Local Food and Becoming Accidental Vegetarians

We come from a long line of carnivorous, meat-loving, meat-producing farm stock. Grandparents, great-grandparents and aunts and uncles before us have all been movers and shakers in the meat-producing agricultural industry. Thus, both Jeff and I have grown up with meat being the cornerstone of every meal, the foundation to which our mashed potatoes and boiled peas clung.

I love my steak, with butter and onions and mushrooms and garlic…and more butter. Jeff has been known to attend guys-only-meat-fests, which despite the derogatory connotation, is quite literally an afternoon where men eat nothing but meat ….where the salad consists of all sorts of deli meats tossed together. (As long as it’s tossed, its a salad, am I right?) Elsie is known to polish off an entire pack of breakfast sausages on her own. In the past, I have literally cooked up a pack for her and then a pack for the rest of us. Zoe, on the other hand, is the stranger in our midst, who will devour a plate of cucumbers before touching her bacon.

It’s quite safe to say that we have been obliviously comfortable in our meat-eating, meat-loving way of life. Until about six months ago when we decided to embark on our local food journey. Initially we wanted to debunk a number of myths regarding eating local food. One of those major fabrications being that eating locally cannot be done on a budget.

About two days in to our challenge, however, we realized that we were going to have to start harvesting our own body parts (or selling off our children) in order to be able to afford eating locally-raised meat on a daily basis. Locally-raised meat carries a much higher price-tag than it’s grocery store counterparts.* So it was, quite by accident, that we unintentionally became vegetarians. (Except for Zoe, of course, who was still chomping on cucumbers in copious excess while the bacon on her plate was congealed in all it’s meaty glory.)

When I say that we’re now vegetarians, I should specify that we are very “loose” vegetarians. (I guess the proper word is “flexitarian?”) If we go to your house for dinner, we’re not expecting you to make us veggie burgers. When we go out to eat, if we feel like eating meat, we will. And we typically buy a pound or two of locally-sourced breakfast sausage every couple of weeks to satisfy Elsie’s hankerings. But our meat consumption stops there. Gone are the days of having meatloaf on Mondays, roast chicken on Wednesdays, and succulent steaks (with onions and mushrooms and garlic and butter) on the weekends. Instead we’ve learned to embrace (and appreciate) lentils, beans and tempeh as the protein-rich building-blocks to most of our meals.

Beyond the financial reasons for going vegetarian, our eyes were opened to the environmental and ethical logic behind adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. Many environmentally detrimental practices, such as deforestation and the destruction of ecosystems through the take-over of mono cultures, are pushed in order to support the worlds’ literal hunger for meat.** Not to mention the amount of water required to raise one single meat-producing animal. Or the ghastly amount of methane gas those same animals contribute to our climate.

As a Christian who is called to be a caretaker of this Earth, I can’t eat meat on a consistent basis with a clear conscience without being aware of how my meat-loving ways consequently tax our already exhausted planet. (And this is not even getting into the ethics behind animal rights and the standard of life that these animals possess before hitting my plate.)

Consequently, consider this a short synopsis of how we have accidentally entered a vegetarian/flexitarian lifestyle. Eating local food has been one great big huge lesson in being more aware of our daily consumption of food. We have not done it perfectly thus far, and I’m sure we’ll continue to have need of grace as we persevere in our quest to learn about our local food systems. Nor are we going to have all the answers or all the appropriate rebuttals in support of adopting this new way of eating. However, this is a journey, and a journey is meant to be traveled and explored. So we ask for kindness and patience. And minimal eye-rolling. (Farming family members and friends, this means you.) Meanwhile, if anyone is willing to invite Elsie over for supper once a week or so, one of her favourite meals is pancakes and breakfast sausage. A lot of breakfast sausage. The rest of us will be joining Zoe in celebrating the humble cucumber.

*I know that there are a lot of you who are huge supporters of buying large portions of bulk meat. In the past, we have also bought a quarter of a locally-raised cow. However, our freezer space is at a premium due to all the produce we have frozen over the summer. The only way we would have been able to have room for our quarter portion of beef would be to purchase another freezer…which negates attempting to do this challenge on a budget. However, for those of you who do have ample freezer space, there are many wonderful local farmers in our region who sell bulk portions of meat. You can visit their farms and see first-hand exactly how the animals are fed and cared for, if sustainable practices are a concern to you.

**I’m referring to feedlots and mass-produced meat-producers here. Thankfully we live in area where there are plenty of sustainable farming practices implemented when raising meat-producing livestock. However, as mentioned previously, sustainable, locally-raised meat is quite a bit pricier than the mass-produced quantities.

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