“Where the hells the meat?” Uncle Tom sharply stated as he scowled at the table “I want my damn meat, its Easter for Christ’s sakes!”
“Now Tom,” Tutu quickly criticized “its Easter, how dare you use the Lord’s name in vain, especially on a day like this.”
I glanced at my brother, Keegan, who sat there rolling his eyes. As a budding young atheist, he loathed my Tutu and her knack for turning any situation into a religious sermon. Last Easter he declared his disbelief in God over the ham my dad spent all day cooking. Tutu quickly condemned my mother for never making me, my sister, nor my brother ever go to church and the dinner quickly ended in tears and a roasted ham splattered all over the tile floor. That night was the first time I ever say saw my mom smoke a cigarette.
I wanted this year to be different, no tears, no condemnation, no meat to be splatter on the floor. Since the end of January my family and I have been meat free in the hopes of lowering our carbon emissions which totaled at 70,384lbs per year according to the Environmental Protection Agency online calculator. Our emissions were in all actuality much more than that, as that calculator fails to consider carbon emissions associated with food consumption, air fare travel, water usage, etc. As a family, we have vowed to do more than just cut meat out of our diets, we planned to eat less packaged and processed foods, drive a whole lot less, stop over consumption as consumers and only purchase necessary food items and yes, gas for our cars. We also promised each other to unplug from our technological worlds so we would be more mindful in our daily excursions as we became more mindful in our daily eating habits.
How was I to condense my rationale for a meatless Easter and my entire Environmental Ethics course into a snappy, concise sentence that’ll make my conservative, ranch-owning, god-fearing, bronco-riding Uncle Tom shut up and eat my veggie couscous salad? I ended up saying something like this, “It’s a meatless Easter! No animals were harmed in the making of this ethical, Earth-friendly and delightful meal. Now, who wants some Ratatouille?”
In that moment, I felt like Remy. You know, that rat chef from that Disney movie? My mom and I had made this beautiful, colorful meal and I sat there waiting to for a rave review on my asparagus but I got a pretty harsh critic instead.
“Ah, Abby don’t give me that hippy shit” Uncle Tom said, “Your too smart for that. You young folks don’t know nothing about the Earth and what’s good for it”
I glanced at Keegan again, he was rolling his eyes. He thinks I’m argumentative and is convinced I get into too many theoretical and political discourses over meals. I mean I did get into a small disagreement with my dad concerning anthropogenic climate change while we were at Bubba Gump’s. It did end in me paying for my own car insurance, so maybe he is right; my track record isn’t great.
I attempted to shake it off even though generational accusations never fail to hit my deepest nerves. That’s when my sister, Bella, spoke up and heroically said, “Uncle Tom, we are actually trying something out as a family in order to lower our carbon footprint. It started as a project for one of Abby’s classes but its turned into a family competition. I am winning of course”
“Yeah right!” My dad sarcastically chimed in.
The remainder of the dinner consisted of me discussing environmental ethics and everything I have learned about the climate and policy and action in the past three years of college. It the first-time people outside of my immediate family listened to what I had to say and contemplated the valid points I was bringing up. However, what was truly remarkable was listening to my mom, dad, brother and sister talk about how these changes affected and inspired them, and how my sister was there advocating for sustainability action. Something about our unifying goal and collective action really did change the dynamics of our family. Though I wasn’t around to see it all transpire, when I came home it was evident.
Since our environmental challenge my mom and dad have cut their driving miles in half and have decided to carpool as frequently as possible. We live an hour from the nearest supermarket so they became better at making more strategic lists and plans to limit trips to Reno. It also helped that my brother and sister’s basketball season was over so they were no longer traveling two and a half hours for games. Nevertheless, gas consumption and total driving time was down. I really want to acknowledge that we live in a rural, impoverished county of California. Portola, the town I went to high school in, has a median family income of $ $36,375 which is $20,000 below the national average median family income. And we have to travel an hour to get to the closest supermarket. This trend is seen all around the country, carbon emissions and the effects of climate change are seen disproportionately in areas of inequality and social stratification. We live in the middle of the fertile Sierra valley and have to drive an hour to get fresh foods because we are using our land to raise cattle, that’s crazy.
My family and I have been almost two and half month’s meat-free, which was incredible for a family whose meals once revolved around meat. My mom even admitted that this challenge encouraged them all to have meaningful, family dinners again. Every night they were cooking meals together and eating together while they reflected on their days. Whereas before we were all getting in the habit of fending for ourselves by microwaving frozen burritos or ordering pizza. My mom said she even lost 10 pounds.
This is what I was telling my family around our table of 24 during our first vegetarian holiday. My grandpa brought up Sierra Valley Farms, a 65-acre certified organic farm and native plant nursery situated on the Middle Fork of the Feather River, aka the farm across the train tracks. We talked about how much land and water goes into raising cattle which lead my Uncle Tom telling some great stories about him moving cattle on his father’s ranch down in Flagstaff, Arizona.
I told them I wasn’t against eating meat, and I am not. I am from a long line of hunters and ranchers who take a lot of pride in their food and where it comes from. My grandpa, Uncle Tom, Uncle Dale, Aunt B, these people were mindful of their meals because they did care about where they came from. Unfortunately, the meat eaters of todays don’t care and the are absentminded as they pick up that pound of ground beef and put it in their cart as they hunt through the tall aisles of boxed foods and canned products. My family was out there hunting in the forests among the trees, walking through the valley of tall grasses. There is a difference, but we don’t all have the privilege of doing so. That’s why meat has to stop becoming a norm for our society. It should be an occasional privilege if you choose to have some. My sister is now a self-declared vegan. So now I have a vegan sibling and an atheist sibling.
Our meatless Easter was my favorite holiday in all of my 20 trips around the sun. We talked and we laughed, we listened and we cared. It’s true, I like theoretical discourses around a table, there is no better place to have them. This meal opened up a conversation about ethics and what is right and wrong and sometimes just having the discussion is the first step in the right direction.
Four glasses of wine in the conversations started to veer away from ethics and the last thing I remember is my cousin Skylar knocking over a bowl and potatoes splattered all over the tile floor.