Guest post by Brian Kateman
We all know that the overconsumption of conventional animal agricultural products is negatively impacting the environment, human health, and the lives of farm animals. And yet, our culture has been obsessed with consuming meat. In the past decade, for example, the average American eats over 275 pounds of meat per year. The good news (especially with Earth Day steadily approaching) is that within the developed world this trend is slowing. In fact, several weeks ago the NRDC published a report showing that more and more people are reducing the amount of meat that they consume and are embracing plant-based foods instead.
The concept of eating less meat is not a new idea, but the term “reducetarian” is. As co-founder of The Reducetarian Foundation, I coined the term after struggling to find a way to describe my dietary choices to others, which was collectively a conscious effort to eat less beef, poultry, and seafood. There are numerous benefits to eating less meat, but that doesn’t mean it is an all-or-nothing premise. In my view, individuals can be discouraged by this black-and-white mentality, but are open to making small changes to their diet. These changes significantly improve nutritional health and minimize one’s environmental footprint.
For example, The American Heart Association reports that eating less meat improves individual health by decreasing the risks of heart disease, certain types of cancers, strokes, diabetes, and many other chronic illnesses.
Eating less meat also has a much smaller environmental footprint than that of a typical omnivore. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the factory farming industry alone accounts for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Massive amounts of waste are produced in conventional animal agriculture, with harmful byproducts such as methane (a powerful greenhouse gas emission) and toxic pollutants that are released into local waterways. The amount of water, energy, land, and other resources needed to produce animal products is simply much greater than the production costs for plant-based foods.
It is important to recognize that the Reducetarian movement is also inclusive of vegans and vegetarians, in so far as they are individuals who have reduced their meat consumption, just so effectively that they consume none at all. In a sense, vegans and vegetarians help pave the way and set an example for those looking to incorporating more plant-based foods into their diet. By working together across motivations and degrees of reduction and learning from each other, we can more effectively reduce societal consumption of animal products.
Not sure how to start? Try taking simple steps, like participating in Meatless Mondays, Vegan Before Six, or Weekday Vegetarianism. I like to experiment with swaps, like choosing a guacamole burrito instead of a chicken burrito or cooking a vegetable tikka masala instead of a lamb tikka masala.
The Slow Meat campaign also encourages people to eat less meat – for some great advice check out The Slow Food Guide to Meat. For further resources, read my new book – The Reducetarian Solution (TarcherPerigee: April 18, 2017). In this book, I present more than 70 original essays from influential thinkers on how the simple act of cutting 10% or more of the meat from one’s diet can transform the life of the reader, animals, and the planet. You can also join us at The Reducetarian Summit, where Slow Food USA Executive Director Richard McCarthy will be presenting his work advancing the movement.
Brian Kateman is cofounder and president of the Reducetarian Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing meat consumption in order to create a healthy, sustainable, and compassionate world. A TEDx speaker and leading expert on food systems and behavioral change, he has appeared in hundreds of media outlets including The Washington Post, Vox, The Huffington Post, National Geographic, The Atlantic, Quartz, Salon, The Los Angeles Times, Fox News, and The Daily Mail. He is also an instructor in the Executive Education Program at the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability at Columbia University.