Being mindful consumers

As you may have heard, fellow Canadian personal finance blogger, Cait Flanders’ first book “The Year of Less” was launched in January. I have followed Cait’s journey on her blog for the last few years and absolutely loved her down-to-earth approach to life and her style of writing/storytelling. I have been fortunate to meet her in person a few times and talked to her for an extended period each time about blogging, money, and life.

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise though, as I seem to be able to connect with many personal finance bloggers in some ways. Afterall, we all are on our own personal finance journey, we all went through our own struggles with finances, and we are sharing our own stories as we learn more about finances, investing, financial independence, and hopefully one day, early retirement. No wonder we all share many things in common.

When we finally received Cait’s book a couple of weeks ago, Mrs. T and I decided that we would read the book together, out loud. So when the kids were finally in bed, sleeping, we would sit down together on the couch, and took turns reading each chapter (OK I’ll admit, I read most of the book out loud). I have to say, reading the book out loud gave me a completely different perspective of Cait’s story. It forced me to really listen and think. It forced me to stay in the moment and absorb every single word that Cait had written.

On the surface, The Year of Less might sound like a book about Cait’s year long shopping ban. But it is much deeper than that. Cait opened herself up and shared her experiences throughout the year of shopping ban and the many tough situations that she faced that turned her life upside down. The Year of Less is an honest and moving memoir that touched both my and Mrs. T’s my hearts. The book is more of a self-discovery and self-worth journey and in the end, gave Cait a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude of her life. Reading it, I felt a deep personal connection with Cait, because, like her, I had gone through similar experiences, similar struggles with self-worth and self-image, and similar up-and-downs growing up.

One of my favourite sections of the book…

Decluttering and purging 70 percent of my belongings came with different lessons. I realized I had spent the first 29 years of my life doing and buying whatever I could do be someone I thought I should be. I kept so many things, and consumed the wrong things, all because I never felt like I was good enough. I wasn’t smart enough or professional enough or talented enough or creative enough. I didn’t trust that who I was or what I brought to the table in any situation was already unique, so I bought things that could make me better. Then I spent a year sorting through the mess and figuring out who I really was. A writer and a reader. Hiker and traveler. Dog owner and animal lover. Sister, daughter, and friend. It turned out I had never been someone who valued material objects. I valued the people in my life and the experiences we shared together. None of that could be found in the belongings in my home. It had always been in my heart.

Reading The Year of Less has inspired both Mrs. T and me to declutter our home. Over 3 years ago we moved from a two-bedroom apartment to a two-storey home. We thought we had a pretty good control of not collecting things, but as it turns out, we were completely wrong. We have been slowly accumulating unnecessary things. Shockingly, we haven’t even unpacked some of the boxes from 3 years ago. We have been totally inspired to live with fewer things and become even more mindful consumers.

Being more mindful consumers with things is a great practice, just like how frugality can prevent catastrophic disruption of life on earth. But when I reflect a bit, I think we can all do much better.

 

Being mindful consumers with food

Being mindful consumers with things is the first step. I believe we can take the next step by being more mindful with our food consumption.

Why?

Because our choices of what to eat can have a great impact to the environmental.

Before you roll your eyes and think that I am about to go off on an environmental rampage…please take a deep breath and hear me out!

According to University of Michigan study, on average, US household food consumption emits 8.1 metric tons of CO2 each year. The production of food accounts for 83% of emission, while the transportation of food accounts for 11%.

All foods considered, what’s extremely shocking to me, is that meat products have the largest carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products. In particularly, lamb and beef have a significant environmental impact compared to other meats including chicken, turkey, and pork.

Lamb is ranked as the #1 meat that produces the most CO2. A kilogram (2.2 lbs) of lamb eaten is equivalent to generating 39.3 kg (86.4 lbs) of CO2. Or the equivalent of driving your car for 146 km or 91 miles  Lamb is considered as the highest because there are less edible meat relative to sheep’s live weight. Furthermore, sheep are typically raised outside of North America, so lamb needs to be imported. One thing to consider is that lamb is not consumed by North American families on a regular basis.

The most popular meat for North American families is beef. Unfortunately, beef produces the second most amount of CO2. A kilogram (2.2 lbs) of beef eaten is equivalent to generating 27.1 kg (59.6 lbs) of CO2. Or the equivalent of driving your car for 101 km or 63 miles. The amount of CO2 produced by a kilogram of beef is more than twice the emissions of pork and nearly four times that of chicken. Furthermore, to produce the same amount of beef, you need 28 times more land to produce and 11 more times more water than pork or chicken. Not to mention the huge amount of grains needed to raise cattle. And of course, to produce the huge amount of grains needed to raise cattle, more land, water and nitrogen fertilizer are needed.

