Meat consumption is often criticized for its environmental, social, and ethical impacts. According to the federal government, crop and livestock production accounts for approximately ten percent of Canada’s GHG emissions. This is not to say we cannot eat meat sustainably. Agricultural practices have the capacity to sequester carbon in soil, perennial vegetation, and trees to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere.
Pasture-raised cattle is often highlighted as a way to minimize the environmental impacts of meat consumption. These grazing ruminant populations help restore degraded soil biodiversity through a practice known as regenerative agriculture. Numerous farmers across BC, such as Annamarie and Kevin Klippenstein, are dedicated to raising and sourcing organic, grass-fed meats. The Klippenstein’s focus on creative ways to incorporate such local products at their plant-forward restaurant, Row Fourteen. “Instead of garnishing your meat dish with some vegetables, we’re the opposite. We like garnishing our vegetable dishes with some meat,” says Annamarie.
It is important to recognize that meat is often an integral part of cultural heritage and identity and as such, diets are inherently heterogeneous. This makes it difficult for broad, evidence-based guidelines to resonate with diverse communities. Researcher and doctorate candidate Mirah Valdes’ recent study suggests that social factors such as culture, influence food decisions and definitions. “I think that there’s a lot of complexity in studying these types of diets. It’s hard to study these diets because vegetarianism can mean different things to different people,” says Valdes.
One local program that aims to bridge communal gaps through food is Embark Sustainability’s Community Kitchen. The event series is a platform to share plant-focused substitutions for traditional recipes. Organizers partner with the Simon Fraser Student Society Women’s Centre and work with university students to provide ingredients and increase access to local, sustainable produce. “Lately, our focus has been on really exploring the ways diets and culture intersect,” says Programs Manager, Melisa Tang Choy.
Canada’s food guide stresses the importance of incorporating plant foods that contain nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, and minerals to lower the risk of chronic disorders such as cardiovascular disease. Dr. Black says, “Focusing on plant foods can also be an easy way to include nutrient-rich foods that are filling and help us get the kinds of things many people need to be eating more of while helping us avoid things we tend to get too much of.”
While the benefits of eating more vegetables and plant-proteins are undeniable, it is important to recognize how unsustainable it is for many to adopt an entirely plant-based diet. Instead, be mindful of how often you eat meat and where it comes from. Reach out to your local ranchers and farmers for sustainable, ethical products to benefit yourself and the planet.
To learn more about BC farmers and ranchers working to mitigate climate change, check out our farmer story series.