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What do the Kielburgers feel guilty about?

THE QUESTION

Do you "Live Better" gurus have any guilty bad habits?

THE ANSWER

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It's a cruel cycle: The more you become involved and aware of social issues, the more bad habits you realize you have.

We have the carbon footprint of a Sasquatch. Between visits to development projects, travelling for our writing work, and doing charitable events at home, we're just a few air miles short of the planes picking us up at our doorstep. And we eat enough takeout to keep a kindergarten craft shelf permanently stocked – if we cleaned all the containers and carried them home with us. Which we don't.

There are convenient solutions. We always tick the carbon-offset box on our plane ticket (and pay the extra charge). We always aim for the recycling bin.

But it's our love of barbecued steak and grilled shrimp that poses the real challenge. And we're not alone. For all the convincing environmental and social justice arguments to go meat-free, a 2006 poll found that less than 3 per cent of Canadians do.

We understand why. While some people have horror stories about bad dates, our tales are about failed attempts to go vegetarian. We've had dinner guests sneak bits of our lentil loaf into their napkins, and we've seen our dietary resolve crumble like cold tofu on a red-eye flight to Asia.

But it might be time for a lifestyle change. Our continent's hyper-carnivorous diet isn't just hard on the animals. The global cattle industry generates more greenhouse gases than all the world's cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes combined. Our rivers and lakes are contaminated with manure runoff, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics fed to livestock on industrial meat farms. The grain we feed to livestock could feed the 925 million malnourished people in the world.

We do want to try, so we decided to start slow. We'd heard of "flexitarians" who occasionally eat meat, but we decided to become "flexivores"(our term) and go meat-free two days a week. Given our innate lack of skill with vegetarian cuisine, we asked vegetarian friends to share their tips for introducing our taste buds to flavourful, filling, healthy meals beyond tofu and salad.

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Turns out there are countless convenient meat-free options. There are great cookbooks such as Fresh At Home (by Ruth Tal Brown and Jennifer Houston, co-owners of Toronto's Fresh restaurants). If that's too ambitious, start your lifestyle change with a veggie stir fry perked up with a sauce from the Asian food aisle, or even whole meat-free meals from the frozen-food section.

If, like us, you're always on the run and scarcely see a kitchen, ask around for the best local Thai, Indian or East African restaurant for a variety of vegetarian delights.

Eating less meat is clearly good for the Earth and its inhabitants. At the same time, we can reduce that nasty carbon footprint of ours because we wouldn't be eating meat transported cross country by refrigerated trucks to processing plants and supermarkets.

And if we can cook meat-free at home – on non-disposable plates – we will make a significant difference.



Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at facebook.com/craigkielburger and @craigkielburger on Twitter. Send questions to livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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