Monday, January 5, 2015

Health, Earth, Worth: Why I'm a Half-time Vegetarian


If you've spent any time looking around this blog, you may have noticed that I don't feature a whole lot of meat recipes. In fact, I don't even have a category for beef or other red meat here on the Love Letter because I've never blogged about a red meat dish. Vegetarian mains, yes, frequently; chicken, yes, occasionally; pork, yes, here and there; chocolate desserts, yes infinity. So why the lack of lovin' for America's standard fare, red (or other colored) meats?

After giving it a lot of thought, I've made a concentrated effort in the last year or two to whittle down our family's meat intake (including beef, chicken, and pork) to approximately 50% of our meals. It started even longer ago than that, around 2009, with a New Year's Resolution to eat more fish and beans--one of the few resolutions that have ever actually stuck. From there, it's become a consistent commitment that when I sit down to plan six dinners a week, three of them will be vegetarian. (Breakfasts around here are pretty much always vegetarian, and lunches also end up being about 50%.) For awhile I've wanted to elucidate my reasons for doing this, even if just for myself. So here's my little manifesto. I'll call it "Health, Earth, Worth," since each of my reasons for half-time vegetarianism falls into these categories. I hope it inspires you to consider whether you might go moderately meatless, too. 

Health

There are a number of health risks that improve with a vegetarian or even semi-vegetarian diet, but let's focus on some of the biggies that face the average American.  

Cancer: You've probably heard that a plant-based diet is considered protective against numerous cancers. I only recently realized how many cancers are affected by high levels of meat consumption. According to this report, cancers of the esophagus, stomach, lung, breast, brain, bladder, mouth, prostate, and colon, as well as leukemia have been linked to high levels of of meat intake. Looking at this list, I have to go, what other cancers are even left? (Kidding...but seriously, look at that list.)

Hypertension/Heart Disease: Studies have consistently shown that a vegetarian diet lowers risk for heart disease. It's pretty simple. The saturated fat and cholesterol inherent in a meat-heavy diet is a proven pathway to hypertension and coronary heart disease. 

Diabetes: Though we may not always correlate diabetes with meat consumption, there is a connection. Even someone who only goes semi-vegetarian has a 24% reduced risk of developing diabetes (compared with an even higher 46% reduction in lacto-ovo-vegetarians).

I'm not even going to go into the stuff about antibiotic resistance and hormones in our food. I'll let you look those up on your own (and possibly cause yourself an epic freakout).

Earth

Emissions: Global warming, pollution, loss of biodiversity...cows? Did you know that one cow's annual output of methane--the gas that largely responsible for global warming--is equivalent to a car burning 235 gallons of gasoline? According to this Ted Talk by Mark Bittman, after energy production, livestock is the second highest contributor to atmosphere-altering gases, even more than transportation. 

Land Degradation: The World Health Organization says livestock production is a major source of this environmental process in which an inordinate amount of land is used for grazing. The expansion of livestock-grazing land is also a major cause of deforestation world-wide.

Water Shortage: 8% of global human water use goes toward livestock production, and water used for animals is the "largest sectoral source of water pollutants," according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. In the desert Southwest where water shortages hit close to home, I have to say this is troubling.

Worth

Everyone who doesn't want more money, raise your hand. Okay, great, we're all on the same page. You don't have to be a budget analyst to realize that meat is expensive--significantly more expensive than plant-based foods. For our family, I'm happy to cut costs by swapping meat for vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. As many others before me have noted, limiting your meat consumption allows you the luxury of paying a higher price for better quality meat when you do buy it. 

So now that I've given you my reasons for reducing meat eating (and aren't they convincing? yes? yes?), let me quickly address the other side of the coin...

Why I'm Not a Full-Time Vegetarian

Because I don't wanna be!

Haha, The End.

Just kidding. My reasons for not committing to full-time vegetarianism are somewhat selfish, but also partly (I believe) founded in dietetic science. The boil down to convenience, nutritional adequacy, and taste preference. 

Convenience: Like I said, selfish. But also not selfish. Meat is a way of life in the U.S., and I never want to be the one person in the party who makes everyone else bend over backwards to accommodate my diet. As an American with mostly non-hippie friends, I feel meat is inevitable in my life.

Adequacy: Yes, I know plenty of vegetarians get all the vitamins and minerals and nutrients their bodies need. But I realize that consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, protein, etc. on a purely vegetarian diet would require an additional level of awareness and effort I'm just not ready for, especially since I cook for 5 people.

Taste: The thought of giving up hamburgers, chicken pot pie, and pulled pork forever brings me sincere sadness. Food is one of life's greatest pleasures and I believe we are entitled to enjoy it. I happen to enjoy meat, in moderation.

So what say you? How's about resolving to reduce your meat intake in this beautiful new year? I believe you can't go wrong in giving it a try!

2 comments:

  1. Amen on the pulled pork! I think my attitude toward meat is to treat it more as a seasoning, rather than a main. It's one of the reasons I love shredded pork--nice and flavorful, but easy to use just a little and fill in with beans/whole grains/veggies. And almost every time I think about buying beef, I look at the price and put it back. I just wish my family was more excited about fish, eggplant, and mushrooms.

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