Simply put, given the popularity of beef, it has a very significant environmental impact. If we continue with the mindless lamb and beef consumptions, who knows what the Earth would look like in 10, 20, 50, or 100 years from today.

Figures Source

And it’s not just lamb and beef. I was shocked to learn how much CO2 cheese generates. Cheese generates the third-highest emissions at 13.5 kilos (29.7 lbs) of CO2 per kilo eaten.

In other words, major CO2 emissions from food aren’t just from meat eaters, but vegetarians too.

The thing is, we all need to eat to fuel our bodies. As mindful consumers, what we can do is make smarter food decisions. No, I am not suggesting stop eating meat and cheese completely. Heck, I will be the first one to admit that lamb, beef, and cheese taste really really good. What I am suggesting and recommending is that we should all collectively eat less lamb and beef (and perhaps less meat in general). For example, rather than eating beef every lunch and dinner, cut back on the beef consumption. Maybe eat beef every other meal. Or maybe instead of eating an 8 oz. portion for each meal, eat a smaller portion, or eat a 4 oz. portion and substitute the other 4 oz. with beans or other meats like chicken, pork or turkey. Alternatively, substitute beef with other lower CO2 emitting meats, like turkey, pork, and salmon. Also, we can collectively eat less cheese, and find cheese alternatives to consume.

Just how much CO2 can we reduce by eating less meat?

  • If you eat one less beef burger a week (52 burgers in total), it is equivalent of taking your car off the road for 515 km or 320 miles.
  • If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week (52 days in total), it is equivalent to not driving for 146.4 billion km or 91 billion miles. Or taking 7.6 million cars off the road!

Interestingly enough, as a household, we have been eating less and less meat. This was not a conscious decision. We just have been making and eating more vegetarian meals on a weekly basis. In addition, we are also eating things produced in our backyard, rather than relying on vegetables purchased from grocery stores.

But we are just one household in millions of households on Earth. If all of us can take small steps to become more mindful with our food consumption, collectively, we can make a huge environmental difference.

 

Eat more local and in season

Thanks globalization, it is easy and possible to find fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables all year round. For example, strawberries and blueberries are available during summer. But nowadays, you can find fresh strawberries and blueberries in the supermarket any time of the year. When these seasonal fruits and vegetables are not in reason, they are imported from other parts of the world.

This means a higher CO2 emission. Because these food items need to be transported from one part of the world to your local supermarket.

As mindful consumers, what we can do to help the environment is to eat more locally and eat seasonal food items that are in season. For example, check out local farmers’ markets during summer to find fresh local seasonal produce. Be mindful of where the produce comes from, and ask yourself, do you really need to eat fresh strawberries in the middle of winter?

 

Financial Benefits of being mindful consumers

By being mindful consumers with food, we are not only helping the environment in a significant way, we can also save money.

Afterall, the less you spend on food by consuming less meat, cheese, the more you save.

And the less you spend and the more you save, the faster you can achieve financial independence.

It’s really a win-win for everyone.

So who’s with me?

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    MrSLM
    February 5, 2018 at 9:11 am

    We tend to eat a lot of chicken in our household, although I do love a bit of beef or lamb occasionally. There’s always the option to have occasional meatless days, the Arnold recommended route: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35039465

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 5, 2018 at 12:54 pm

      Interesting article/video. Yea we have thought about going part time vegetarian as well. We have been eating more chicken and turkey. Eat very little beef or lamb nowadays.

  • Reply
    Chris @ Mindful Explorer
    February 5, 2018 at 9:43 am

    So inspired by all the hard work that Cait has put in and the story she is sharing.
    I really like that you turned this into a topic on eating and the impact it has on our world. We can make simple choices that will, if we all make a change, have a profound impact. We maybe have beef in 5% of our meals at the most anymore, next to zero pork and then focus on chicken or other protein sources. This is also much more affordable. I bet if you actually dug into it, the higher the carbon footprint the higher the cost of the product you are buying.
    Really enjoying your diverse topic range lately.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 5, 2018 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Chris,

      Yes Cait’s book is totally awesome. If we all make small changes in our lives, collectively we can make a huge impact to the environment. You’re absolutely right that chicken or other protein sources are way more affordable than beef. 🙂

  • Reply
    Accidental FIRE
    February 5, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Bob I think you missed the biggest thing of all when it comes to food – that (Americans at least) throw out about 40% of the food they buy!!! They don’t even eat it! Talk about not being mindful… to me that’s the bigger boogeyman in the room. It saddens me and disgusts me at the same time

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 5, 2018 at 12:57 pm

      Absolutely! Food wastes are another major environmental impact. You’re right, this may be the bigger boogeyman.

  • Reply
    Doc G
    February 5, 2018 at 11:40 am

    I feel you on this one. Eat more responsibly, eat less. And throw less away!

