Wednesday, March 14, 2007

No Longer Chicken: News From the Home Front

My daughter has just returned from a trip to see her grandparents over her spring break. And we just concluded yet another of our ongoing mother-daughter debates on the future of the environment. "Debate" is a word that only applies because I'm her mom, mind you; this is an area where she knows enough more than I do that I pretty readily yield to her expertise--she just keeps arguing because, after all, she's used to it. Comes with the age--though it also goes with the age, meaning we now have fun talking about world affairs together.

Part of the fun, for me, is my pride in her. A few weeks ago, when the stock market had it's big drop, Hillary happened to be awake while I was getting ready for work. (This is somewhat unusual, as sophomores in college pretty much live in a different time zone from public school teachers. But, other than the awkwardness of sorting out who got the shower first, it was a pleasant change of pace.)

As a parent, you really know you've done something right when your twenty-year-old explains the Asian stock market to you at 6:00 in the morning.

I'm not entirely sure how I managed to raise a kid who is interested in economics--an incipient capitalist!--but I'm actually kind of delighted. My daughter's perspective on economics is tempered with her passion for environmentalism, and she makes out a fine case for economic strategies to improve the health of the planet. She almost managed to make me understand the way a cap and trade emissions policy might be used to reduce carbon emissions--no mean feat, given the depth of my ignorance in that area. And, though I'm about as well informed on endangered species and habitats as the usual Pagan-or-Quaker on the street, her knowledge is an order of magnitude deeper than mine. I really love being overshadowed by my kid--and on something that matters so profoundly.

Lest you should think this is all just proud-mama strutting, I'll pass along one way that my daughter's influence has changed my lifestyle recently.

Peter and I have long avoided red meat--me for longer than he has; I reached the conclusion at one point that it was unethical to eat any animal I would be unwilling to kill myself, and I knew quite well that, no matter how good a freshly-grilled burger smells on the first cookout of the year, I would not be able to bring myself to kill a cow. Ditto pigs, cute little lambies, and so on. (Truthfully, I'm not at all sure I could manage a chicken, either... though I will confess to slaughtering a certain number of fish, clams, and assorted crustaceans over the years without a qualm.) Peter gave up beef when he taught one too many Mad Cow Disease lessons to his biology students. However, we've continued to eat some chicken and fish--not much according to my in-laws, but a certain amount. And, what's more, since I became a teacher (and a chronically tired person) we've really gone in heavily for processed foods.

Well, according to some back-of-the-envelope calculations my daughter made, it turns out that, for a family eating an ordinary American diet, converting to a vegitarian diet will, over the course of a year, save the equivalent of trading in an SUV to drive a hybrid car! Whoa! And, she discovered, converting to a vegan diet will further reduce your carbon footprint to the same extent as trading in an SUV for a lifestyle of walking or taking public transportation at all times. So profound is the impact of feeding, sheltering, processing, and transporting meat from place to place in this country.

Now, I can't afford to buy a hybrid, however much I might want to. Nor can Peter and I both continue to hold jobs without driving our cars--while we'd love to be able to walk to work (and I used to do just that, when I worked for myself, here in town) our local school district has yet to offer us jobs. Nor are there busses that run to our respective schools. So we commute, and feel bad about it, but, hey, literacy is part of the good fight, too. We all do what we can.

But while I can't begin walking to work, I _can_ eliminate meat from my diet. I'm not there yet, for milk and cheese, and we're still doing our share of convenience foods--but I'm trying to have them be things like rice pilaf mixes, which are light weight and therefore less of a transportation burden, rather than frozen dinners. I'm buying what I can that's local--we have a local company that makes soy-based pseudo-meat stuff that's mostly pretty tasty--and I'll try to do more this summer, when time, as well as the weather, are more on our side.

It's a small thing, yes. But apparently a small thing that can have a significant effect. I'm all for that! And, yes, these are some really rough calculations we're talking about--this is not an official research finding, and I'm sure my daughter would not want me to misrepresent it as such. (The downside of a careful student as child.) But the basic principle is the same--thinking about the hidden pollution costs of the day to day decisions I make.

Even if I can't understand Cap and Trade policies completely, that much I think I _do_ understand.

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