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Embracing the “Reducetarian” Lifestyle (or, how farm life changed me for the better)

Just over a year ago, I had one of those epiphanies when it came to my health: if I wanted to go after my future goals of traveling the world, I needed to be healthier. Not just weighing less (which was vital) but also finding different ways to feed my cravings to address the emotions that come up as a part of being a human being. I’d spent two years in a deep chasm of sadness recovering from years of complex trauma, and I realized that I had to look at things in a whole new way.

It wasn’t just counting calories or avoiding processed foods (both of which were extremely important), but in taking advantage of the many resources out there to get more creative in the kitchen.

Many of us will say “well, I don’t eat that much meat” because we think about “meat” as hamburgers and steaks and pork chops. Yet many of the same people who avoid those foods regularly buy pounds and pounds of chicken parts, bacon, sausage and eat a ton of sushi or fish & chips while blocking off the fact that these are all meat. And don’t get me started on cheese. Because guess what? I get it. A lot of that is exceptionally tasty.

Intellectually, a whole lot of us know that a vegetarian and vegan diet can be tremendously healthier on our bodies - and easier on the planet - and yet ignore the fact that much of the “meatless” options outside of the produce aisle and bulk bins are, in fact, highly processed. Buzzwords and brands like ‘Beyond’ and ‘Impossible’ and ‘Chik-N’ and ’Non-Dairy’ market to people with the insinuation that these equal less calories and greater health benefits, when the term ‘buyer beware’ actually applies to everything out there. At no time when you are outside of your own garden can you simply assume based on packaging or signage that the food available to purchase is sustainably produced, humanely raised (for both farm workers and, if applicable, the animals involved), or low in calories. You have to own your decisions about what to buy and therefore what to put in your body.

Along with that, the importance of taking accountability is equal to the importance of Learning More…and with that education, being prepared to have your preconceived notions challenged, acknowledging your blind spots, and dipping your toe into new waters.

I was lucky to grow up with a garden ever-present in my childhood home. From early days picking apples off our suburban tree to picking blackberries with my sister in the gulley next to our house to helping my mom in the huge garden we had, and then of course lots and lots of canning, from peaches and pears to homemade applesauce that made the weird pureed baby food stuff at the grocery store frankly repulsive to me. Even my lunches were healthier than most kids, with things like croissants and fresh fruit and apple juice (no one wanted to trade for my stuff, even though it was really good). But of course with that comes adolescence and rebelling to anything from above, and moving out to adopt the college Hot Pockets and Kraft Mac n Cheese lifestyle, thanks to the mass quantities available at Costco.

I still liked being in the kitchen through this, ironically, and even with those ever-present processed foods during those years loved making homemade German Pancakes and meatloaf and lasagna and chocolate chip cookies, but it wasn’t until my late 20’s that I started taking inspiration from the new places I was getting to try out during my first go-round in the Emerald City and then living up and down the West Coast after that. From the soul food at the Kingfish Cafe that led to my inspired versions of their collard greens and mac & cheese (no Velveeta, y’all, mine is a life changing taste experience), to learning how to make sushi rice and a few basic rolls after gorging on so much good fish in San Diego and Santa Barbara, to building a side hustle as a chocolatier in Portland after taking a workshop on chocolate led by a Four Seasons alum.

Yet during this, while I had become a gardener, I wasn’t really maximizing what I could do with what I was growing. It wasn’t until I remarried that things evolved at a much faster pace. Being with someone who loved not only to eat so many different cuisines (and try new ones) but also to play around in the kitchen with me made it so much more fun…and empowered me to push myself to try more, ask more questions, and see where those adventures took me.

When we moved to the coast and created our farm, the DIY bug that had hit me in our first home literally exploded into an obsession, not just in building and gardening, but in the foods I was trying out and ingredients I was working with. As my husband knows very well, the restaurant food out there pretty much SUCKED. Going out to eat was more about a change in scenery than to enjoy quality food, to put it simply. And when the pandemic kicked in, I used it as an opportunity to try making all the things I loved at restaurants. While I was already canning and preserving and bread-making and the like, I took a special focus on literally ANYTHING that was not a ‘whole food’. Think condiments. Back in our first home, we made our own hot sauce and I made my own ketchup and salsa and mayo, but this chapter it was about taking it to the next level. Hoisin. Mustard. Farmer’s cheese. Chocolate syrup. Spice mixes (nope, I had no idea back then that curry powder and chili powder were just mixes of stuff I already had). Grenadine. Oat milk. Mussaman curry paste. Apple cider vinegar. My question before buying became - “can I make this myself?” Even last week I found a recipe for making vegan oyster sauce and vegan fish sauce that was NOT difficult at all! (btw the former is awesome, the latter I’ll be trying out in the near future when the last of our storebought is gone)

During that time I was also - talk about ironic to be enrolled in these classes as a worldwide pandemic hit - finishing my certificate in Community Health. The last class I took was Food Systems, and was by far my favorite, not because of the fabulous dynamic in the online community college environment (ugh, I will never take another online class again again, they were dreadfully boring and full of students giving bare-minimum-responses in the discussion forums plus ridiculously inane multiple choice quizzes created by checked-out professors), but because of the final project taken to analyze a typical meal you were eating to an incredibly detailed level, from the geographic source of every single ingredient to packaging to its health components to its preparation methods & sustainability... along with how you could do better in the future on each.

The project was the photo at the top of this post taken in the summer of 2020 - BBQ chicken with potato salad and greens. We’d raised our Houdan chickens on organic Northwest-grown & -milled feed, butchered them ourselves, I’d grown the potatoes and greens, used the eggs from our birds for the potato salad and my homemade mustard, grown the tomatoes for the BBQ sauce, and made them in our home, the poultry on our new induction range.

