Think those daily choices, those acts of voting with your wallet don't make a difference? Let me tell you about my Thanksgiving dinner.
I've been eating Thanksgiving-style for weeks so I could develop recipes for the Cook for Good site. Ironically, after weeks of Chickpea Triangles with Mushroom Gravy, Jack-Be-Little Pumpkins Stuffed with Tomato-Lentil Sauce, and Pumpkin Pudding, I spent Thanksgiving itself away from my kitchen. Away from anyone's kitchen, actually, except the big one at the retirement community where my father-in-law lives.
Even just a few years ago, this would have meant having a peanut-butter sandwich before eating only the safe side dishes of a turkey-centric meal. But requests for vegetarian options are so common now that I can get a full meal even on "Turkey Day" in a retirement home!
The main-dish options were turkey, ham, and broccoli quiche. When the volunteer came around to ask whether I'd like light meat or dark meat, I said "no meat!" He looked a little surprised, but then just went off to heap up a plate: quiche surrounded by sweet-potato casserole, green-bean casserole, stuffing (giblet-free!), mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. No one asked for details or gave me a lecture.
What a relief. Flashback to Thanksgiving at my grandmother's house nearly forty years ago. I had passed the turkey platter to my uncle without taking any. He put some turkey on my plate. I put it back. He slapped more down on my plate and started reading me the Happy Holiday riot act. My dad told him to leave me alone and keep his eyes on his own plate. (Yaay, Dad! This is one of my favorite memories of you.)
Yet now, nearly everywhere I go, vegetarian options are offered as a matter of course. Sometimes they are odd options, like the two egg rolls that made up my main dish another night at the retirement community. Sometimes they are lacking protein or are heavy on the cheese or fake meat. Sometimes gaps occur where you'd least expect them, like the lettuce-only dinner I got one night at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in Austin. (Pork belly is not a vegetable!) But progress is being made.
How did it happen? We asked for the food we wanted and we bought it when it was available. Voting with your wallet is key, but speaking up speeds change along. When a grocery clerk asks if you found everything you were looking for, ask for what you didn't find. Maybe local food, or non-GMO food, or more produce, or low-fat milk. When you register for a conference or go to a meeting, ask about the meal choices. Praise good efforts in the evaluations.
A silver lining in these tough times is that businesses and organizations are struggling to keep afloat. They want to make you happy. It's a great, practical way to make the world a greener place.
Context matters. Where the choice is between ribs and rude, such as at a private home where I can't just pass the platter, I'll eat a little meat without comment. On the other hand, I dropped my membership in my local Democratic Women's group in part because I was tired of paying $16 a month for meaty meals (chicken endless ways, bacon on the salad!) and that I think miss an opportunity to live our message.
Thanks to all of you who made this change happen, one meal at a time!