As the war over climate change hots up, with the deniers resorting to ever more underhand tactics, and the climate scientists finding themselves increasingly under attack, there are a number of side movements emerging that, rather than taking a hand in the war, are quietly (and some not so quietly) doing something personally to mitigate the impact of the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.
The focus has thus far been on reducing or eradicating fossil fuel use, said to be the greatest cause of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and water vapour. The fossil fuel industry has been the proverbial bad guy in this tale for decades, but increasingly, factory farming is coming under the microscope for the part it is playing.
Factory farming of animal protein is, by some, considered to be, if not the biggest bad guy in the climate change stakes, the one about which most of us could do something to make a tangible difference, without too much effort.
In his 2008 book, In Defense of Food, American journalist and food writer, Michael Pollan puts it thus, in the opening paragraph of the book: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”
Leaving aside for the moment the “Eat food” and the “Not too much”, and focusing on the “Mostly plants”, Mr Pollan was way ahead of the game on reducing our consumption of animal protein, largely for health reasons, but he too acknowledges the damage that industrial-scale animal agriculture and increasing monoculture have contributed to climate change. Animals – cows, sheep, pigs, chickens – fed on grains mass-produced in enormous monoculture farming operations, result in massive methane output (animals fart a great deal when they do not eat a natural diet), and deep-till monoculture destroys the soil’s natural capacity for carbon sequestration.
Jonathan Saffran Foer, in his latest book, We are the weather: Saving the planet begins at breakfast suggests that animal agriculture contributes as much as 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions, hence his plea: eat no animal products before dinner.
Rather than cleaving to the simplistic notion that we all simply become vegan, he asks that we, each and every one of us, reduces our animal protein consumption to manageable proportions, by only eating it at dinner time.
Mr Pollan makes a similar plea: “make the meat the garnish on the plate, rather than the main act”.
The ethics of animal protein consumption aside for the moment, there is solid evidence to suggest that it is impossible for us to continue eating as much as we do without killing the planet. It simply is no longer sustainable, so we need to eat less.
And so, in our household, initially for health reasons but now also in an attempt to do something personally, however small, about climate change, we eat a great deal less animal protein.
Gone are the days of that 400g sirloin steak, or a hunk of steak, a chop and a piece of boerie, at every braai.
Instead, Elspeth and I now share a 200g steak at a meal, and we have also embarked on meat-free Monday (actually it’s meat-free Tuesday, because Elspeth attends a Rotary meeting each Monday evening) in an attempt to reduce our animal protein consumption.
This recipe for a delicious lentil curry (vegan to boot), which we acquired from dear daughter Alexandra, is a start toward eating less animal protein.
It is quick, simple, nourishing, and quite delicious.
Ingredients, selection and preparation:
1 onion: diced
1 tbsp (heaped) curry powder
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp (heaped) curry seed
6 lime leaves
1 tsp cumin
2 cloves garlic: crushed
1 tin tomatoes
A tin coconut milk
1 cup brown/green lentils: soaked for an hour
1 tbsp coconut oil
Sauté onions in a little coconut oil, until soft and translucent.
Add the sugar, curry powder, cumin, garlic, curry seed, lime leaves and fry until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
Add coconut milk and lentils.
Cook down until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Add water if needed.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with basmati rice or papadums, and fresh coriander leaves.
Preparation time: 60 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 – 6 portions