From no beef to no nothing
I stopped eating beef because the environmental impact is just too horrific. If cows were a country, their emissions would be third behind the US and China. The land and water use required for cattle is also horrific. Plus cows are nice. I liked steak and burgers, but I couldn’t in good conscience eat beef anymore.
That was all I intended to do, but quitting one meat turned out to be a slippery slope. I’m only strict about beef, but that one act has made other actions easier, and has also given me a deeper connection to my own food culture. Hence, while a world going two-thirds vegan may seem impossible, it may be easier than we think. We just have to start somewhere.
Food is culture, and food is entertainment. Variety is the spice of life, and this goes literally for food. What I didn’t anticipate when quitting beef was that I effectively reduced my meat variety by 50%. We don’t eat pork at home and rarely fish. Our meat rotation was basically beef and chicken.
So now I’m having chicken at every meal, and it’s driving me insane. Chicken curry. Chicken tacos. Chicken and kiribath (milk rice). I suddenly couldn’t stand the sight of chicken anymore.
At the same time — because I’m paying attention — I realize that (where I live at least) there are hundreds of veggies, and a seemingly infinite variety of preparations. I’m raving about glazed carrots at a buffet when everyone is gorging on the black pork curry. Which I miss, but the carrots are honestly great.
So now I’m basically pescetarian because I can’t stand the sight of chicken, don’t eat beef, and am only rarely offered pork. The pork I still find really hard to resist, I must admit. I actually know some pigs but still.
But then the slope gets slippery-er still.
I don’t really like fish (besides sushi). So that slowly drops off, because it’s not hard. I also end up having a lot of eggs, and getting sick of that. The cheese here sucks and I’m growing a bit lactose intolerant, so that tapers off as well.
Suddenly, without intending to, I’m becoming vegan.
This was never my intention. I always thought veganism was an extreme, ascetic lifestyle. Admirable, but hardly practical, and certainly not for me. Yet here I am. I’m only strict about one meat, and yet I end up being vegetarian for most meals. And it’s only a slight flex to go vegan, which I’m doing now. It’s not even a sacrifice, in a weird way it opens me up to my own food culture again.
Unlike western food, Sri Lankan food is never centered around a protein. The center of every meal is always a carb — rice, roti, string hoppers, etc. Around that nucleus you get a rotation of vegetable curries — potato, gotu kola (greens), dhal, a coconut sambol. Only then do you get the meat, usually a fish.
Hence you can still sit around the same table as everyone else, you just omit one bowl out of like seven. Hence you don’t have the weird cultural thing of ‘preparing a different meal’ for a vegan. The default meal is vegan, it’s the meats that are modern extras.
Sri Lankans use coconut milk (no dairy) and are also, coincidentally, gluten-free for the most part (we use predominantly rice flour). Our desserts are mostly mediocre and baking is foreign. It has certainly never occurred to us to put eggs in something sweet. This is part of my food culture I never really thought about, but Sri Lankan food is actually vegan at its core.
The one exception is that we use dried fish as a condiment. We put dried ‘Maldive’ fish in everything, chili paste, salads, curries. It’s added at a flavoring base to dishes that are otherwise labeled vegetarian. To a large degree, we don’t consider this a meat, it is a spice. I basically let this go and happily eat dried fish if it’s served.
I never thought about any of this because I was so used to just having meat with every meal — because I had money — but I realize now that it doesn’t have to be this way. I thought that my food culture was just carnivorous, but by just changing my perspective a little I see that it’s not.
Hence veganism is not an act of denial for me, it’s a revival. But I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t start.
Again, I’m not a strict vegan. I strictly avoid beef, and that somehow ended up with me becoming more and more vegan over time. This is a happy happening, because that gets me back to my original goal of not eating the environment.
The fact is that I didn’t just get here. I just had a gun to my head. My little island is the country worst affected by climate change and if I don’t scream and live a change then my kids don’t have a chance.
We’ve sorta blindly followed the west in everything because you seemed to have cool stuff and to know what you were doing, but that’s gone terribly wrong. We have to pull back from the abyss. For the longest time, we thought it was desirable, but we can’t all eat like Americans. In fact, none of us should.
The carbon footprint of a western diet is insane. Eating as much beef as an American is the equivalent of flying from New York to London every month. And that’s more emissions than the citizens of 54 countries produce in a year. We just can’t do it. This way lies madness and ruin for us all.
According to The Economist, being two-thirds vegan can reduce your carbon footprint more than half, more even than vegetarianism. And never mind the ethical impact of not eating sentient and generally friendly beings.
This may seem impossible, and indeed I know how that feels. And yet taking small steps can set you on a slippery slope to veganism. For me, it was a quick slide from no beef to no nothing, and I think this may be possible in non-cowboy cultures across the world. I certainly hope so. The other side is a slippery slope to hell.