My struggles with sustainability and a meat-free life

Back in September, the IMAGE.ie team took it upon ourselves to be our best sustainable selves for sustainability month. And being the martyr that I am, I decided to give up meat for the entirety of the month.

I would wake up in cold sweats in the aftermath of the damning UN report on climate change, panicking about how could save the world from imploding upon itself. Little old me, in a two-bed apartment in Rathmines, complete with a seventies muck green bathroom, was going to reverse climate change by refusing to eat meat and use paper straws.

Consciously, I decided to make small changes throughout my daily life which would help to decrease my carbon footprint. However, one significant adjustment I was going to make was ridding meat from my diet; I was going cold turkey (pardon the pun).

The beginning of the struggle

Food is a part of me and I of it. I centre my life around it more often then I would like to admit. Nevertheless, giving up meat didn't seem like a very trivial issue. A steak will never be my death row meal of choice and I can push most red meat to the wayside. But chicken, on the other hand, was more of a necessity. Like a moth to a flame, I would endlessly gravitate towards a chicken goujon or its more upmarket cousin; a Chicken Kiev from the Tesco Finest range.

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Related: As sustainability month comes to a close we hear how team IMAGE got on

In the process of my sustainable expedition, I became one of those annoying people who had to tell anyone and everyone who would listen about my new and improved meatless life. Friends scoffed at me and said it would last the fragile bones of a week, scolding me saying "would you go away, we'll see you in the chipper next week after a night out eating a chicken breast with a mouth full of coleslaw."

Ignoring the naysayers, I went along with my Sustainable Sally hat on, proud as punch and less worried about the impending sense of climate armageddon and doom. The first initial days of my new life were bright-eyed and full of vegetables. "Why hadn't I been a vegetarian all my life?," I said to myself. "This is simple; meat is for losers and anyone who says meat is vital doesn't know the intense succulent power of a chickpea curry"

That lasted all of three days.

On the fourth day, I trotted into Tesco with my reusable bag in hand and defiantly decided I wanted soup. Off I went to the Cully and Sully corner and picked up my chicken and vegetable soup, I grabbed some McCambridge brown bread and sprinted home. I went into the kitchen, took the lid off the soup, realised I just bought chicken soup and had completely forgotten I was a born-again vegetarian. Needless to say, I just ate the bread.

The vegetable life was proving difficult.

Lying to myself

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This tremor caused a tsunami of incidences of me forgetting that I was a non-meat eater. At a work event, I went hell for leather into the finger food, all of which I presumed was exclusively meat-free. As I devoured another of what I thought was a mashed vegetable pastry, a colleague of mine chided me on the spot. I was horrified. There were vegetables coming out of my ears at this stage-what more could I do for these people!

She calmly informed me that I was, in fact, eating squashed lamb.

Related: ReCreate: A warehouse of creativity for the sustainability-conscious in Dublin

Throughout the month I lapsed and purchased chicken Caesar salads for lunch. I told myself and colleagues that I was cutting down on red meat, which was the main cause for concern. I was helping the planet in my own distinctive way, but really, I knew I was falsifying the situation to reassure myself.

Embarrassment ensued. I was a failure. I had forsaken my world's future for a piece of crispy chicken. I was reducing, reusing and recycling. Buying clothes on a continual basis was no more. I was trying my best to be the best sustainable version of myself I could be.

But I would be lying if I said it wasn't a struggle.

Middle ground

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Then there is the monumental guilt that tears you apart. In today's world, you are never doing enough. You are all or nothing. Vegan or not vegan. If you say you are cutting down on meat, people ask "why don't you just cut it out altogether?" You can't place yourself in the middle without judgment.

Instead of bashing myself for my inability to exist meat-free, I decided to look at the positives. My consumption of meat overall had decreased considerably over the month. Outside of the squashed lamb fiasco, I had avoided red meat as much as I could. And although I couldn't break up with my chicken habit, there were many more days where I lived in harmony with vegetables and plant protein. That is truly something to celebrate.

My sustainable future

So, what does the future hold for this wannabe Sustainable Sally? Well, I can't yet make the full evolution into a vegetarian. Steadily trying to decrease my meat consumption, particularly of red meat, is my ambition. More importantly, I won't beat myself up about slipping into old habits. I alone will not solve the climate crisis, but every little step makes an enormous impact. Ultimately, those little steps are all we really can do.

It's a struggle being sustainable, but God loves a trier and so does the planet. However, it's essential to remember that it's perfectly ok to forget you're a vegetarian in the middle of Supervalu and buy a pack of breaded drumsticks, or accidentally eat the mini burgers at the Christmas party.

Because after all, you're only human.

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