The meat eater’s guide to a planet-friendly diet
We’ve all heard of the typical sustainable diet. It’s typically heavy on the veggies and starts with the letter “v.” Any guesses?
If you guessed vegetarian or vegan, you are exactly right.
The internet is rife with publications claiming that going vegan is best for the planet. While I certainly can’t disagree with this assertion, I also acknowledge that it isn’t realistic for everyone to commit to a vegan or vegetarian diet.
There is a cornucopia of reasons why someone might be unable to transition to a completely plant-based diet: health issues, family traditions/culture, allergies. Heck, even being a meat-lover is a valid reason to avoid switching diets. For these reasons, even those with environmentally-conscious intentions remain in their dietary status quos.
If the above statement is personally relatable to you, read on.
It seems that many people are either vegetarian or they are not. However, environmentally-friendly eating isn’t black or white… at least it doesn’t have to be. Not everyone can realistically become vegetarian, and that is completely okay.
Something is better than nothing, though. And for many, the best they can do is making small daily choices and building dietary habits that err on the side of sustainability.
How is this done, you may ask?
Have no fear! I present to you the 3 R’s of Sustainable Eating — three easy ways that you can adjust your diet (without changing it completely) to benefit our beautiful planet one bite at a time.
Most first-world countries, America in particular, consume meat in utter excess.
The average American consumes about 11.9 oz of meat each day (279 lbs per year) according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. This might not seem like a shocking number at first, but if you compare it to Harvard Medical School’s recommended daily intake of about 1.8–3.5 oz of meat, Americans clearly over-eat in the meat department.
Let’s do some math here. 11.9 oz — 3.5 oz…. That’s about 8.4 ounces of meat that you don’t need to eat.
Why is this bad, you may ask? Isn’t meat nutritious? Sure. However, given that over-consumption of meat has been linked with heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments, it’s definitely not meant to be the core food that humans consume.
It isn’t necessarily the consumption of meat that is unhealthy, it’s the over-consumption, particularly of red or processed varieties.
By recognizing that meat isn’t needed in every single meal every single day, and by changing your diet accordingly to cut out unnecessary meats, you’re doing good for yourself and also the planet.
Some suggestions to get started:
Try adopting the famous Meatless Mondays, and eat vegetarian just one day a week. Make veggies the central aspect of your dishes, with meat as a side.
As you reduce the amount of meat that you eat, start to think about foods that can replace meat in some of your meat-centered meals.
It’s amazing how many new plant-based meat and dairy alternatives there are now.
Impossible Burgers, Beyond Chicken, oat milk and more. It’s very easy to find tasty replacements that can help you reduce your meat consumption.
With the growing demand for healthier meat-replacement options, even Burger King has embraced the plant-based wave with their Impossible Whopper.
These plant-based meats are a popular choice. These products are often primarily made from soy or pea protein, which is processed to replicate the taste and texture of meat. Though it’s pretty tricky to emulate meat perfectly, many products are pretty good in their own right and serve as adequate protein bases for meals.
I usually recommend the classic tofu, beans, or broccoli as the healthiest plant-based protein sources. But, to someone who is used to a diet of meats, even the more-processed meat substitutes can be a great option for transitioning to reduced-meat diet.
Find the plant-based alternatives that work for you, and stick to a few staples. You don’t need to completely cut out meat from your diet — just find ways to replace some products with more sustainable options.
There are plenty of small ways you can swap out meat for a veggie-based alternative:
Go for the Impossible burgers at your next family barbecue. Get your Starbucks coffee with oat-milk instead of whole milk. If you shop in the frozen isle, buy soy-chicken nuggets for your kids instead of the usual brand (I promise they won’t notice the difference).
These small adjustments can make a world of difference for your health and for the planet.
Many of us don’t know where our food comes from, particularly meat and other animal products.
A large portion of the popular meat-growers not only keep animals in inhumane conditions, but they practice irresponsible and unsustainable methods in aspects like land use and animal waste disposal.
Some cattle ranches, for example, fail to prevent manure from running off into local water sources, which leads to dangerous pollution and harm to local ecosystems, according to Mark Hand at Think Progress.
Though raising meat and other animal products have some truly unavoidable environmental consequences (CO2 emissions for example), researching brands that at least make efforts to go about raising sustainable meats and animal products is important to ensure that any of these products that you do eat are at least responsibly grown.
If you can afford it, a simple way to increase your possibility of supporting more ethical farms is to buy Organic (for Americans, make sure to look for the official USDA Organic seal) or try to find products that are grass-fed and free-range. Although there are certainly loopholes in the qualifications for these labels, it’s at least a vote with your dollars that says “I care about where my food comes from.”
Another way to discover more sustainable practices is to buy animal products from local growers, perhaps by visiting your local farmer’s market. Depending on your area, there might be a variety of locally-grown meat options to choose from. Plus, you would be supporting smaller-scale farmers rather than huge corporations.
Once you make the effort find out which brands or farms from which to source your meat, the “hard part” is done. You can simply fall into the habit of purchasing your meats from these more sustainable suppliers. Easy-peasy.
It’s the least we can do for the planet to take at least some responsibility for our diets, and that effort looks different on everyone.
We can all form new dietary habits with just a few adjustments to what we eat. You don’t need to go all-out vegan to help save the planet, you just need to be conscious of your daily choices.
I truly hope that I have changed at least a few peoples’ perceptions about how to approach a more sustainable diet.
If you liked this article, be sure to share it with your friends, family, and loved ones, and have a beautiful day!
Note: Any products mentioned herein are my own recommendations; I have no affiliations with any products or brands listed in this article.