Is my yogurt obsession killing our planet? My environmental dilemma

I was supposed to write about my trip to Greece this week. As summer seems to be finally coming to an end in Paris, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit that hot week in August on the Greek mainland, with its long sandy beaches, the mystical aura of Mount Olympus, the shameless overeating at mezze restaurants, the Greek yogurt in the mornings…

Ah, yogurt. The jewel in the crown of dairy products, my Balkan pride, my everyday necessity. Not to brag, but in my many various encounters with the magical white creamy texture that has come to be easily my favorite flavor in the world, I have distinguished myself as a sort of “yogurt connoisseur”. I can tell you for a fact that mainstream French yogurt sucks (come get me, Danone, I’m not afraid) and your only chance of finding anything remotely eatable is if you go for that bougie four-euro yaourt fermier. Similarly, Russian yogurt is not to be trusted: if it looks like yogurt, spells “yogurt” and is in the yogurt section in the supermarket, it’s probably still sour cream, because Russians don’t seem to understand how flavor and seasoning work. Or truth, for that matter, but that’s a topic for another post.

Surprisingly, Greek yogurt is also not my favorite one, and not just because they monopolized the global market demand for “authenticity”. While it may be the most popular healthy snack that every American lifestyle vlogger would swear upon as the best thing for your diet, Greek yogurt actually has a lot more fat and calories than the traditional Bulgarian one. When it comes to my favorite type of food, I remain a nationalist to the core (although, after my trip to Istanbul, I had to reluctantly give Turkish yogurt the honorable second place).

 

 

The road to environmental hell is paved with good intentions

After this lengthy exposition of my dairy snobbishness, I can finally talk about the real topic and raison d’être of this whole article: sustainability. There has been a lot of talk in recent years about sustainable development, primarily in the context of environmental issues, but what does sustainable really mean? If we have to really simplify it, a sustainable society is one that can produce everything it needs in the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

If sustainable development was a subject in school, humanity would be that one kid who doesn’t even try to pretend to give a damn, because his daddy is the main sponsor of the school. Except, he doesn’t know or doesn’t care to know that daddy’s resources are running out, and so is the principle’s patience with his BS. In other words, our consumerist society is not living or even trying to live within the environmental limits of our planet and this is all now coming back to bite us in the form of climate change and pollution.

All of this is not to say that I am not part of this consumerist society, of that spoiled kid who is not willing to give up the privileges that he grew up with and that he has today for the sake of tomorrow. Growing up in Bulgaria, being an environmentalist was not even a thing. We mocked vegans, because we thought their only reasoning was that “animals are our friends” and that eating kebabcheta is evil. No one ever talked about the environmental implications of animal agriculture and I never thought to Google it.

 

 

I did have a slight eco-friendly phase towards the end of high school, when recycling containers started to appear on every street corner in Sofia. By that time, I had already started to embrace “progressive ideas” and thought that recycling would fit my ideological image well. I tried to convince my parents to recycle our trash, without success. They didn’t want to have three separate trash cans in the house, it was annoying and too much work. Later on, I tried to convince them to bring their own bags, instead of getting new plastic ones every time they go grocery shopping. Again, it was annoying and too much work. I contented myself with an “oh, well, at least I tried”, even though I didn’t try to recycle myself or offer to do the shopping, and I kept buying coffee in single-use plastic cups from the school cafeteria every single day.

 

My carbon footprint in a nutshell yogurt jar

But what does this all have to do with yogurt? Well, for starters, yogurt usually comes in a plastic packaging. Even after I moved to France and started recycling, occasionally bought food from local organic farming (only occasionally though, since I am on a student budget) and even became what I call a “forced quasi-vegetarian” (again, student budget), I never really considered the environmental impact of my beloved breakfast.

Oh, how I wish it was only the plastic packaging. I already made a promise to myself to go back to buying the expensive the yaourt fermier from “La Ruche Qui Dit Oui”, which comes in glass jars that you can return to the farmers for reuse when you pick up your next order. But the big elephant in the room that I have been ignoring is that yogurt, much like the meat that I pride myself on reducing to twice a month, comes from animal agriculture. Or, in other words, my everyday breakfast, afternoon and evening snack comes directly from the industry responsible for more than half of the greenhouse gases and one third of our fresh water withdrawal.

 

 

Yogurtspiracy, or why we can’t have nice things

It’s weird that even after I started becoming aware of the livestock production’s environmental impact, I ignored how my daily hyperconsumption of yogurt was a part of that. I felt guilty for eating meat, so I tried to limit myself to eating it only occasionally, and mostly chicken, since its carbon footprint is significantly lower than that of beef or pork. I could even imagine giving up on meat altogether one day, if I become more directly involved in the environmentalist cause and need to set an example (or if things really go to shit and we’re faced with impending environmental disaster, but like, we’ll all have to give up way more than that in this scenario). I already avoid other dairy products like milk and cheese, not so much for ecological reasons, but simply because cheese is a mortal sin if you’re trying not to gain weight in France. But giving up on my yogurt???

 

 

This was my personal ethical dilemma while watching “Cowspiracy” the other night instead of studying for my midterms. I still don’t have an answer. Will I eventually give up meat and all other dairy products and cut my carbon emissions in every other possible way, so that I can have yogurt as my one guilty pleasure? Will I try to gradually switch to vegan yogurt, even though I know it will never be the same? Or maybe goat milk-based yogurt, since goats are a more sustainable livestock? Will I just accept that my individual environmental impact is insignificant and if I’m not willing to give up on one treat, I probably won’t become a powerful advocate for environmentalist action either, so I should just go back to writing my feminist articles?

The truth is, I don’t know. For now, I’ll try to switch to an 80% plant-based diet with a little dairy and meat (essentially my diet now, but with one third of my current yogurt consumption), try to shop all-organic, adopt a zero waste mindset and most of all, go back to studying for my midterms, cause if I want to make a change in this world, apparently I need to know how to draw a cash flow chart first. Thanks for listening to my TED talk.