I never contemplated deeply on what I ate or drank up until the age of 16. I was normal weight, I thought I ate healthy food – my mom insisted on eating a lot of vegetarian food, I was rarely sick and not a big fan of fizzy drinks. This all changed when I watched 2 documentaries – Cowspiracy and What The Health – both by the same directors.
My view on my diet completely shifted on 2 regards – its impact on the environment and on my health. The main consensus of the information I found was that meat (specifically beef) and animal-derived products are secret enemies for both our health and our climate. Some of the most important information I retained from the documentaries was that:
- Within minutes of eating dead meat bacteria toxins, the body gets a burst of inflammation, stiffening or paralyzing the arteries, increasing the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease
- Processed meats (sausages, ham, “presunto”) have been classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), the same group as tobacco
- 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef, in other words – 1 burger = 2 months showering: based on taking a 4-minute daily shower with a 2.5 gpm shower head.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction and 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second.
The meat industry is growing at the same rate as the population and eventually it will come to a halt – it’s a reality – they cannot keep tearing down the Amazon indefinitely (in theory). Besides, to prevent the probability of a range of cancers and diabetes, meat is the ideal product to cut down from my diet. Yet, I am a forever foodie who goes mad about “presunto” and loves a nice big burger. Here is where the love-hate relationship begins. The constant push and pull of my body – one second telling me to stop eating meat, the other to treat myself to a warm “pão com chouriço”.
After going through the 1-month – I am now vegan!- phase and the – it’s impossible, I love meat too much – phase, I have come to the balance that is reduction. I am reducing the amount of meat and fish I eat, primarily by only cooking vegetarian dishes at home and having stopped drinking cow’s milk (even though, for now, cheese is still my weakness!). Through this simple rule, I have not only been able to reach the goal of reducing the number of meat-based meals I have per week but also had to find new, flavourful vegetarian recipes – making me a more versatile cook.
I have also made an effort to reduce the amount of sugar I consume AND sugary drinks. I drink nothing but water and beer (the latter is a work in progress!). Another goal of mine is to reduce how much I eat fish – the reason is a bit more obscure. In the 2017 National Geographic Summit in Lisbon I saw a talk by Sylvia Earle, a world-renowned marine biologist, who warned of the massive reduction of population of big fish (whales, sharks, dolphins etc.), salmon and tuna due to the growing consumer demand. Thus, as much as I love “bacalhau” and salmon, it’s a change I hope to make soon. (It does help that I currently live in the farthest English city from the ocean, which makes this task a lot easier. But when in Portugal it’s very hard to resist!)
My process isn’t perfect and there are weeks I eat more chicken or fish than others. But it’s the small steps that count, the commitment to bettering my health and environment that I focus on and strive to keep in my mind. I am aware that in the next few years I will not be able to reduce how much I fly as I live abroad so I feel that my diet is an easier, impactful and healthier change to make.