We all can do our part to keep our bodies—and our planet—healthier, and even small steps count. In The Reducetarian Solution, author Brian Kateman—and the thought leaders who contribute to the book—makes a compelling case for eating less meat. Not only does plant-based living reduce our chances of heart disease but also our carbon footprint. Not to worry though: This doesn’t mean you need to become a vegetarian or a vegan. It’s simply about reducing the amount of meat you consume. We spoke with Kateman to find out how to start making small changes today.
Books for Better Living (BBL): The Reducetarian Diet is about eating less meat, but not necessarily becoming a full-on vegetarian or vegan. What are some simple, actionable ways that one can reduce their meat intake?
Kateman: We’re all about celebrating incremental change. For some that might look very simple, using strategies such as “Meatless Mondays” or “Weekday Vegetarian” as a way to begin exploring plant-based alternatives. Others might even commit to a month-long vegan challenge. Regardless, everyone has to start somewhere, and our goal is simply to empower individuals to explore plant-based living. Personally, I enjoy experimenting with simple and familiar swaps—think a veggie burrito instead of chicken burrito or a tofu curry instead of a beefy one.
BBL: What are some of the nutritional/health gains a person can expect if they decrease their meat consumption?
Kateman: The science is clear—eating less meat reduces your chance of heart disease, certain types of cancers, strokes, diabetes, and many other chronic illnesses. Plant-based foods are packed with essential vitamins, nutrients, and proteins that your body needs. Did you know that a cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein and a cup of black beans has a whopping 42 grams? Eating more plant-based foods also provides a healthy dose of fiber and will help in lowering cholesterol. This promotes better digestion and helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Many people report that they feel lighter and more energized after cutting back on meat.
BBL: This book contains many essays by influential thought leaders. Author and marketer extraordinaire, Seth Godin, in his essay, says that American culture has put the idea of meat at the center of our social experience. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
Kateman: To this day my parents say they don’t like fruits and vegetables, and they aren’t alone! Many people say they don’t, not because fruits and vegetables are inherently unappetizing (they’re actually quite delicious), but because the status quo is to worship meat, to have meat be the center of every plate, and to consume unhealthy foods with little regard for moderation. Most people don’t choose foods based on ethics—but on factors like price, convenience, and social proof (what others are eating around them). By forming an active community of reducetarians, we are challenging this thinking and showing the viability and numerous benefits of eating more plant-based foods.
BBL: This book isn’t just about how eating less meat is good for us, but how it’s good for industrial animal agribusiness, like factory farming, which is on a downswing in large part thanks to Silicon Valley. Who are some of the key players in tech who are leading this charge, and how?
Kateman: Changing minds and behavior takes time, but this incremental progress can be complemented and accelerated by redesigning the “food environment”: the social and physical space where we make our daily eating decisions. Some of the strongest drivers of food choice are convenience, price, and taste—and meat is pervasive, cheap and (according to most of us) darn delicious. By lowering the marketplace barriers to alternative food options, we can empower consumers to turn toward easy and enjoyable animal-free choices intuitively.
With a growing global demand for meat and dairy, tech-savvy entrepreneurs and the “good food” industry (supported by organizations like New Harvest that wrote an excellent essay on this topic) are uniquely poised to create an affordable market of readily available and tasty alternatives. The tech industry is rising to this challenge with an increasingly wide variety of nature-identical meat options that extend far past cleverly disguised tofu—for example, Memphis Meats produced the world’s first cultured “meatball” and “chicken nugget.”
Cultured meat grown in labs sidesteps the negative externalities of the traditional meat production system, but the development of this new technology will take time and resources before economies of scale can be reached. In the meantime, plant-based alternatives are already gaining in popularity, with start-ups like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat producing cow-free burgers. By 2050, plant-based and “alternative” protein could represent up to a third of the protein market, and a 2015 report projects that the market for global meat substitutes is on pace to exceed $5 billion by 2020. The undeniable growth potential for these alternative foods suggests we may see a similar story once cultured animal products hit the shelves.
BBL: How does giving up meat positively affect climate change?
Kateman: Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of air and water pollution and therefore poses many health risks to local communities. For example, factory farms produce an estimated 500 million tons of manure each year—more than three times the sewage generated by the entire U.S. human population. This often releases dangerous microbes and bacteria into local streams and rivers, causing the contamination of rural water sources.
Animal agriculture also has a severe impact on air pollution. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the meat industry alone accounts for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Animal farms and processing facilities also require a substantial amount of land to operate. Due to this expansion, the animal agriculture industry is directly responsible for much of the Amazon Rainforest’s deforestation. For example, clearing land in Brazil to grow chicken feed is the culprit in the destruction of about 3 million acres of rainforest. This deforestation causes species extinction and habitat destruction at a growing rate every day.
Locally in the United States, nearly 300 million acres of land have been cleared to make room for range, pasture land, and crop fields used to grow livestock feed. Reducing our dependency on animal agriculture is a positive step towards a smaller environmental footprint and a more sustainable lifestyle that work to counteract the devastating effects of climate change. To put this all in perspective, a vegetarian has half the carbon footprint of a meat-eater, and for a vegan, it’s even lower.
BBL: How can we help nudge our children towards a diet of more veggies, fruits, and grains?
Kateman: Education is an important first step. Educating parents and children on the origins of their food is essential, as the potential for systemic change begins with every new generation. Simply encouraging kids to eat healthier snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and granola bars more often is a great way to affirm these important values and to gradually expose them to plant-based foods. Ginny Messina wrote a persuasive essay on this topic in the book. She notes that helping children shift toward a diet that is lower in meat takes some trial and error, but as you explore healthy, fun, and easy meal ideas, you’ll find that there are plenty of plant-based options to please even the youngest palate.
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