Training to Swim the English Channel: Greening My Food


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Guest blogger Caroline Chisholm, head of marketing and communications globally for Earthwatch Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to a sustainable environment, is swimming the English Channel in August to raise funds for Earthwatch initiatives.

The journey to make my channel swim carbon neutral has an obvious starting point. And it's not in the pool, but the kitchen. The fuel that powers the engine, otherwise known as the fragile human body, can have one of the biggest impacts on our carbon footprint.

We are preoccupied with food. From bite size to supersize, what we put in our mouths is an enduring obsession. And I am no exception. As someone who has never officially been on a diet, I still know the calorific value of everything. In my defense, this is partly because I am used to scanning ingredients for bits of animals masquerading as candy. And partly because I have a superhuman capacity for remembering useless information. On a recent first aid course, I was able to correctly guess the sugar content of a famous brand of tomato ketchup. I had no idea I knew this. And everyone stared at me like I was some kind of Kim Peek for condiments.

Luckily I recall some of the useful stuff too. So, the fact that ketchup contains 23.7 grams of sugar per 100 grams, also makes it as good as a bar of chocolate if you're having a hypo. And it doesn't contain bits of animals masquerading as anything.

If you haven't guessed already, I am vegetarian. Not a vegetarian. I don't belong to a new race or social order. I don't follow a religion or suffer from an eating disorder. I just don't eat meat or fish, or the parts they try to hide in candy bars. So you might think that when I focus the carbon microscope on my diet, that I'm already doing enough. I should feel good about myself, right?

Maybe a little too self-satisfied, according to a new study which claims that being green could make you mean. Ethical consumers are less likely to be kind and more likely to cheat and steal. It seems that there's a moral trade off when you fill your locally sourced, ethically reared, seasonally produced shopping trolley. A sort of get out of jail free card for do-gooding.

This is not news to me. It is endemic across the green spectrum, from recyclers to raw food vegans. The trouble with vegetarians is that they give other vegetarians a bad name. There's a tendency to be smug, superior, sanctimonious.

Meat is Murder...to Chew
So it's really not enough that I'm already vegetarian. The truth is I find it easy: It's a joy, not a life sentence. I love vegetables, we've come a long way together. I no longer require them to be diced within an inch of their lives before letting them near my plate.

I don't miss meat at all; it's so long since I ate it, that I really don't know what I'm missing. It's questionable whether I ever did. Thinking of the indigestible off-cuts we were served at school, all I remember is that meat is murder...to chew.

If I'd ever experienced a beautifully cooked steak in adulthood, I might find giving it up harder to swallow.

So I will try a dairy-free day alongside the increasing numbers of people who are going meat-free for 24 hours a week, including the town of Ghent and right on my doorstep, Exeter College, Oxford. Why not give it a go? You might find that veggie cooking is full of variety and flavor: think delicious, not denial.

Carbon Paw Prints
But it's not just my diet that's been under scrutiny. I have a confession to make. I've been secretly harboring a meat eater and encouraging his habit much in the same way that some people act as feeders for the morbidly obese. My dog has flirted with vegetarianism over the years but has of late been a resolute meat eater. And when I say meat, I mean the kind of animal parts that masquerade as dry dog biscuits.

This of course makes me a hypocrite. But hypocrisy is so hardwired in the human condition it's a wonder we have a word for it at all. Or that we don't have dozens, as the Inuits do for snow.

Luckily my dog, as most dogs that are not kept as accessories by the likes of Paris Hilton, eats almost anything. For the record, my dog is from a shelter. He is not a fashion accessory. But he is black, which means he just happens to go with everything.

Apparently dogs can have a carbon footprint equivalent to a 4x4, and it's no surprise that one of the biggest culprits is diet. Or presumably their wardrobe in Tinkerbell's case. Of course dogs aren't a patch on cars for getting around, unless you have several of them, a sled and some snow. But they beat anything else for garbage disposal.

In fact I am in awe at the palate of an animal that takes equal delight in eating your best culinary efforts and eating shit.

So my dog is now vegetarian, or more accurately a freegan, given that he also benefits from my housemates' leftovers. Which makes him officially greener than me. By rights, he should be on a fast track to a life of crime. But really he's none the wiser.

Flog It
And somehow I've managed to come to the end of this flog (food blog) without once having mentioned the obvious health benefits of a meat-free lifestyle, or how it could help to save the planet. But you know that already.

I just couldn't help the smugness creeping in.

Previous Posts on Caroline's English Channel Swim
Training to Swim the English Channel: Treading Water
Out to Sea: Swimming the English Channel for a Cause
Biodiversity: The 'Cinderella' of the Environmental Agenda?
Clueless About Carbon? What COP15 Really Stands For
Gimme Shelter: Climate Change is Making People Homeless

You can also follow her on twitter.

More on Vegetarianism, Dog Food, and Channel Attempts
Vegetarian Diet Could Cut Climate Change Mitigation Costs by 70%, If Enough Of Us Make the Switch
Canoe Made from Sheep Poo To Cross English Channel
Feed Your Dogs, Cats, Horses and Gerbils Hemp Food with NuHemp

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