By Kathy Bouchard EBS CONTRIBUTOR
He surveyed the yard cautiously, noting the sheets swaying from the line and the little girls playing near the back stoop. Stepping from the alley on Chicago’s South Side, he skirted the hollyhocks and tentatively, hopefully, made his way along the narrow concrete walk to the back door. My grandmother, working in her kitchen, saw him then, scruffy and unshaven, but only a bit older than her own son Tom. She called the child who would become my mother into the house, then faced the young man.
Their garage had been marked, in some way they never knew, that identified their house as a place that would provide a sandwich, and maybe a glass of milk. My grandmother made those wanderers sit on the steps as she prepared the food, keeping her little ones inside. In the depths of the Great Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt said the nation “was dying by inches,” feeding a stranger was a big ask while struggling to feed her own five kids. Even when her husband turned 50 and was laid off from his delivery truck job so the company could save on pension expenses, she still found something to spare.
Eighty five years later, it is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of food produced in America goes to waste. It is known that people suffer diabetes, heart disease and other afflictions due to their dietary choices. Conversely, food has been used as medicine to treat conditions such as high cholesterol and hypertension. Food can be certified as organic, fair trade or locally grown. Not to mention food plays a deep cultural role in traditions of holidays, hospitality and entertainment. In short, food is complicated.
My niece told me at dinner on Christmas Eve that she would become a pescatarian—one whose animal protein comes from fish—in the New Year, having already given up red meat last April. When asked why, she said it was her way to help “save the planet.”
According to the journal “Science” in a study published in 2018, 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein Americans consume come from meat and dairy, yet livestock and their feed take up 83 percent of farmland and generate 60 percent of our greenhouse gases. Experts say that the Western industrialized countries must reduce their meat consumption by 40 percent to meet climate control guidelines by 2050.
Reducing our meat consumption is the single biggest way the average human can fight climate change. By eating those grains ourselves, we’d need less farmland devoted to agriculture, land which might be then used to sequester carbon, as native prairies and healthy forests are known to do.
“The Meat Lover’s Guide to Eating Less Meat,” an article by Melissa Clark and published by the “New York Times,” cites a number of reasons why she is trying to contain her inner carni cravings. But she also gives a six-step program of what to eat instead. This includes more beans—think chili—more high protein grains including pasta, and even meat substitutes like Beyond Meat. Clark writes that when she does allow herself red meat, she will make it count. I’m thinking Beef Wellington at Chico’s, and I only had that eight years ago.
So this year will be a challenge for me as I face a freezer full of meat, try to buy little more, and wonder how to prepare appealing and delicious plant-based meals. Many of my younger relatives are way ahead of me. They are my inspiration.
As fires ravage a parched and overheated Australia, we all need to move forward to save our planet, to paraphrase FDR, from dying by degrees.
Kathy Bouchard is a member of the Rotary Club of Big Sky’s Sustainability Committee. She has been a Montana resident for 20 years and is inspired to work for sustainability on behalf of her grandchildren.