You are what you eat. The way we consume food has a large impact on the future of our planet, far beyond our plate. Meat consumption in particular affects land use, deforestation, desertification and climate change. Climate Tracker is launching a new series on sustainable food called CookThePlanetClean, in which Bea Goddard and others offer you a fun guide to reducing your personal meat consumption. Enjoy!
By Bea Goddard
Summer is well and truly upon us and that means only one thing: it’s BBQ time. Barbeques are a highlight of our summers, but also smoky, meat-oriented events. Animal agriculture contributes to around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the masses of smoke and CO2 given off by barbeque fires is not going to be helping either. But how can these be sustainable? As a well-seasoned (I get pretty salty about this whole destroying the planet thing) vegan/veggie BBQ-goer I thought it was only fair to impart my knowledge of how to survive barbeque season while transitioning to a more sustainable life.
TOP TIP #1: BRING YOUR OWN FOOD
This is standard barbeque etiquette of course, but it is particularly crucial not to rely on others to bring meat-free wonders. Plus, if there’s more than one plant-eater there, that means extras for the meaties to try!
I recently went to a family friend’s barbeque and it turned out I wasn’t the only vegan; cue excitement and sharing of our respective Linda McCartney products, as well as some big salads and vegan ‘coleslaw’ made by my mum (replace mayonnaise with vinaigrette dressing and be surprised by how good it is in a burger with ketchup). Plant-based eating is spreading into the BBQ world!
TOP TIP #2: BYOB
Bring your own beverage. tThis is a non-judgmental space so if you drink alcohol or not then do not worry. One worry is though, where is that drink coming from? You could pick orange juice from Spain in a plastic bottle and wine from France in a coloured glass bottle (this is often not locally recycled and must be shipped across the country to be recycled). Or, you could go for certified beers and ciders (such as the certification handed out by the soil association in the UK) and locally produced apple juice in a carton or glass bottle ( carton boxes are the one to go for here since they offer the least packaging to volume ratio). Just another thing to drink about (get it, drink, think, no? Ok I’ll stop).
TOP TIP #3: BRING YOUR OWN CROCKERY
Barbeques are danger zones when it comes to single use cups, straws, plates and cutlery. These usually plastic or plastic-coated single use products are a major contributor to waste that is sent to landfill or ends up in water systems. Carrying your own around is an easy way to combat this. I tend to carry around my own reusable coffee cup, water bottle, pot for food and a metal straw, but when you’re going to an event at someone else’s house it can be easy to think they won’t be needed. Alternatively, if you’re hosting the BBQ, tell everyone to bring their own plates, cups and cutlery, and hunt out any old plates and cups in the back of your cupboard (I know the cups we used as kids often come out at barbeques because they are durable and the bright colours are always a plus!).
TOP TIP #4: GRILLED VEGGIES
Food does just taste better on a barbeque, and vegetables are included in this. Aubergine, courgette (Eggplant and Zucchini for my friends across the pond), tomatoes, sweet potato or normal fries, peppers, etc.
Most importantly though: BBQ sweetcorn, need I say anything else?
TOP TIP #5: MEAT ALTERNATIVES
There are loads of ‘fake’ meats out there nowadays, some more convincing than others. As someone who has never been a meat-eater, I’m generally not a fan of the texture of ‘fake’ meats. However, I have had conversations with many veggies and vegans in my time, Linda McCartney sausages on a barbeque top all other alternatives. Falafel are surprisingly good on a barbeque, and as a personal fan of a bean burger I can recommend Jamie Oliver’s Black Bean Burger Recipe for anyone wanting to cook their own. Otherwise, most supermarkets sell own brand vegan bean burgers which are friendly to your pocket and the planet!
Bonus tip! Pick burgers and sausages from the frozen section in cardboard packaging to reduce the amount of plastics in your shop.
If you’re looking to take an extra step here, look out again for Soil Association Approved products like with the drinks. For example, Tofoo is great marinated in a little bit of chilli marinade and grilled on the BBQ (I wouldn’t recommend cooking it naked though as tofu can be quite tasteless if not flavoured with something).
EXTRA TIP: IF YOU’RE RUNNING THE BBQ
If you’re running the BBQ, consider the impact of your grill itself. A lot of charcoal burns dirty; electric grills will burn much cleaner – but only if that electricity is renewably powered. Solar cookers now exist which are totally renewable, but also totally expensive. The way to go seems to be to investigate what charcoal you’re using (it is possible to get it from local, sustainably farmed trees) and be careful of the emissions coming from your lighter fluid or firelighters (i.e. axe that stuff).