Before I got really serious about food, both physically and philosophically, I always made new year's resolutions that would last for about 6 weeks if I was lucky and then fade away, only to resurface again the following year. The "lose weight" and "get more sleep" variety. Last year I made only one new year's resolution, and I stuck to it: to stop eating chicken. More specifically, to stop eating chicken from unknown sources. If I didn't know for sure that the chicken came from a specific farm or a store that only sells chicken up to my standards (Green Circle Farms, Whole Foods, etc.), I wouldn't eat it. We don't cook with CAFO-raised chicken (or any CAFO-raised meat for that matter) at home, but the biggest change was at restaurants. No more chicken nuggets, no more chicken dishes at all, except for a small handful of restaurants who have taken a stand against industrial agriculture.
At first it was brutal. I always wanted the buffalo chicken dip when I'd be out someplace, or a chicken panini or pasta. But the more I got used to it, the more I discovered other menu items I liked, and realized that over the course of the year, it really added up to something. When I think about how much chicken I would have consumed outside of my house the year before, that's a significant number of chickens saved for just one person. I like to think sticking with the resolution made a difference.
Which brings me to my first resolution of 2012. I'm going to expand the chicken resolution to encompass all meats (including beef and pork in all forms). If I don't know where it came from (and consequently how it was raised, what it was fed, and where it was slaughtered and processed), I'm not eating it. I will be eating like a vegetarian (or pescetarian if I know the fish was wild and not farm-raised) at all restaurants and as many occasions as I can outside of the house.
This is going to be brutal at first, I'm sure. Sister loves her bacon and particularly hamburgers and steaks. But real change sometimes comes at a cost. I'm not going to be party anymore to a system that negatively affects so many parts of our lives. Cheap meat has a very high cost: a cost to the environment of which we are to be stewards, a cost to the animals involved, a cost to the workers who are put in danger every day in slaughterhouses across the country that have minimal to no government oversight both in workers' rights and safety, a cost to communities and small farmers when we source everything we buy from somewhere other than home, a cost to the person who gets poisoned from e. coli or salmonella or even staph simply from eating a hamburger at a summer picnic.
Amazingly enough, with a only few exceptions of personal weakness, I was able to stick to this resolution for 2012. Now it feels like a way of life, not a resolution that I have to struggle to incorporate into my life. While in some ways it feels like this resolution is designed to stop directly and indirectly giving money to CAFOs, I have realized how much it actually had a positive economic impact. My money this year supported local farms, grocery stores that provide humanely raised meats, and restaurants willing to make a commitment to sustainable, humane and local meats in their establishments.
Many of these same restaurants also have a commitment to local farms for produce and dairy as well as meats. And while I don't mind giving my money to Whole Foods (which is a post in and of itself!), I am happy that much more money went into my local economy as a result of my "resolution."
I've even discovered some new vegetarian dishes that I never would have ordered before I restricted the type of meat I eat. I also ate more seafood than I would have previously (and am now enjoying more types of sushi than I ever did before!)
But this brings me to my next area of research - sustainable seafood. I'm going to explore this more this year, after being inspired by a report on NPR about what a "sustainable seafood" label really means. I am worried about what this means for the sushi delights I discovered in 2012, but if I can cut out problematic chicken, beef, pork, and other meats, I can do seafood too.