In my vision of a perfect world I can happily eat meat as part of a sustainable lifestyle. I have nothing but respect for vegetarians and vegans, or simply for those who just love vegetables. And while I do enjoy eating my daily greens, I still love eating meat. I don’t simply eat meat for enjoyment, but because I firmly believe that there is a place for meat and vegetables in a healthy body and a healthy world.
Before you close your browser or chuck something at your computer screen, hear me out. I completely agree that in our Westernized, Americanized diet, we are wasteful, overindulgent, and impractical in our approach to food. We want what we want when we want it, usually in excessive proportions. In a wealthy country the question is not whether we will eat, but what we want to eat, and the problem is often not appeasing our hunger, but appeasing our whims. Living and eating in constant excess has had major consequences for the health of our bodies, minds, and the health of our world.
In such an extreme state of events, it is understandable how many have called for extreme action. But as someone who believes in starting small to build lifelong habits, I want to put forward a moderate approach. I believe there is a way to support a happy, healthy body, culture, and environment, while still eating (some) meat.
Slowly shifting our diets away from mass produced, feedlot beef has benefits not only for our health, but also for our environment. Cows are notorious producers of methane, an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, emitted through their natural digestive process. Moving away from a diet that focuses primarily on beef, particularly beef that is produced at a large scale (versus raised on a small scale locally), can potentially decrease the amount of methane gas produced. With regard to our own physical health, processed meat typically contains additives and chemicals that can be harmful. Choosing to limit the amount of beef we eat can still provide us with helpful nutrients, while reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.
We can make the shift away from beef-centric meals by opting for other sources of animal protein. Paul Greenberg, author of The Climate Diet, explains that there are many carbon-efficient forms of animal protein. Some wild caught fish as well as mussels have a virtually invisible carbon footprint (Seafood Watch is a great resource for learning more about sustainable seafood options).
Furthermore, the way we cook our food matters. Opting for electric rather than gas cooking methods reduces the amount of carbon emissions generated by the cooking process and eliminates the harmful effects gas cooking ranges have on our health.
Finally, we can incorporate more plants into our diets. Plant rich diets are linked to lower rates of diabetes, heart disease, and lower blood pressure. Switching to plant-rich or plant-based diets can potentially impact the environment enormously. Project Drawdown estimates that emissions could be reduced by about 63% if vegetarian diets were adopted globally. A great way to gain inspiration is to visit local farmer’s markets and get a sense of the fresh, seasonal produce available to you. This not only supports your health and the environment, but helps support more sustainable agriculture options for your community.
Still, this can be a tall order for some. Make it easy for yourself, as you’re less likely to give up if you set achievable goals. If you eat meat every day, try for every other day; if you eat it three times a week, try to reduce it to two. Changing the way we eat is personal, cultural, and emotional. The food we eat speaks to our history, to our stories. By still honoring those parts of ourselves and our cultures, we can “consciously consume,” looking for small ways to implement healthful changes for ourselves and for our world.