We all seem to be a little more environmentally-conscious these days. Even if we aren’t really doing anything to improve our carbon footprints, we at least know what one is.
We’ve heard reports about ice caps melting, we’ve seen crazy weather patterns dumping feet of snow in certain areas of the country (sorry Boston), and we’ve been told that our habits are going to lead to the eventual doom of our planet.
In our day-to-day lives though, it can seem that the problem is too large to solve with a simple switch from paper towels to a cloth towel on your kitchen counter. And while turning off the water when you brush your teeth might help reduce your water bill and help you feel better about yourself, there is one real solution that few people are talking about but could be the key to substantial change.
I’m talking about eating less meat.
Let me be clear, I am not a vegetarian and I am not asking you to be one either. To me a life without cheese isn’t worth living.
So if you don’t go cold-turkey(less) entirely, will the occasional meatless meal really make a difference? You might be surprised!
Eating meatless just one day a week has a greater impact than eating 100% locally-sourced foods. It is the equivalent to driving 1,000 fewer miles per year. And for those diving in “whole-hog”, going vegan has a greater impact than trading your gas guzzling SUV for a Prius.
Why pick on meat? Meat consumption accounts for 18% of total world-wide greenhouse gas emissions. Producing that steak on your plate takes more land, water, and energy resources than a plant-based protein entrée would. And per calorie, red meat ranks higher than chicken, eggs or fish in its impact on the Earth.
All of this mentions nothing about the proven health benefit of a plant-based diet. We know that half of our plate volume should come from vegetables and fruits, but imagine the impact of your health by rounding out that meal with whole grains and plant-based proteins like beans, lentils or nuts. You’d be saving the Earth and rocking your figure at the same time! Go, you!
This approach of not really being a vegetarian but just trying to eat meat less often actually has an official name – it’s called being a Flexitarian. I love this term because it seems so forgiving. You aren’t forced into an all-or-nothing lifestyle to be healthy and make a difference.
You can still have the occasional burger and save the planet too. Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger.com explains his Weekday Vegetarian approach quite beautifully in his TED talk – which happens to be one of my favorite TED talks. If you are still on the fence, check it out.
How does this translate into your daily choices?
Here are some very concrete ways to get started eating in a more flexitarian, Earth-friendly way.
• Make Meatless Mondays a routine in your household
• Consider being a 2-day Veg(itarian) or a Weekday Vegetarian like Graham Hill
• Limit red meat to no more than once a week and opt for pasture-fed or “free range” beef when you eat red meat
• Eat sustainably farmed seafood at least twice a week
• Increase the number of “go to” recipes you have for lentil, high-protein grain, bean and nut-based entrées.
• Start a small garden to promote eating more plants. I built my own and love that my kids think cherry tomatoes are tempting enough to eat straight from the vine as they walk by. You can get my simple construction plan here.
• Eat plants that are in season from your local Farmers’ Market since they are often more flavorful and nutritious when fresh and in season. When produce has to be flown in from half-way around the world, it is often bland and has lost nutrients – not to mention the increased cost!
So challenge yourself to be an Earth Day Flexitarian. Saving the planet one plate at a time shouldn’t feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders. Taking a more flexitarian approach is about making slow, mindful improvements on how and what you eat. The impact on your budget and your waistline are often equally as rewarding.
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Photo credit: Creative Commons Cows Grazing author Frank Vincentz