    The book also sounds great. On my read list.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 5, 2018 at 12:57 pm

      Throwing less away is a good point. We all need to focus on that more.

  • Reply
    Mrs. Picky Pincher
    February 5, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    Oh wow, I love the idea of reading aloud to the family. I got through Cait’s book a few weeks ago and it was amazing. I love how raw and honest she was with her decluttering and her life stories. It’s definitely made me think twice about about the possessions I have that I no longer need.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 5, 2018 at 3:35 pm

      Yup her book has made me think twice about the things that I no longer need as well. 🙂

  • Reply
    Mr. Tako
    February 5, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    We’ve been cutting back on our meat consumption for years…not only for environmental reasons, but health reasons as well.

    As usual, what’s good for the environment is also good for you!

    Honestly, I can’t say that I really niced the difference. It wasn’t a sacrifice. We probably eat 5x as much chicken as we do beef but I hardly notice.

    I wonder where farmed shrimp sit on the CO2 scale?

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 6, 2018 at 9:41 am

      That’s very true, apparently red meat isn’t all that great for your body.

      Agree with you, we haven’t found too much differences between chicken and beef.

  • Reply
    Mr. Groovy
    February 5, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    So many great takeaways. Reading out loud, Cait’s decluttering journey, and the impact of meat consumption on the environment. You gave me a lot to think about, my friend. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 6, 2018 at 9:42 am

      Thanks Mr. Groovy, glad to make you think. 🙂

  • Reply
    Tom @ Dividends Diversify
    February 5, 2018 at 6:24 pm

    I’m all in Tawcan. Less is more in my book. I hope their is nothing unhealthy with beans, cause we eat a ton of them and never waste a one. Tom

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 6, 2018 at 9:43 am

      Less is indeed more. 🙂

  • Reply
    Abigail
    February 6, 2018 at 6:50 am

    I’m a big believer in “every little helps” – every “meat free Monday” makes a difference! Plus, eating local seasonal veg is tastier! (imported fruit/veg is harvested before it’s ripe to avoid damage and spoiling during transport). Whilst I’ve made changes mostly for financial reasons, it was great to be reminded of the environmental impacts, and the importance of actively thinking about where the things I buy come from (and why I buy them in the first place!)

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 6, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Local strawberries taste so much better than imported one IMO. So you’re correct that local seasonal vegetables and fruits are way better than imported ones.

  • Reply
    Frankie
    February 6, 2018 at 3:10 pm

    Nice perspective Tawcan, always good to step back and remind ourselves of how the world really works. Food doesn’t just come from nowhere! Not sure I’m ready to go all in and say goodbye to meat, but I simply aim for a balanced approach, and really hate wasting food more than anything!

    This discussion also makes me think of the companies we invest in, as they can be at complete odds with our life goals. If you own shares in a food related business, their goal is to keep producing more and more, regardless of whether you eat it or waste it! I guess in the long run all businesses have to adjust to what consumers want, but man some of them will do anything to persuading you to buy their products…

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 7, 2018 at 10:30 am

      Thank you Frankie. You’re right, food doesn’t just come from nowhere. A balanced approach sounds good, I definitely didn’t say let go of all meats.

  • Reply
    eresc79
    February 7, 2018 at 7:40 am

    Excellent post Bob. The WHO has classified processed meat in the same category as tobacco, not in risk, but in certainty that it increases the risk of developing colon cancer (http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/). We try to mix our source of protein during the week. We get beef one day, pork another, chicken another, fish another, eggs another, etc. Reading your post made me think that maybe we should eat beef less than once per week.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 7, 2018 at 10:24 am

      Interesting stuff. As mentioned in the post, we’ve been eating less and less meat, in particular, red meats. Makes sense to limit meat from a health point of view too.

  • Reply
    Mrs. Kiwi
    February 9, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    Thank you for writing this. Our family chose to go vegan at home to reduce our environmental footprint at the start of 2017, and are going strong. We’ve made a few mistakes and bought foods with whey protein and did opt to buy eggs for a batch of homemade egg nog at Christmas this year, but we love it. This compromise has worked great for us, we can still eat meat/dairy if we want when we are out and about, and we aren’t difficult with our family/friends when we visit. Honestly, we don’t even miss it since we cook good food using plants.
    We chose to go this way since I work as an agricultural engineer and as part of my job I inspect manure pits and work to reduce runoff from farm fields and farmsteads. The dairies definitely produce lots of environmental risk, and chickens/eggs produce the least from a groundwater perspective. But regardless, reducing consumption of animal products will go a long way to protecting this planet for future generations!

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      February 10, 2018 at 8:42 pm

      Makes a lot of sense considering what you do for your day job. It’s awesome that you are vegan at home but you are being flexible when you are out and about.

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