The first mouthful gave it away immediately. I had forgotten to put garlic into my ‘four bean chilli’. Unfortunately, there was no hiding from it, dinner that night was rather bland. As I mourned my missing ingredient, I began to ponder on the importance of garlic to my life. My wife and I have a vegetarian meal at least twice a week and garlic has become the ‘wonder’ ingredient, it turns a collection of vegetables or pulses into a proper meal.
Food has become very political over the last decade, with meat being discouraged from the world’s diet for various reasons. For some, a reduction in the consumption of processed meat is the route towards preventing various cancers; for others, it is all about reducing carbon emissions. My motivation wasn’t about saving the planet, it was a focus on my own health. To be honest, I don’t feel that I have made a radical change to my lifestyle, as I’m still eating fish and chicken the rest of the week. And yes, red meat does normally make an appearance once a week.
Recently, I was horrified to discover that a major reason for the clearances of the Amazon rainforest is cattle farming. The world just can’t get enough beef and it's becoming unsustainable. Personally, I make sure my weekly treat of beef is grown in the UK. This choice had nothing to do with the crisis in the Amazon, it is an attempt to support British farmers. However, I am glad to learn that I am not contributing towards the environmental disaster in South America.
The politics of food is complicated. Another major contributor to the Amazon clearances is the expanding need for soya. Given that soya is used as a substitute for meat, I find this both ironic – and disturbing. I realise that any choices I make about diet need to be carefully considered. I hope that my personal choice is helping, rather than destroying, the planet. Am I doing enough? I don’t know. As a result, I continue to look for more small choices in my lifestyle that could bring benefits to our planet.
I believe that this world – the whole universe – matters. Not just so that we leave it in a ‘good enough’ state for the next generation, but because planet Earth is in itself intrinsically valuable. My faith tradition highlights that there is a ‘hidden hand’ behind the universe, and that there is a reason why our world, and all of us on it, exists. Language struggles to explain this ‘hidden hand’ – as a shorthand we use the word God. Somewhere in the past, it was documented that this mysterious benefactor called the world ‘very good’. Genesis 1:31 Earth is not worth saving just because humans need somewhere to live. Our planet has beauty, worth, and meaning beyond all of that.
‘Going vegetarian’ twice a week was, in reality, all about me rather than about saving the Amazon rainforest. However, knowing that this change could be helping to make a difference has stirred me to stay with these dietary choices. Together, I believe that all of our small decisions can add up and make a big difference for the good of the planet. So, garlic will remain on my shopping list because I know that when I eat more garlic, I am eating less meat.
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