One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint – and your environmental footprint generally – is to reduce your meat consumption. If you’d like a visual to help you understand why eating less – or no – meat is so beneficial, check out this article by Visual Capitalist. Eating less meat is not just better for the planet, it is also better for your health and better for your wallet. Who could ask for a better New Year’s resolution?!
A note to the reluctant reader: Listen, I know people like to eat meat. You may have thought about becoming a vegetarian before – or even tried it – but felt like it was too hard. Or your family might not be on board. Here are a few different ways to go about it. See which one works for you.
The most effective way to reduce your meat consumption is, of course, to cut out meat entirely. If you’re the whole hog kind of person (excuse the pun), then this might be easier for you than any of the above plans. Try a Veggie Challenge and go from there. Or there are countless cookbooks, blogs, meal plans, and guides to help you on this journey (do an Ecosia search!). It is totally doable, healthy, and satisfying. I have been a vegetarian for the last 25 years and my husband has been a vegetarian for 10 years. We were vegan for five of those years, but now eat eggs, yogurt, and, occasionally, cheese. Our children (ages seven, five, and one) are all perfectly happy without meat and milk.
Looking for restaurants with vegan and vegetarian menus in NH? Visit the Happy Cow for a list.
Top 10 Tips for Going Vegetarian or Plant-Based
BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
A major change in your diet, even if your family and friends are super-supportive, is an upheaval in your life. It begins a journey of finding new foods, new recipes, new food prepping techniques, and new ways of shopping and storing food. It can be overwhelming. It can also take some time for your digestive system and cravings to adjust to a new way of eating. Remember, anything that reduces the amount of meat on our plates reduces our carbon footprint. Also, with any meat or fish you do incorporate - do some research and buy as locally and sustainably as possible.
Some folks prefer incremental change and others like to rip off the bandaid. Knowing what works for you is key. For incrementalists, there are several ways to move to a vegetarian/plant based diet gradually. Go vegetarian 3 days a week and build up from there. Try cutting meat out from certain meals or certain times of the day (for example go vegetarian until dinner). Several authors have ideas for how to do this, including Suzy Amis Cameron’s One Meal a Day, which advocates eating vegan at least one meal a day, and Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6, which suggests eating vegan until dinnertime. You could also choose to indulge in meat only at holidays or only when dining out. Or try out a Veganuary this month. My husband became a self-proclaimed “restaurant carnivore”, choosing to eat vegetarian at home and to eat meat at restaurants and other people’s houses.
Avoid making too many dietary changes all at once - it is important to give the digestive system time to adjust. If you want to go plant-based, try starting with moving to a vegetarian diet. Then work on dairy, and then eggs.
SAY GOODBYE TO BEEF
Giving up beef is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint. Compared to potatoes, wheat, and rice, beef requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases per calorie. Compared to pork and chicken, beef requires 28 times more land and produces five time more greenhouse gases per calorie. Giving up beef would make a huge impact and is pretty easy to do. If you don’t feel like you can give beef up entirely, maybe choose to only eat it from a restaurant or only eat it on holidays.
MEAL PLAN WITH A VENGEANCE
It’s when we don’t have a plan that we grab food at the last minute that we’re trying to avoid or limit. We follow our cravings and go for what’s easy. Meal planning is a great way of planning for both the new vegetarian diet you want to follow AND the diet your family wants and they might not be the same. Try planning recipes that limit meat in favor of other proteins, like beans and peas. Instead of choosing to eat burgers or steak for a meal, which focuses on the meat, choose recipes like soups, casseroles, stir fry, or bowls, where meat is just a flavoring. And don’t forget to include snacks that fit your new diet into your meal planning.
Set a goal of finding 10 new EASY dishes that you love that fit your new vegetarian diet. I stress ‘easy’ in the interest of being realistic. It’s a way of managing all the changes. Here are some fun strategies to try:
Try a new fruit or vegetable every week.
Experiment with meat substitutes
Pick a new cuisine that offers lot of vegetarian dishes, such as Indian or Middle Eastern food
Find 10 vegetarian or vegan blogs you like.
The First Mess
Cookie and Kate
Love and Lemons
KNOW YOUR PROTEIN SOURCES
Know all the ways to get protein on a vegetarian diet, and have them available. Keep pumpkin seeds, nuts, and roasted chickpeas around for healthy, protein-loaded snacks.
Make friends with beans. Cook up a fresh pot every week of different kinds and experiment with them. They can be a fabulous meat replacement, and provide so many health benefits. If you typically have digestive issues with beans, make your own (for a fraction of the cost as compared to canned!) and pre-soak them. It really does make a difference.
VEGETARIANIZE (OR VEGANIZE) YOUR FAVORITE MEATY DISHES
If you’re feeling nervous about making the switch to a vegetarian diet, I strongly suggest using meat substitutes as a stepping stone. There are some pretty great choices out there nowadays. The Kitchn has a fun chart to help you find the perfect meat substitute for you. I am not a huge fan of meat substitutes personally (they are over-packaged), but we definitely have a small stash of Beyond Burgers in our fridge for when we get invited to a cookout and these Field Roast sausages, which we eat like hotdogs when we go camping, are delicious.
JAZZ UP DISHES WITH CONDIMENTS
Have a selection of condiments in your refrigerator to jazz up a dish and spike the flavor. For example, pestos either from basil or sun-dried tomatoes. Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes is another great condiment to have in the refrigerator. Ditto for Balsamic Roasted Bell Peppers, Spicy Pumpkin Seeds and Spicy Roasted Chickpeas.
FIND A BUDDY
Having a buddy to start a new workout regime is a proven way to maintain a commitment to exercise. Likewise, the buddy system can be a great help when changing your diet. Swap recipes you find and want to make, and compare notes on what’s working and what isn’t. If your family isn’t supportive, a buddy can motivate you when you’re having a challenging day. And if you live near each other, and trust each other’s social bubbles in this time of pandemic, you can cook together.