Cheat to win

The secret to sticking to your sustainable habits? Cheating


Ho ho hello!

I haven’t been writing much lately, but I figured I’d catch y’all one more time before the end of the year. Twelve months ago, I was the only person writing one5c. Now I’m thrilled to be just another member of the team. 2023’s been huge for us, and though I know the holidays can be tough for a lot of folks, one5c has given me another reason to love them. Let me tell you a story…

Claymation Joe isn’t the only one who gets steak…sometimes. Jason Reed/one5c

A while back I decided to make some lifestyle changes in support of the planet. Over the next few years, I cut meat from my diet (with some exceptions), overhauled our home HVAC system, did a full-blown plastic-use audit, and more. Hell, I even left my swanky corporate journalism job and started a climate media company. I guess I’m at the intense end of individual climate action. 

Most of the changes were easy. The eating part was hard. Here’s how I’ve kept it up: cheating. 

I’m not counting the chicken nuggets I swipe off my kid’s plate—that keeps food waste out of landfills. I’m talking about climate cheat days. Food is my happy place, so I give myself a pass on holidays and vacations. We roasted a chicken for Thanksgiving (because turkey sucks—fight me) this year, and I indulged. Last year, my wife and I hit Italy to celebrate a major wedding anniversary. The first thing I ate was a bresaola sandwich from an airport cold case. I think it was 10 a.m. No regrets. Ditto that hot dog I downed on the Fourth of July.

This doesn’t mean that all I consume while kicking back is stuff that’s not great for the planet. Based on my imperfect memory, it’s probably around 20 meals a year—rounding up. 

This amounts to less than 2% of my annual eating. It’s an insignificant bump to my overall individual emissions, but over the past few years, it’s kept me from pining for my old meaty lifestyle.

While I’m confessing my sins, I should also cop to stealing this idea. I first encountered the concept of a cheat day in Tim Ferriss’ Slow-Carb Diet [PDF]. In that system, you avoid carbs for six days out of the week, and go hog-wild for one—usually on the weekend. Back when I was more into my appearance than my health, I practiced this style of eating, and the cheat days made the carb-free weeks tolerable. Because they were frickin’ fun. I once ate an entire box of Cocoa Krispies before heading out to brunch.

Then, a couple New Year’s Eves ago, I was feeling pretty bummed. I don’t remember exactly why, but it was some mix of tough environmental news, the stress of starting a new company, and the unflagging effort required to be a decent parent. In a fit of fuckitness, I made my way to a nearby farm that practices regenerative ag, and bought the biggest steak they had. 

It had been more than a year since I’d eaten beef, and though the meat hit my gut like a protein cannonball, it was glorious. I immediately connected the experience with Ferriss’ system, and I’ve been cheating a few times a year ever since. 

The world is still spinning, and I’m more committed to doing my part to save it than ever. 

With the holidays coming up, I’m looking forward to cheating again. My wife’s family has a Christmas fondue tradition that isn’t easy on the Earth (a ton of cheese, an open petroleum flame). Watch me grab two of those dumb tiny forks and go hard; the next day I’ll be even more motivated to eat for the planet.

Thanks so much for reading one5c. Whether you’ve been with us from the beginning or are one of 2023’s legion of new readers, we’re grateful to be in this fight with you. As Corinne likes to say, this isn’t about doing everything right; it’s about being perfectly imperfect. Because even your smallest acts of environmentalism will add up to a powerful change in mindset. 

Here’s an easy action that can help you close out the year with a massive W: Forward this email to everyone you know. Because the more of us there are, the more impact our small actions will have. YOU are going to save the world.

Take care of yourself, and the rest of us, too.