I’ve made a dramatic shift in my diet over the last few weeks: eating almost no meat. (update: thoughts on fish.)
There are plenty of good reasons not to eat meat, including:
- The treatment of the animals is awful. The more you know about industrialized meat production, the less you want to support it. (And it’s not just for cows. Chickens and turkeys aren’t much better, and pigs are probably the worst.)
- High-volume meat production creates a large environmental burden, usually as a result of having to feed the animals so much and figure out what to do with their waste.
- Meat is more calorie-dense than many alternative foods, and red meat in particular is unhealthy to eat frequently. Non-meat-heavy diets can generally be much healthier.
Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food makes a great argument for low-meat diets. (You should really read it regardless of your thoughts on meat. Do you eat? Then it’s relevant to you.)
Wait, so are you a vegetarian now?
I’m not big on all-or-nothing obsessiveness. I’m not a recovering hamburger addict who will sink back into meat abuse if I ever have another taste again. All things in moderation.
The problem isn’t eating animals. It’s a lot of people eating a lot of animals. If demand was reduced to 25% or less of its current level, we’d see massive environmental and health improvements. Humane animal treatment is trickier, since you’re still killing and eating them, but it could be improved if less meat was needed and it could command a higher price. For instance, actual free-range (not the bullshit kind) and grass-fed animals would become more practical.
A few weeks ago, I decided to significantly reduce my meat consumption. To start, I went all-vegetarian for one week to force myself to broaden my horizons a bit (especially for office lunches) and try new non-meat options. It worked, and was much easier than I expected.
Now, I’ve lowered my overall meat consumption to approximately these levels that I intend to maintain:
- Chicken or turkey: 1-2 meals per week.
- Beef: 0-1 meal per month.
- Pork: Almost never. Occasionally as a minor ingredient in something else.
With such a severe reduction, I’ll achieve most of the benefits of vegetarianism, but without many of the inconveniences. It’s still ridiculously easy to get good meals at restaurants or while traveling. I don’t even like tofu or giant mushrooms, and it’s still much easier than I expected to avoid meat most of the time and still eat healthy, satisfying, widely available meals.
If a lot of people made this change, we could make a big difference on many important fronts.
Do the vegetarian week, then see how little meat you really need to eat. You may be pleasantly surprised at how easy and practical it is.