offer plenty of delicious, family-friendly vegetarian recipes on their site, and they’ve published several excellent cookbooks as well.
• The Vegan Mom is a great blog for families who want to eat vegan sometimes or transition to a plant-based diet all of the time—in a way that won’t make your kids clamor for Burger King.
• Don’t forget the Anything Vegan sisters, who love to help families transition to a plant-based lifestyle. Even if you don’t opt for vegan nutritional consulting packages from this member of Green America’s Green Business Network, you can find plenty of terrific recipes on their site and social media. See their blog entry from last week, and look for an article featuring them in the upcoming Green American.
—Hans Bauman is technology director at Green America.
What are your favorite resources for eating less (or no) meat with kids?