Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy, others eat fish, but not chicken or beef. Vegans are the extreme version and avoid anything with any ingredient from animal origin. But just as organic doesn’t address sustainability, neither do these dietary classifications. Things have changed. There is a new category of ethical eaters out there these days who make choices not based purely on animal rights, food preferences, or nutritional value, but they are also considering how sustainable a food item is overall, such as food miles, production methods.
For the past few years I’ve been referring to myself as a very unglamorous “80% vegetarian”. To vegetarians, this probably sounded like I simply lacked the conviction to go 100%. More than one person probably thought “what’s the point?”. It wasn’t until I explained myself (and I always feel the need to do so) that they would understand. I wasn’t a typically vegetarian, but it was the closest group I knew of to associate myself with. But I always felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.
You see, I don’t avoid meat because I think it’s unhealthy (although, like everything else, too much or it isn’t good for you), and I don’t take a moral or ethical stance on the slaughter of animals for food (It’s also not the only thing I consider when shopping for food). I DO have issues with the fact that meat is an energy intensive process, using 5 Calories of energy to raise ONE food Calorie; and I DO have an issue with the overuse of antibiotics because animals are kept in confined spaces where disease spreads easily, and fed diets that can cause them to have nasty infections. I also take issue with that meat then travelling thousands of miles to get to my plate. So while its not so much the meat-eating that bothers me, the production end of things sure does. This is why I’m an 80% vegetarian. So what’s the other 20%? When I do eat meat, I try to purchase locally, grass-fed beef, organic when possible, and ideally from farmers whose farms are close enough to drive to in an hour or 2. Admittedly, this is not always the case, but its what I strive for.
But meat is only one aspect of my “unique” dietary considerations. Like many other people these days, I also consider things aside from the food itself, like the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers on the environment, and food miles when I’m shopping. A new term has developed for people like me – “Ecotarian”. I was excited when I heard this term because it encompasses not only what I do, but why. When I pick up an item at the grocery store – aside from nutritional value, these are typically the things I consider before deciding if the item goes back on the shelf, or into my basket.
How far did this item travel? An organically grown banana still travelled from Equador to get to my grocery store, which means it’s not so “eco-friendly”.
How processed is this item? Does it resemble its original form?
How recyclable is the packaging, and is it excessive? Is it made from recycled packaging? Can I avoid plastic? For example, I don’t buy the organic celery that comes in a bag, and I don’t bag my fruits and veggies.
Is my coffee certified as more sustainable (RainForest Alliance) or FairTrade?
Am I likely to eat this before it goes bad, or is this going to go to waste?
Admittedly, being and “ecotarian”, a dietitian, AND frugal with my money, means I spend a lot of time assessing my food, cleaning and beauty product (soaps, etc) for ingredients, back story, and price. But in the end it’s worth it.
Are you an “ecotarian”? What do you consider important when you’re shopping for food?