Michelin star chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York wrote in his book The Third Plate that“in the rush to industrialize farming, we’ve lost the understanding, implicit since the beginning of agriculture, that food is a process, a web of relationships, not an individual ingredient or commodity.” For us to determine the best course of eating for the future we must first define food. Is a ‘Big Mac’ food? Are chips? Yes, they taste good and leave you feeling full, for a time, but how many nutrients do they contain? If any. What makes a cow a societally acceptable food but not a horse? We eat mushrooms, a fungus, a decomposer, but turn our noses up at the thought of eating crickets which contain 28 times more protein per gram than beef. Different cultures have different definitions of what food is. It is imperative that society choose now, how to define sustenance in the future.
By 2050 the world population is expected to surpass 9 billion people and by 2100 the temperature of the planet is expected to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius, only making floods and droughts more extreme. Producing enough food to feed everyone is going to become an incredibly difficult task. Yet, there are clear actions that we can take now that will not only aid in the mitigation of climate change, but that will enable our communities to adapt to the changes that are inevitable. Within the food and agriculture realm, the single greatest step we can take is to eat less meat. Not stop eating meat. Not become a lettuce eating rabbit. Simply consume less meat than we do now.
Originally, humanoids were not omnivores. Before the discovery of fire, our ancestors were mostly foragers. Eating nuts and berries and anything we could find to survive. It wasn’t until fire that we were able to cook and eat meat. Which is widely considered one of the leading causes for the growth of our brains and the eventual evolution into the humanoid we are today, Homo Sapiens. This is one the arguments used by the beef lobby today to keep meat at the center of the western diet. Even going as far as to label some diets, Caveman or Paleo. The Paleolithic era just so we’re clear, began roughly 2.5 million years ago and the life expectancy was around 35 years old. Yes, there were many outside factors like no modern medicine and tigers with foot long teeth. But still I’m not jumping onto a trending diet where 25 was middle aged.
Plant-based diets are the new rage. Schools all over the world are beginning to take notice and in fact, Trinity College Dublin just voted to make their on-campus dining facility provide 75% of the options as ‘plant-forward’. As a chef prior to starting my masters I can tell you this makes menu development challenging. Most dining facilities in schools and office buildings operate on a rotating schedule of 8, 10, or 12 weeks. Eventually you are going to see a dish you already have. Remove meat from the dishes and the list becomes significantly shorter.
Is a dictated percentage of plant versus meat dishes how we really want to move forward? Do we need to be told what we can and can’t eat or cook? Maybe, we do.
I believe that the solution lies somewhere in the middle, as it so often does. For instance, have an equal amount of meat choices to vegetarian and vegan, simply make the meat on the plate a smaller portion. Instead of the 200 grams of meat that has become the norm, give portions of meat closer to 80 grams. Increase the good grains like quinoa and sorghum that are protein rich and get creative with the vegetables.
It is possible for western culture to eat less meat. Which will reduce greenhouse gas emission. If we start talking about removing meat from everyone’s diet, the backlash will be swift. Instead of following in Trinity’s footsteps, NUI Galway can step away from the trend and develop a plan for our dining services that allows for creativity of dishes, edible freedom, and makes a measurable difference in the fight against climate change.