Try ‘treading lighter upon the earth’ and eat less meat

Four years ago, I started going meatless once a week. It was a strange shift because I usually started my meal prep with: “What meat shall I thaw?” and then I’d go from there. Then, when the lockdowns began, I went meat free other than fish or shellfish (pescatarian) for close to a year. Now, I’ve reversed my original stance and am only enjoying meat and or seafood about once a week. I do it for the health and environmental benefits as well as to limit harm to animals. I try to avoid discussing it too much, because then you get classed in the many vegans, crossfitters, and reformed smokers who drop their lifestyle into every conversation. That said, here is what I do hear from people.

“I love meat. I could never give it up.” This is typically linked with “mmmm, bacon,” or something about the best steak they ever had. I hear you. I was saying the same thing five years ago. Since then, I’ve realized that we can change almost anything in our lives with the right motivation. I still love bacon, but not once a week anymore. I still love a nice rare baseball cut filet, but that is a twice a year thing now. My love for meat hasn’t decreased, in fact, my enjoyment has actually increased, acknowledging the luxury that it is when I do eat it.

“I know I should eat less meat, but what else would I eat?” Over 375 million people in the world are vegetarian, so there are definitely other options. The issue is growing up with a meat and potatoes philosophy, and shifting to see the amazing depth of culinary options from around the world. The easiest switch is purchasing Beyond Meat products and cooking them like you are still using meat, but I prefer to find dishes that don’t replicate meat.

“I don’t have the time to make the change.” If you’ve ever considered decreasing your meat intake, it’s a good time to try it right now during our lockdowns. It does require restocking your pantry and adjusting your meal planning and cooking processes. For example, I had to learn about lentils (wow there are so many varieties used for different applications). I also had to overcome my stigma about tofu and meat alternative products.

People who go gluten free or follow a keto diet, are making similar if not more radical changes to their diets.  Again, if you have the motivation to lose weight, clean up your arteries, save animals, and reduce your negative impact on the planet, you can achieve almost anything.

“I’m a man. I need meat.” Many men seem to be the most obstinate about giving up even a day a week of meat, like somehow meat is tied to their manliness. Yet at least one documentary (Game Changers) tied a plant-based diet to firmer, longer, and more erections in men, which sounds pretty manly to me.

“I’m an athlete. I need meat.” Protein comes from plants as well. I didn’t know that growing up, because I feel like our old Canada food guide was sponsored by meat and dairy lobbyers. There are countless stories of pro athletes going vegetarian or vegan and reporting gains to their performance.

“I wouldn’t know where to start.” This is the one objection that I understand the most. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I started by watching some documentaries (which I realize are often one-sided, but I felt that side needed to be heard). I recommend: What the Health, Cowspiracy, In Defense of Food, Game Changers, and Diet Fiction. Once we made a decision as a family to give this a try, we Googled things like “delicious vegetarian recipes” and found a bounty of options for Indian, Mexican, Thai, and Italian food.

“I’m a hunter and I kill my meat humanely.” I think this is a fair point, but most of my friends who hunt, also eat a lot of meat from the grocery store, which makes the argument moot. I also have my hunting licence, which will expire soon. The last wild game I ate was when a grouse flew into a window and died. I would prefer not to kill anything (except mosquitoes, and biting flies… I have no mercy for them).

“Humans are meant to eat meat.” Humans are omnivores. Our ancestors did not eat meat every day, nor did they consume meat in our quantities, nor was the planet busting at the seams. We need to find sustainable levels for meat, seafood, and poultry.

“Why should I eat less meat?” Some pet lovers make the direct link to animal cruelty from eating meat. Watch any video on the beef, pork, or chicken industry or visit an abattoir, and you may instantly want to make the switch. Environmentalists can speak to the reduction in carbon emission and preservation of important forests that need to not be turned into pastures or crops. I read that meat consumption is more carbon emission than a household having two cars. As mentioned above with a growing population we cannot sustain the North American meat-based diet. Medical professionals can tell you the benefits of weight loss, lower risk of heart disease, and an extended life through less meat. Canada’s updated food guide definitely points to a reduction of animal protein in our diets.

I probably won’t make the leap to a vegan lifestyle, but I do believe that eating less meat is the right thing to do. Meat is not a right; it is a privilege (though even that is cringe-worthy because something has to die for our enjoyment). Regardless, in eating less meat, I like that I am treading lighter upon the earth literally and figuratively.

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