Why Thanksgiving Is the Perfect Time to Give Up Meat
By Peter Kalmus
Of all our holidays, Thanksgiving is my favorite. It's a time out from the frenetic pace of life, a time for families to slow down and gather in the kitchen—to just be. It doesn't lend itself to the garish onslaught of commercialization. (You can sense the capitalist frustration and over-compensation in that oddest of add-ons, Black Friday). And for me, Thanksgiving was the perfect time to finally give up meat.
My journey to vegetarianism has been one of gradual awareness. In college, while living off campus, I discovered the wonders of cooking Indian food. Because the one cookbook I owned was from the Vaishnava tradition, my Indian cookery was strictly vegetarian. At a formative period of my life, I fell in love with the flavors of India. Those dishes never wanted for meat.
A few years after college, my wife, Sharon, and I began practicing vipassana meditation. On our first 10-day silent retreat—hard, mind-blowing work—we took comfort from the simple and delicious vegetarian meals provided by the meditation center. The code of conduct in the vipassana tradition is geared toward not harming other beings. This means no meat. Over the years, Sharon experimented with vegetarianism a few times, but it's hard to be vegetarian when married to a meat eater.
At some subconscious level, I realized my actions weren't consistent with my principles. But I grew up a meat eater in a meat-loving society. It's not easy to step out of lifelong norms, but it's very easy to rationalize. For nearly a decade I told myself, "I'll become vegetarian someday."
That's where Thanksgiving comes in.
The day after Thanksgiving in 2011, I was in line for lunch at my favorite Mexican food truck at Caltech. While hungry, I also felt heavy from all the turkey the night before. So instead of my usual carnitas burrito, I ordered the veggie. It was superb. As I ate, I had a thought: Why "someday"? Why not today?
And so I went for it: I decided to try vegetarianism for a month, until Christmas Eve. Not one totake a hard line, I ate meat a couple of times during the trial period. Afterward, I'd feel heavy and slow. I began to experience that a vegetarian diet gave me more energy. I also experienced that food in general tastes better. So after Christmas I just kept going.
I wondered which I'd miss more, bacon or sushi? It turns out I miss neither.
Vegetarianism, of course, is also easier on the planet—and climate. Roughly 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from animal farming. In 2010, I made simple estimates of my own emissions, which yielded two huge surprises. First, the vast majority of my emissions came from flying. And my second largest source of emissions, by far, was from food. By becoming vegetarian, I cut my food emissions in half.
While moving the 7.5 billion people on this overcrowded, overheating planet toward plant-based diets is no silver bullet solution, it's certainly an important part of climate mitigation.
There's a spiritual aspect, as well. I've benefited greatly from a more conscious, intentional relationship with food. I've come to realize that gratitude is a necessary condition for happiness, and I know of no better way to cultivate gratitude than through food, whether it be plant or animal. Food is gift.
This, perhaps, is what makes Thanksgiving such a good time to experiment with a conscious shift in diet. Gratitude for food is baked into the holiday's very name. It's a time to reflect on our relationship to food—which is to say, our relationship to the biosphere—which we perhaps don't do often enough.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (speaking on his own behalf). He lives in suburban Los Angeles on one-tenth the fossil fuel of the average American. His book is Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution. Twitter: @ClimateHuman.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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