Written by Nidhi Chaudhry
Bovine Flatulence, or in colloquial terms, cow fart, is what compelled me to start thinking about how our diets and choices are affecting the environment. It was 2007 and a friend had forwarded me one of those chain emails that make you wonder if you should feel misguided or enlightened.
“According to the UN,” read the email, “the livestock sector, thanks to cow burps and farts, generates more greenhouse gas emissions than transport.”
I remember forwarding it to all my friends, beef eating and otherwise, with a note full of mock-horror. “Finally there’s proof! Your beef gluttony is destroying the world.” I was expecting the jokes that followed – “Holy Cow!” – but not the heated debate. What started as, “Isn’t it good then that we’re eating them?” very quickly turned into, “F**k this shit! We love beef and none of you environment-loving tree-huggers can change that.” That email-debate destroyed some fairly deep friendships, I’m told. I should have known. In India, where I was at the time, people take their cows very seriously.
The email, whether true or not, was the first time I started thinking about what goes into our food and how our choices make a difference. A cow isn’t just a cow. If I am what I eat, then I am also what the cow eats, and I am also the plant-food and soil that the grass eats. That seemingly simple choice to eat a steak wasn’t that simple after all. It made me accountable for whatever, good or bad, the cow had done. It made me accountable for cow fart and it’s horrendous greenhouse effects. Oh the guilt!
Something else that I learnt because of the email was that very few people sit up and change their choices and habits simply because it’s ‘good for the environment’. People stick rigidly to their likes and dislikes and the only argument that comes close to having any effect is when it’s “good for health” or a question of life and death.
Combining both these arguments is where Mark Bittman’s true genius lies. The New York Times’ award-winning food writer and author of several books, perhaps knows that the best way to get people to do something for the environment is to convince them that, really, they’re doing it for themselves. So, his 2009 book, Food Matters, “explored the crucial connections between food, health and the environment”, making the case that a plant-based diet was great for our health and the environment; but mostly, great for us. And his 2010 cookbook, by the same name, came with “comprehensive and straightforward ideas for cooking easy, delicious foods that are as good for you as they are for the planet.”
Equal parts culinary life coach and food intellectual, Mark Bittman is a man on a mission. A man who has made a career out of changing the way we prepare and think about food. If there are any food issues that come to your mind, whether it’s the dangers of sugar, soda and its impact, workers rights, the state of school food or anything else, chances are that Mark Bittman had a hand in putting it there.
I suspect much of Mark Bittman’s fundraising talk (and dinner) on 30th April 2013 in Downtown Brooklyn ((in association with Brooklyn Food Coalition) will be a call to action, of sorts – A good look at the intersection of food, politics, the environment, and personal health, and what we can, and should, do about it. There’ll also be a fair bit about his newest idea, VB6 – eating vegan before 6, and anything your heart craves, after. (His new book by the same name is also releasing on the same day and will be available for purchase and signing at the event).
VB6 is how Mark Bittman lost a lot of weight, improved his cholesterol and got a handle on his blood pressure. And he shares this journey in the book, along with ways to tailor the concept to our specific lifestyles. It’s a wonderful idea that’s all about enjoying the balance in our meals, about having a little of what’s good for us so we can have a little of what’s not. But most of all, it’s about eating less meat not just for health reasons but for positive environmental impact.
I think I can get behind that. Especially if it means I no longer have to worry about world problems like global warming and bovine flatulence.
Nidhi is a New York based writer who gave up a cushy business-consulting life to be a penniless writer. When she’s not fawning over Mark Bittman or obsessing over bovine flatulence, Nidhi can be found writing about all things food and culture at nidhichaudhry.com