Perfect, right? Almost. I learned that much of the sunflower oil in the world comes from Ukraine, not the US, so the footprint was bigger than I’d anticipated. I learned that there is only one brand of organic sugar made in the US (Florida Crystals, which only comes in plastic, and is not available to buy from the bulk bins). And I learned that it is still healthier and more sustainable to buy organic from another country than to eat conventional (pesticide-ridden) foods grown in your own county, as transportation miles are much smaller than many assume in calculating overall carbon footprint. I also learned that animals not humanely slaughtered on their own land where they are raised are full of hormones from the stress of transport (not to mention in how they’re then processed), which affects both nutrition and taste.


Our farming chapter changed my entire perspective on eating meat. During that period, my husband was nurturing his newfound career as a butcher, and we’d sent him off to a number of butchery and charcuterie educational opportunities throughout the Northwest, along with getting a local pig from a neighbor slaughtered for him to butcher in our own kitchen. While at work, he built relationships with local, sustainable, humane farms raising sheep, cattle, pigs and more. I’d been getting our salmon shares from our local sustainable CSA annually for over a decade, and while on the farm we raised and processed over 100 heirloom pastured chickens, supplemented with organic local feed and tons of produce scraps (courtesy of my husband’s co-op employer). Because of this, everything we ate was the best version it could be, not only sustainable and humane, but TASTE. I will never eat a chicken as good as the Houdans we raised ourselves - we’d also raised Australorps, Delawares, and Wyandottes, but the Houdans were, well, like buttah...

When we sold the farm (I still have mixed emotions, trust me, but it was what we needed to do to heal and start our next chapter, not to mention eliminated all of our debt), we filled our freezer with all of our chooks we’d just processed and took them with us. Once they were eaten, I had zero interest in grocery store chicken. You see, even the ’sustainable’ chicken isn’t - even the ‘organic’ chicken isn’t. None of it is pastured. Once in a while a smaller co-op will sell locally raised birds from a nearby farmer in small quantities, but for the most part you are looking at chicken from Tyson- or Perdue-owned farms. Your ‘Draper Valley’ and your ’Smart Chicken’ and your ‘Ranger’ brands? All owned by BigAg, responsible for the worst factory farming on Earth, right up there with JBL Meats and the many repulsive CAFOs that 95% of pigs are forced to live on. If it doesn’t say pasture-raised on the label, it’s not a humanely or sustainably raised bird. Same goes for all other meats. Period.

This immediately reduced our consumption of chicken, as I refused to buy those brands and always will. When we got up here to the Valley, I found a local farm raising organic, pastured chickens that taste okay…but not like heirloom ones do that take longer to raise and are far more delicious with more dark meat as well (most chicken farmers don’t like to spend more than 12 weeks raising birds, so they use breeds that literally die if they live any longer than that due to their weight being too big for their little legs). Maybe someday we’ll raise a few meat chickens in our backyard, who knows. Pork is only bought once in a blue moon from a local farm (our local co-op doesn’t actually sell humanely raised pork), and I buy literally one brisket a year for corned beef (pastured, of course). With this and our Iliamna salmon share and some Oregon bay shrimp every couple months, our meat consumption overall has gone way, way down.

Simultaneously, remember how I mentioned learning to make the foods that restaurants serve that I like? A lot of my experiments have been with Southeast Asian foods, from India to Vietnam to Laos and more, and more recently I’ve been playing around with African and Middle Eastern recipes. All of these areas have meat options but have even more vegetarian and vegan options. See where I’m going here?

I’ve always been a big fan of Michael Pollan, and his ethos of eat whole foods, mostly plants, or as I call it “considering meat a treat instead of a staple”. When we eat pork, it’s usually homemade charcuterie like pancetta from a locally and sustainably raised pork belly. The last time we ate chicken it was from a local farm several months ago, where we got the older ones and ground it up to make homemade chicken sausage with tart cherries. We don’t buy beef or lamb, and instead focus on continuing to eat less and less meat by learning to be better vegetarian and vegan chefs at home.

Turns out there’s a name for this now (oh but of course there is!) - Reducetarian. As this great article on Treehugger describes, it’s "a description that is affirmative, inclusive, and celebratory for all people making good progress toward the reduction of animal products.” There’s even a foundation focused on reducing animal consumption, while not pushing veganism or vegetarianism on everyone, and an annual summit to discuss how “together, we can protect the environment, improve human health, and spare farm animals from cruelty." So I guess that’s what we are!

Since moving to the Valley, my husband retired from butchery and embraces our vegetarian and vegan cooking while also joining me in the far more challenging task: avoiding it when going out to eat. Being back in a smaller town makes that a bit easier (we don’t go out as much, LOL), but we also remind each other when we’re out that we need to pick vegetarian options. I considered it a major triumph when I went out of town this past weekend and not only avoided eating ice cream while out with my friend but also chose a vegetarian breakfast that was frickin’ fantastic (and involved zero tofu). Today for brekkie I had toasted homemade sourdough with a freshly-laid duck egg (thanks girls!) on top, for lunch I had my favorite easy-peasy comfort food of polenta with grilled veggies, and for dinner we shared a homemade pizza topped with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms….and we didn’t miss meat on any of it for a second.

We’re not vegetarian. We’re not vegan. But we’re now consuming a fraction of the meat we used to.

And that’s still absolutely worth celebrating.

PS - Did I mention I’m down almost 60 pounds from this time last year?

"Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.” ~ Michael Pollan

1 Comment

Apr 19

I love this!

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