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Do Truly Green and Eco-Friendly Meals Exist These Days?

Red curry and quinoa on stove

Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also an excuse. In today’s info-intense world, choosing to stay uninformed is choosing to stay comfortable at the expense of others and our planet.

And to be fair, I’m not so much talking to you here as I’m telling this to myself. You see, tonight was one of those nights where a blissful bubble bursts and changes your perspective in such a way that can be called none other than a necessary nightmare.

It started with me having a rather down day and deciding to cook my favourite meal: red curry with a hefty dose of dried fennel served over quinoa. For me, cooking this dish has always been a pleasant process that ends with a sense of comforting nourishment.

The slow-play sensation of sautéing white onions and fresh ginger in coconut oil and layering ingredients like carrots, cabbage, broccoli, red curry paste, coconut milk, diced tomatoes, green peas, white kidney beans, and so on and so on always seems to soothe me…but tonight, something was different.

Tonight I started seriously questioning the eco-friendliness of this meatless meal.

I mean, in the past, I’ve patted myself on the back for serving something sans meat because, in general, meat has a higher environmental impact than vegetables and cutting it from a dish cuts costs too.

Are meatless meals green by default?

Generalizations make us lazy. They put blinders on us so we won’t look deeper into the details or have to make any other changes. They make us feel like we’re doing a great job at living a green lifestyle, but that feeling is coming from a place of sustained ignorance.

Okay, fine, I’ll ease up a bit here because we both know any action we take is better than doing nothing and this whole green thing can quickly spiral out of control when you start microanalyzing everything little thing in your life…but tonight, I couldn’t help but feel like a fraud as I looked around at my ingredients.

I mean, this meal is supposed to be eco-friendly based on the fact that it’s meatless, but such sweeping generalizations ignore the fact that it uses four aluminum cans filled with imported ingredients. It uses USDA organic coconut oil in a plastic tub that I never considered isn’t actually from the US, but rather, it comes from Vietnam. My canned coconut milk is verified non-GMO, but also obviously imported. The red Thai curry paste is packaged in plastic and is, shocker, imported. And the USDA organic quinoa? Well, this one was the tipping point for me and sent me right down the rabbit hole.

Curry, quinoa, coconut-oil, beans, and peas.

I’d previously assumed that this protein-packed superseed was a green choice, but I was wrong. Tonight I learned that the quinoa I buy, the extra-expensive stuff, is actually from Peru, not the US. I also learned the demand for this ancient seed has altered the way it has been traditionally grown and harvested, and now, instead of being planted in rotations in high altitude fields were llamas graze and nourish the soil with manure, it’s yet another monoculture crop on par with soy and corn and is harvested by machines, not hand.

Is it really such a big deal? Well, for Peruvian farmers, llamas, and their surrounding ecosystem, yeah, it is.

What can we eat without a side of guilt?

Tonight I’m reminded that nothing we do or eat is without some form of consequence, and it’s honestly taxing to keep it all straight: What can my family eat that is reasonably-priced, healthy, and eco-friendly? Should I have used locally-raised chicken instead of canned and imported chickpeas? Is it time to stop eating quinoa? Is there such thing as a truly green meal, or is it just another marketing-fuelled keyword? Am I overthinking everything or not paying enough attention?

I’ve stumbled down a rabbit hole that honestly has no end. This is why I think so many of us turn a blind eye in the first place—because perspective can quickly become a nightmare when everywhere you look you see the toll you’re taking on people and the planet. But for me at least, it’s a necessary nightmare. It holds me accountable, keeps me humble, and makes me want to learn evermore about our food system and what my family can do to actually reduce our impact.

The silver lining to green guilt

So while my blissful red curry bubble has bursted, I’m okay with that. As a result, I’ve found a source for Ontario-grown quinoa and have brainstormed other alternatives with my partner. Next time, we’re going to forgo the quinoa and replace the carbs with bread or lentils instead. We’re also going to try pre-soaking dried beans instead of using canned varieties and growing and canning our own tomatoes this season, too. This will save on recycling efforts and should cut down on costs.

Burst bubbles keep people talking about ways to improve, and this is always a good thing. If you have other ideas for how I can makeover my favourite meal, let me know in the comments.

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