Meat You On Campus

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Veggie burger, happy face, uOttawa, La Maison

I was at home today making some dinner, as I do, listening to the CBC, as I do, and thinking a little bit about meat. I don't really eat it you see. Not because I am an animal rights activist, not because of any religious inclination, not because it is expensive..., maybe for environmental reasons (resource consumption and what not).

I actually don't give it too much thought as to why I don't eat meat, I just don't do it. Some of my friends have tried to pin me down on a reason and some people have asked me why I don't advocate vegetarianism more... I guess I am just not that kind of vegetarian.

So there I am, making my dinner, listening to my CBC, and wouldn't you know it, it just so happens that there is show on the radio about meat: The Matter of Meat. I am not listening too keenly until the subject turns to famous vegans - turns out Frankenstein's Monster was a vegan. I started listening a bit more closely.

The radio show continues with some interesting thoughts about why one should or should not eat meat. But in the end, I get stuck on my own personal reason - resource consumption.
What am I getting at?
You know how sometimes you hear about a music band randomly from a friend, and then again about that band at a party, and then you hear them in a random music mix... you know, that feeling where things seem to come in waves? Well that's called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, and I was experiencing it big time because I have been hearing about meat a lot recently.

  • Christmas with my family - "we bought you some Tofurky"
  • Christmas dinner at a friend's house - "thanks for getting me a meatless loaf"
  • Campus Sustainability Framework study - "looks like we buy a lot of animal products"
  • Ordering pizza with a friend - "can my half be vegetarian?"
  • CBC radio show - "huh, another thing about meat"

Catch that second last bullet? It seems that we buy a lot of meat on campus and it is nagging me a bit and I think maybe it is time to do something about it. But the first step to doing anything about an issue is to actually make sure that there is an issue.

Here's the context, I am working on a gigantic assessment of uOttawa's sustainability performance and one of the questions asked is how much local food do you buy? Chartwell's, the campus food service provider, very graciously gave me the breakdown of the food purchases they make for the Dining Hall. "Looks like we buy a lot of animal products".

Chartwells buys a good amount of local food, and they buy a good amount of Faritrade products, and they buy a good amount of MSC certified food... so that's good. They also buy a lot of meat and animal products, just north of 70% to be precise.
uOttawa, food procurement, diagram
So what does this mean? Well first, dairy products and meat are expensive (because these numbers are based on cost). Two, regardless of price, that's a lot of animal products. If this was your grocery bill and 70% of all the things you bought were dairy and meat, you might rethink your purchases. According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian household spends 35% of their food budget on dairy and meat

And now, why does this bother me? Well, as I have already mentioned, I think that meat and animal products use a disproportionate amount of resources and produce a lot of greenhouse gases. Don't take my word for it, the Smithsonian published an article highlighting research from prominent institutions indicating that beef alone uses 10 times more resources than other meats.

In a nut shell, plant based products require less water and energy inputs, produce less pollutants and toxins, and less labour input. Livestock themselves require grasses and grains to grow and they take up a good amount of space. Not to mention all the ethical implications of factory farming. So..... what if we could cut back on animal products?

I am going to stop right here and mention that I am not the kind of person that makes blanket statements about meat consumption. I don't think that forcing a vegetarian lifestyle on people is the best option. There are plenty of processed vegetarian or vegan meals that are not healthy or nutritious and can still be resource intensive.

And the solution...? Well I wish there was a simple solution. In my opinion, initiatives like Meatless Mondays tend to turn people off rather than bring people in. I like a less direct approach actually. Instead of an all out ban on meat, we could try slightly modifying the menu to bring down the quantities of animal products.

For example, instead of meat lasagna, half the time do spinach lasagna.
Instead of traditional ice cream all the time, try a little soy ice cream once and a while.
Instead of meat sauce for pasta, why not incorporate some season local items like squash.

uOttawa, food procurement, diagram, breakdown

When we breakdown the numbers a bit further at the University, we can see that there is a disproportionate amount of of money spent on anything but produce. Just from a financial point of view, shifting to more produce could greatly reduce the cost of the meal plan in general.

I know this is a little weird... I am giving suggestions to you the reader rather than just implementing them on campus. Well don't worry, I am going to try to work with our Food Services people to reduce animal product consumption where permissible. But what about you? One of the reasons why we have such high animal product numbers is because of demand. What can you do to help reduce demand? What would you like to see us do?

If you have suggestions for me or for Food Services, send them along. The more you engage, the more we can respond to your needs.

~ jon - campus sustainability manager

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