How to Reduce Your Red Meat Consumption

Red-meat-300x187Hold it — put down that cheeseburger! It and all its friends, served to billions, are as bad for the environment as driving around in a Hummer. That’s right, the greenhouse gases emitted from our collective cheeseburgers equate to the greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere by our collective SUVs, the ones contributing right now to climate change. Impressive statistic, no?

Like statistics? Besides greenhouse gases, livestock production ravages the environment in other ways. It uses an enormous amount of water. It pollutes the water we have. 50% of the antibiotics used in the U.S. go to treat livestock. And 37% of the pesticides applied throughout the country are related to the feeding of the animals we eat. (Which means if you eat red meat you’re also eating those antibiotics and pesticides.)

Then there’s the little issue of factory farms. Do you know where your meat was before it hit your plate? And don’t even get me started on this unspeakable horror.

Add to all that the fact that eating red meat will kill you (a 20-40% increase in mortality rate is tied to high consumption of red meat — that’s only half a steak per day, or one Quarter Pounder, but the average American eats twice that every day), and you have a pretty good argument to cut back on the amount you consume.

Not convinced yet? Here’s another statistic: over a ten-year period, a million American men and half a million American women won’t die if they just cut back on the amount of red meat and processed meats they eat. If that could be you or someone you love, why take a chance? Cut back now on the amount of red meat you eat.

Okay, but if not beef, then what’s for dinner? What if you’re just a meat and potatoes kind of guy? After all, most of us grew up with meat taking the starring role in most meals, with a small side of starch and a vegetable. It’s hardly your fault. So no problem. We’ll take this a step at a time.

Step #1. Rethink the protein thing.
The first question anybody asks when I tell them I’m a vegetarian is, “Where do you get your protein?” We forget there’s protein in plants, and in some cases plants have more protein per calorie than meat. So there. Besides, we get more protein than we need anyway: the average American eats twice the protein they need, according to the USDA recommendation of 56 grams a day (which many nutritionists think is too high anyway). And consuming large amounts of animal protein can put a strain on your kidneys and put you at risk for osteoporosis.

Step #2. Rethink meat’s starring role on your plate.
Sure, you’re used to meat taking up the vast majority of the real estate on your plate, but it’s time to change that. You can still eat meat, but let it take a back seat to grains and veggies. Better yet, start thinking about meat as a condiment and a flavoring.

Ancient cultures around the world have done this for centuries: beyond the obvious stir-fry you’ve also got dirty rice, fried rice, pilaf, biryani, and arroz con pollo.

Not only that, but how about tweaking the proportions in soups, stews, chicken pot pie, and lasagna so that there’s at least as many veggies as meat in the dish? You’ll hardly notice the difference tastewise.

Step #3. Buy less meat.
It only makes sense that if you buy less you’ll eat less too. But most of us eat a half pound of meat every day. Try buying smaller packages, or dividing bigger ones up into several meals. One pound of hamburger, for instance, is plenty for a dish that serves 6.

Step #4. Buy more vegetables.
This is a no-brainer, isn’t it? There’s no better way to cook and eat more veggies than if they’re actually sitting there in your fridge, pleading greenly with you every time you open it. And then there’s the guilt factor: do you really want to throw away perfectly good vegetables every week after they get bendy, wilted, and yellowed? It’s so much easier just to chop them up and cook them. Great ways to get lots of vegetables:

• Join a co-op or become a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. Throughout the growing season, you’ll receive a box of locally-grown, farm-fresh veggies that varies as the season changes.
• Sign up for delivery. What could be better than having a box of fresh organic veggies and fruits delivered right to your door? Most cities have companies that offer this service; cost is between $20-40/week, depending on size and location.
• Shop at a farmers market. Veggies sold to you directly from the farmer somehow taste better, and farmers can help you with tips on cooking and preparation. I’m hooked on sugar snap peas as a direct result of a years-ago farmers market experience. This is where you’re guaranteed to find cool new veggies you never heard of before, or local heirloom varieties grown only in your part of the world.

Step #5. Learn how to cook differently.
Not only are you reducing the starring role of meat in your cooking, but you’re now faced with new and unfamiliar vegetables. No problem; you just need to do a little homework. Try great vegetarian recipe sites like 101 Cookbooks to get inspiration on veggie prep techniques you didn’t already know about. Making grilled kebabs? Great! Thread a single chunk of meat onto each skewer along with great grilling veggies like peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes, and you’ve got the proportions just right.

Step #6. Rethink your beans.
Sure, they’re the “musical fruit”, but they’re also so much more. Cook some ahead and store in the freezer to toss into rice dishes or to combine with veggies for a salad. Another easy way to incorporate beans: for whatever amount of meat you’d normally have in a dish, substitute beans for half. In one easy step you’ve halved your meat intake. Don’t stop with beans, either: lentils are quick-cooking and make a tasty side dish. Recipes are everywhere: start here, or if you like Indian/Pakistani flavors, there’s practically a dal (soupy spiced lentils) variation for every day of the year.

Step #7. Follow the rules.
Make up some rules for yourself and then follow them; it takes the guesswork right out of how to eat less meat. Examples:

  • No fast food. Ever.
  • No bacon or ham for breakfast.
  • No burgers for lunch.
  • Salads instead of sandwiches.
  • Meatless Mondays.
  • Vegetarian dinners 3 times a week.
  • No meat for breakfast OR lunch (and then go wild at dinner).

See how this could work? Find something that works for you and stick to it.

Step #8. Stay on board in restaurants.
Avoid places with meat-centric menus like in traditional American fare; instead, opt for Asian, Indian, or Italian restaurants since those traditionally don’t heavily feature meat in their dishes. Or, order from the soups/salads/sides parts of the menus. I’ve done this for years, making a wonderful — and filling — meal from one of each. If all else fails, try sharing a meat course among 2 or 3 people; do you really need a steak that overhangs the edges of the plate?

Step #9. When you eat meat, go quality instead of quanity.
Better for you, better for the planet, and more humane for the animal are grass-fed, organically-fed meats. And yes, they cost a lot more than factory-farmed meats so you’ll automatically want to buy less, which means you’ll be eating less. You’ll appreciate it a lot more, too. Find local farmers selling quality beef, lamb, goats, bison, poultry, pork, dairy here.

Step #10. Remember the other benefits.
Besides saving the planet and keeping yourself alive longer, there are other benefits to eating less meat.

•You’ll spend less on food. Cost per pound of vegetables vs. meat is a lot lower; in fact, vegetables cost about a third that of meats.
•You’ll lose weight. Pound for pound, meat contains way more fat than vegetables, and on a veggie-centric diet your body will operate more efficiently.
•You’ll have more energy.

Step #11. You don’t have to become a vegetarian.
This is all about eating less red meat, right? So you don’t have to make the leap all the way to becoming a vegetarian, or a vegan, or eating raw. You’re just eating less meat, which is much easier but still has huge benefits. Sure, you might make the leap one day but small steps really add up, and every cheesburger you avoid or meatless meal you eat adds up to helping the environment, helping yourself, and helping us move away from dependency on factory farms. You’re doing your part, and it’s pretty painless.

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  1. I tried eating all raw for two years. It nearly killed me. I now go by the Chinese acupuncture rule. I use my hand to guide how much I eat of each portion.
    One palm of animal protein three times a week.
    two palms of vegetables twice a day.
    One palm of carbohyrade twice a day.

    From Barbara altman, author of recovering from Depression, Anxiety, and Psychosis
    available on Amazon