One of my oldest friends Melissa (we went to kindergarten together!) and her husband E.J. (we met at my 10-year highschool reunion!) are scientists, foodies and writers. They had some interesting things to say about flexitarianism, so I asked them to write a guest post and educate us all. They have Ph.Ds, which means they are way more qualified than I am to be telling you about pretty much anything. Don't forget to check out Melissa's food blog Melissa Eats Broccoli and Squash.
The next time you want to help the environment, eat a PB & J.
Or eat anything else you like that happens not to contain meat. If you do that just once a week, you’ll be doing wonders for the environment! What’s important here is that you do NOT have to become a vegetarian to have an earth-friendly diet, contrary to some popular beliefs. All you have to do is eat a teeny-tiny bit less meat than you do now.
What you eat matters. We think this is a valuable point to consider, especially if you recycle, bike, follow the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule, or do other earth-friendly things. If you combined all of those little efforts and multiplied them by a thousand, their helpfulness would still pale in comparison to the help you’d be giving the environment by eating just a little less meat. Consider these statistics:
- If every American substituted one meal of chicken per week with a vegetarian alternative, it would be the same as taking a half a million cars off the road.
- If every American had one beef-free meal per week, it would be equivalent to taking over 5 million cars off the road.
- One meat-free day per week is the same as taking 8 million cars off the road.
You get the picture.
Just a slight decrease in meat intake makes a big difference. This is because animal agriculture is a huge drain on the planet’s resources: Livestock takes up nearly 30% of the Earth’s arable land, and beef production requires 100 times the amount of water that would be required to produce an equivalent amount of protein through grains. That’s a lot of land and water. And if global warming concerns you (which it should – even George W. Bush has acknowledged it’s a problem), then it’s worth noting that animal agriculture accounts for a huge proportion of harmful greenhouse gases. In fact, it’s a bigger contributor to global warming than all SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined!
Just to hit the nail on the head, let us make one more point here. Despite the fact that some 800 million people on the planet suffer from some sort of malnutrition (though 190 million Americans are obese or overweight), the majority of corn and grains are grown to feed livestock. This is completely inefficient; two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories though meat than through direct grain consumption. In a nutshell, we’re using healthy food as fuel for the unhealthy food that we eat, and we’re wasting more than half of it.
All you have to do is try something new and tasty. Okay. We know that the information above is a lot to digest. And Martina wouldn’t have asked us to guest blog today unless she thought we had something useful to say. So the point we want to make is that helping the environment can be pretty simple and even fun. All you have to do is eat something meat-free once in a while. It’s as easy as that.
Becoming a vegetarian or vegan probably sounds way too effortful. Many people realize that and stop reconsidering their diets right there. That’s because too many people (including most vegans and vegetarians) view vegetarianism and veganism as binary choice: you’re either in or you’re out. This is totally false. It’s completely fine to be a vegetarian only every now and then. Graham Hill gave an excellent description in a recent Ted Talk of what he calls being a “weekday vegetarian.” Flexitarianism (or part-time vegetarianism) is gaining momentum!
And the best part is, if you like to eat like as much as we do, being a flexitarian can be extremely fun! Having a meat-free meal does not have to mean eating only lettuce, if that’s what you think. There are a ton of great-tasting meat-free foods being made today. And a lot of it is quite hearty too. Protein can be found in a variety of sources (including green, leafy vegetables). Legumes are an excellent source of protein and fiber. Other common meat-free protein sources are tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein (TVP) and seitan. For some tips and ideas, check out our favorite vegan chef or read our recipe blog (Melissa Eats Broccoli and Squash), which is full of vegan and vegetarian dishes.
The take-home message is that people don’t have to have an all-or-none attitude about vegetarianism. You don’t have to kiss cheeseburgers and chicken fingers goodbye. You can cheat a little. If you’re out for pizza, get some veggie toppings instead of meat. Sub the soy veggie patty for the sausage patty at breakfast. Try some tofu – we promise, it’s tasty! What’s your favorite meal that happens to be meat-free? What’s a meat-free dish that you’ve been meaning to try? Have it once this week instead of meat dish, and you’ll be doing the Earth a huge favor. You’ll also be guaranteeing yourself a longer lifespan and a reduced risk for heart disease and some cancers (as if saving the world wasn’t enough for you).
--Melissa & E.J. Masicampo
E.J. has been a vegetarian for 5 years and an avid eater all his life. He received a Ph.D. in Social Psychology in 2010 and is now an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University.
Melissa and E.J. were married last June.