As some of you may remember from the past, when Lent comes around I try to give up something– not just chocolate or sugar or caffeine (though I’ve done all of those things in the past), but something that may actually have an impact other than making me cranky from chocolate withdrawal. A couple of years ago I gave up reading gossip blogs, with the result of being a bit less informed about the daily comings and goings of celebrities but also being less angry — I had been reading very toxic blogs (specifically, TMZ) that had a real affect on my mood. I’ve since returned to celebrity gossip, but the new Perez is much, much more suited to my temperament than TMZ or the old Perez. This year’s sacrifice is perhaps the biggest one yet: I, a carnivore, have given up meat.
Lent is not far gone. It’s been about a week and a half, and so far so good. I’ve found a few good recipes online that I’ve really enjoyed, and it’s sort of shocking how many more vegetables I’ve been eating, considering in the past I would have a veggie burger and call it my veg serving for the week. Now, the other night for dinner I had almost an entire pound of roasted asparagus. That’s it. (Well, and a cupcake for dessert a few hours later.)
My reasons for sacrificing meat are not derived from a religious purpose, even though Lent has always meant meatless Fridays. Nor is it strictly out of concern for the animals, though I am always a proponent of cruelty-free meat. My reason is about waste and the environmental impact of the industrial meat system. Did you know that in order to get every pound of meat to your table, it requires as much water as you would use in showering for a year? So by not eating a pound of meat that you would otherwise enjoy, you’re saving that much water.
Here is a very simple explanation of why. Because America has such a demand for beef, the ordinary, natural way of raising cows for slaughter isn’t sufficient — it takes too long, and doesn’t make as much money. So instead of letting the cattle graze on grass, as their bodies are made to do, they are “finished” in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), where they are basically force-fed corn. A lot and lot of corn — only 10% of the corn that’s grown in the US is eaten by humans. But since industrial farmers are not growing it sustainably, it leeches the soil of its nutrients and they need artificial fertilizers. These are made primarily of petroleum and, well, water. So, from the artificial petroleum-based fertilizer, to the corn fields, to the CAFOs, to the supermarket, to the table, each pound of meat has used a whole lot of oil and water to get there.
I don’t mean to sound preachy or to convert anyone to vegetarianism. Obviously I’m pretty new at it, and let’s be honest– I enjoy a bacon cheeseburger as much as the next girl. But my Lenten exercise is more about awareness of what I consume. I’m not changing the system by ordering a spinach quesadilla instead of a steak enchilada when I go out for dinner with friends. But I do think that if more people changed their habits a little bit, by maybe not having meat one day a week, there might not be quite as much waste as a result.