We’ve all heard of the wonderful things that a plant-based diet can do for your health, your wallet and the planet. But we get it how hard it is to swap a juicy burger or steak for pulverized soybeans. So until lab-grown meat becomes a viable and affordable alternative, eating animals and animal products involves a (tasty) side of guilt.
The good news is many Americans have cut back on consuming meat, and many others want to eat less. Still, there’s a long way to go. The fact is, Americans eat more meat than every other population on the planet.
But there’s no need to go cold turkey and become a vegetarian or vegan. Taking baby steps can make a big difference. The environmental magazine Ensia recently gave some tips about eating more sustainably, including:
1. Practice Meatless Mondays
Studies show that if every American eliminated meat for a single night a week, it would be the same as removing 30 to 40 million cars from the roads for a year. We previously reported that the Meatless Mondays initiative (which has the aim of reducing global meat consumption by 15 percent) was recently adopted by a whopping 57,000 students enrolled in Boston’s 128 public schools.
2. Do the “species switch-out”
We’ve said before that red meat is one of the primary sources of human-induced methane (a by-product of manure), which is more than 20 times more toxic than carbon dioxide. So the next time you’re thinking of meal ideas, choose chicken, turkey or pork instead of beef or lamb. As Ensia writes, “it takes far less grain (and therefore cropland) to produce a pound of pig or poultry than to produce a pound of cow.”
3. Choose local, sustainable or organic meat
Unfortunately, most of the animal products that are available in our grocery stores or restaurants come from factory farms, which are environmental nightmares. If you are craving a burger or a steak, use your dollars to support small farmers who care more for animal welfare and specialize in pasture-raised meats. You could also choose from a wide variety of sustainable seafood. Yes, it’s more expensive but you’re saving money from eating less meat during the week.
And here are some ideas from us…
4. Help yourself to more side dishes  
Meat doesn’t have to be the star of your meal. It’s recommended for health reasons that we shouldn’t eat a serving of chicken or steak that’s larger than a deck of cards, so fill up your plate with fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead. You can also bulk up your burger patty with plant proteins such as mushrooms, black beans and veggies.
5. Try a diet that lets you cheat
We get that eating is a social activity. If you want some sliders or buffalo wings during happy hour, go for it but make sure you don’t eat any meat before then. That’s the idea behind Mark Bittman’s “Vegan Before 6” diet, which is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of going fully vegan or vegetarian, “this [diet] easier because every day you get your meal that is completely satisfying to you,” the New York Times food writer said in an interview. There’s also the newfangled Flexitarian diet (a portmanteau of “flexible” and “vegetarian”) which has a similar idea: a plant-heavy diet that allows you to indulge in meat once in awhile.
6. Use meat as a condiment or flavoring
It’s been said that the reason why we like the taste of meat or animal products so much is because of umami, which the Japanese term for a pleasant, savory taste. Instead of going full hog, add notes of this delicious element to pasta or vegetable dishes (such as little bits of cured meats or a splash of chicken or fish stock) to bring out those carnivorous flavors.
7. Go global
U.S. News and World Report released a list of the top 10 plant-based diets, and the Mediterranean diet and the Asian diet were first and fourth on the list, respectively. These cuisines (think traditional Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, etc.) rely more on fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables and fish, unlike typical American fare that’s heavy on red or processed meats. CNN compiled a list of the 10 healthiest ethnic cuisines and suggested dishes that are not only healthy and flavorsome, but that also don’t feature much food that used to have a heartbeat.
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