While vegetarianism, veganism, pescatarianism, and other meatless diets have always existed, there seems to have been an increasing amount of people choosing to leave meat or meat substitutes out of their diets within the last couple of decades. Between the mid 90s and today, the number of restaurants that identify as vegetarian has risen from around 50 to over 950. This shift towards lower levels of meat consumption seems to be emerging for many different reasons, including religious choices, environmental reasons, health benefits, preference in taste, animal safety and protection, and many other reasons. Despite the wide range of motives for eating less meat, it’s impossible to say whether or not the popularity of the choice will be a lasting one.
However, whatever someone’s choice for not eating meat, the environmental benefits of removing meat from your diet are undeniable. To be clear, the environmental impacts of eating less meat overall are also indisputable. The water required to produce a single pound of beef is equivalent to taking over 100 showers. That means that reducing your beef intake could substantially impact the environment, saving a multitude of water. Further, the land required to raise animals for consumption has quickly led to issues for our planet, including deforestation due to the space requirements, climate change through high levels of carbon emissions, and the harmful effects on other wildlife through pesticides required for production. There’s no doubt that eating a meatless diet isn’t possible for everyone. And by no means is it recommended that everyone go vegan tomorrow. But even an attempt at reducing the amount of meat you eat can make a huge difference on the environment, your wallet, and your health.
Some easy ways to reduce your meat consumption include the following:
- Find out what meat substitutes you like
Tofu, eggs, legumes, and other protein substitutes can be great ways to remain healthy and fuel your body even while avoiding meat. There are so many recipes and cookbooks that can provide ideas for meatless snacks or meals while still making delicious and healthy food.
- Remove one type of meat from your diet at a time
If you don’t feel prepared to completely say goodbye to meat, maybe try eating less fish, or less chicken, or less red meat in general. If you can go a while without eating it, remove another. Another option if you’re struggling for ideas for meatless meals is to only order foods at restaurants that don’t have meat in them, since they’re coming up with the ideas for you!
- Try meatless Mondays
Avoiding meat for one day per week is a great place to start reducing your meat consumption. Try taking an entire day to make vegetarian (or vegan) meals only. And who knows, you may even discover some new recipes that you love, or start looking forward to your Mondays!
- Buy less meat
This one might sound simple, but without the temptation of meat sitting in your fridge or freezer, you’ll naturally eat less meat. Around 20% of meat ends up being thrown out or wasted anyway, so buying less meat will not only make an impact on the planet, but will also save you some cash and reduce food waste.
- Don’t be afraid to try ‘fake’ meat
Trying to make a big dietary change and cook everything yourself can be extremely overwhelming. Learning to rely on pre-cooked substitutes for your favourite meals that include meat can be really helpful. Veggie burgers, veggie sausages, veggie dogs, and plenty of other mock meats are easily accessible and prepared, while tasting very similar to their real meat counterparts.
For some people, even these options are not plausible and saying goodbye to meat seems impossible. If you still choose to include meat in your diet, perhaps you’re making eco-friendly decisions in other areas of your life, and there is no doubt that every little difference counts. But even if everyone chose to eat one less meat-including meal per month, the impacts would be astronomical. So whether you want to try ordering a veggie burger the next time you go to a restaurant, or you completely remove meat and meat substitutes from your diet, or don’t make any changes to your diet at all, I urge you to be more conscious of the effects of your food choices.