For many of us, especially in the west, meat is seen as a key part of dinner, if not lunch and breakfast as well. Here in the UK, “meat and two veg” is still some folk’s conception of a proper meal. Vegetarian options are seen as a boring alternative. Particularly amongst some men, not eating meat can seem dismayingly girly. Others raise worries about lack of protein, vitamins and iron.
Of course, much of this is nonsense. All the nutrients in meat are available from other sources – and there are plenty of tasty vegetarian dishes that’ll make you glad you went for something meat-free.
You might wonder why eating meat affects the environment – and you may also have questions about the personal benefits of cutting down your meat consumption. I’m going to address those in this post.
Environmental Problems with Eating Meat
There are a number of reasons why our meat consumption contributes to climate change and other environmental problems.
Meat production involves factories, often where animals are bred and kept in confined quarters. Whether or not you have concerns about animal welfare, these factories are energy-consumers which pollute water supplies and emit greenhouse gases:
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are from meat production.
Destruction of Forests
When animals aren’t reared in factories, they need space to graze. This often involves the destruction of forested areas – meaning that there are fewer trees to remove harmful carbon dioxide from the air, and fewer natural habitats for rare plants and animals. As more countries increase their meat consumption to match Western levels, rain forests being cut down:
Last week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles, or 320,000 hectares, were lost.
(The staggering cost of rising world meat production, New York Times)
Inefficient Use of Land
When grain and plants are farmed for human consumption, they go straight from the field to our plates. They also tend to be closely packed – whereas animals need room to roam. This means that it’s considerably more efficient to produce calories in the form of grains or plants than in the form of animal flesh.
Like us, animals are naturally inefficient because much of their food is converted into energy for movement, excreted as manure, or used for the growth of body parts not eaten by people. Very little can become direct edible weight gain.
(Meat production’s environmental toll, Veg.ca)
Benefits to You from Eating Less Meat
So, you know that eating a lot of meat (the average American eats 8 ounces of meat per day) isn’t a great environmental decision. It’s also not the best decision on a personal level. If you’re looking to be more healthy or more wealthy, cutting down on meat is one of the best choices you can make.
Eat Less Meat, Be Healthier
Many meats are high in fat – especially heart-clogging saturated fat. Cutting down on these will reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack.
Having a few meat-free nights each week can also prompt you to discover new, healthier recipes. Perhaps you’ll switch your chicken curry for a vegetable-packed one, or try a vegetarian chilli that’s naturally lower in fat and calories than your usual version.
Many people worry that eating less meat means that they won’t get enough protein. In fact, in the West, most of us eat much more protein than we need.
Eat Less Meat, Be Wealthier
Because it costs a lot more to produce meat than plant-based products (due to the amount of land and processing required), meat is much more expensive than alternative protein sources. One of the quickest ways to cut your weekly grocery bill is to change to some vegetarian options. That might mean buying quorn, tofu, lentils or beans in place of meat.
Making “Meat-Free” Fun
It’s definitely possible to enjoy having some meat-free meals each week. See it as an adventure, not as a chore! How about:
- Buying a vegetarian recipe book and trying out some new meals and techniques
- Getting the whole family involved in coming up with meat-free meals
- Having just one meat-free day a week (meat-free Mondays are catching on in popularity)
- Experimenting with spices and other flavorings
- Trying dishes from around the world: many Asian cuisines involve vegetarian dishes
- Preparing vegetables in different ways – if you think veggies are bland, try roasting or grilling them
One of my favorite veggie recipes is pasta with pesto roasted vegetables – gorgeously more-ish and packed with flavor!
These sites all offer recipes and vegetarian tips:
Meat Free Mondays – Things to Try at Home – a few ideas for different seasons
BBC Good Food – Vegetarian Recipes – great recipes if you’re planning a party or something a bit special
Taste.com.ac – Vegetarian Recipes – lots of flavour-packed ideas
Do you eat meat every night? Could cutting down help your health and your wallet – as well as the planet?
(Image by VirtualErn)