Call it flexitarianism, conscious meat consumption, or low meat eating, lots of people are saving the flesh for special occasions and adopting a veg-centric diet. If you've been thinking about going vegetarian or vegan for the planet, but you really like meat and think you'll miss it, or you're worried that your nutrition will suffer, or you don't want to subject your entire family to an extreme change, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be black and white.
Conventional livestock production uses tons of grain, water, and petroleum. It's extremely inefficient, has huge environmental impacts, and is cruel to animals. For a detailed picture, read the now-classic piece,The Meat Guzzler, by Mark Bittman of the New York Times.
On the other hand, abolishing meat entirely is a bad idea because livestock can be an important part of ecological farming (not to mention it's a tough sell to a meat-loving public). Pasture-raised meat is better for the environment, animals, and us by far, but requires more land. If we're going to produce meat more sustainably, we're going to have to eat a lot less of it. That's the challenge.
Because drastic lifestyle changes can be overwhelming, humans have a tendency to do nothing until they feel ready to make a leap, but tiny steps can actually make a difference and lead to a complete change in the end, if that's where you decide you're headed.
The first step is to change your mindset from thinking of meat as the center of the plate and shift your shopping and cooking habits. It starts at that all-important moment when you're thinking of what to make for dinner. Train your brain to build the meal around grains, beans, and vegetables, instead of a pork chop. There are many ways to do this and none of them are difficult.
Let's get started.
1. Take a Class
This story about an eco-conscious, low meat cooking teacher in Portland, Oregon made me think there must be others all over the country. Check Craigslist and your community message boards.
2. Adopt a Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to be healthy for your body. It's also low in meat, not to mention so delicious.
3. Participate in Meatless Mondays
Started by Johns Hopkin's Bloomberg School of Public Health, Meatless Mondays have taken the social web by storm. Why not make it Meatless Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays?
4. Surf the Web
The 10 in 10 Diet is all the way veg, focuses on budget cooking, real, fresh foods, and has great tips for switching your thinking and shopping habits in the form of a funny robot video.
Low Meat is a new site that promises lots of goodies for readers.
5. Buy a Cookbook
There are heaps of cookbooks that are all or mostly veg, yet friendly to meat eaters.
The Flexitarian Table by Peter Berley has adaptable recipes for people that have to feed both vegetarians and carnivores or those, like me, who only want to eat meat once in awhile.
The Flexitarian Diet focuses on health and weight loss with recipes.
The Adaptable Feast by Ivy Manning includes recipes from a variety of traditions that have a "fork in the road" allowing for the accommodation of different diets.
There's the James Beard Award-winning Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by almost-vegetarian Deborah Madison.
The upcoming book Licking Your Chops by rock star blogger Kim O'Donnel, who was one of the original proponents of Meatless Mondays, promises to be delicious.
6. Do the bulk of your shopping at the farmers' market or join a CSA.
The easiest way to lower your meat consumption is to start with the freshest seasonal vegetables. The flavors are so vibrant and they are such a pleasure to cook with that it will be easy to make meat an afterthought.
So dear readers, what are your tips for successfully eating less meat without calling if off all-together?