07 September 2012

10 rock-solid reasons why meat eaters should consider part-time vegetarianism

Boy oh boy...is the press beating a dead horse with the endless talk about going part-time veg, or what? These days it seems that no matter where you look, someone is always extolling the virtues of passing on meat in favor of plowing headfirst into a plate of grains and veggies. Meatless Mondays, Tofu Thursdays ... pretty soon we'll be adding Seitan Saturdays to the mix, something that Oprah will no doubt cover on her show before it wraps up.

While all of this may come off as being a smidge pop-culturey at times (hmmmm, just how many more celebrity semi-veg converts are going to jump on the plant-based bandwagon while conveniently pimping out their latest movie/CD/fashion line?), in all honesty, this ramped up veggie 'trend' is still admittedly valuable. What matters more than anything else is that the message of streamlining personal meat consumption continues to permeate mainstream consciousness. Through tabloids, magazines, websites and other forms of popular media, the public is receiving a passive form of education about a far healthier lifestyle that isn't interpreted as being 'preachy' -- perhaps they're even more willing to give it a whirl since their favorite stars are apparently game.

There's such an intricate psychology behind mainstream eating -- particularly where meat consumption is concerned -- and although there are infinite guides offering the carnivorous public seemingly no-brainer, semi-vegetarian steps, for many long-time meat eaters, it's far easier said than done. The beautiful thing about considering a plant-based lifestyle however, is that there really is no such thing as embracing it 100% or not at all. Some habits, including those of a dietary nature, can and should be eased into so that they can be given a fair shake before making a final decision.

Meat eaters may be attached to the ritual of having steak, chicken breast or pork chops on their plate rather than the actual flavor itself, or perhaps they reason that eating animal protein is what everyone in their family does, so why should they be any different? For others, the idea of passing up perfectly prepared pot roast or barbecued ribs seems unfathomable, with certain cuts akin to dining on celebratory foods (such as prime rib and tenderloin). Ultimately, vegetarianism is a very personal choice that is often based on quite a diverse array of motivating factors.

Giving up a long-term dietary staple like meat does not, however, have to be an overnight decision. Becoming a flexitarian or part-time plant eater enables veggie-curious individuals to test drive the lifestyle so they can determine what they think really think about it before they commit for the long haul. If you’re still not quite sure what some of the top advantages of taking this route really are, here are a few points for your consideration:


Perhaps there is absolutely no question in your mind that you love the flavor and texture of meat, but the very nature of factory farming leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. The industry as a whole places a huge burden on our ecosystem, not just in terms of resource consumption but also due to the massive volumes of waste and agricultural chemicals that pollute our environment.


If ethics are on your radar -- specifically with regard to the inhumane treatment that conventionally raised factory farmed animals regularly receive -- dining more frequently on plant based foods could conceivably help you to ease your conscience. It is somewhat naïve to think that your twice-weekly commitment to pasta and bean burritos will put a major dent into the system, but whether you go full-veggie, choose to purchase organic, humanely raised meat, or find a comfort zone somewhere in the middle, until the conventional meat production system is entirely revamped, the industry will continue to treat animals like commodities. Even if you pass on meat a few days a week, that is one small yet notable thing that you can do to take a stand.


Becoming a flexitarian enables you to do something on behalf of planet. Recycling is great, but if all of us – every single person on the planet -- took a once-a-week vacation from meat, we would effectively force the meat industry to cut back on the volume of animal-based products that they generate.


That, in turn, would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are generated during the crop cultivation, animal rearing and shipping processes. Now imagine if this dietary habit became a twice-a-week deal…or even three times? Small changes when adopted by the masses end up generating a measurable impact. Above all else, you might just decide that this lifestyle adjustment helps you to prove that you’re not just talking the talk when you claim to be living a greener lifestyle – you're actually making it happen through regular actions.


By embracing part time vegetarianism, you might be more inclined to stay local during those particular days, an effort which will shave even more off of your already reduced carbon footprint. Rather than jumping in a car and heading out to the nearest fast food joint for edible gratification, foraging through your cupboards to create meals is a thoroughly green affair. Your elected home-bound status means that your car stays in the garage and you use the resources that you already have on hand.


Is it possible that following a flexitarian diet plan might help you to become a better human being? Comparatively speaking, eschewing meat just one or two days is a cake walk compared to many of the curveballs that life throws our way, but it can help all of us to recognize that we are capable of accomplishing great things just by focusing our energy on something and barreling ahead. The simple action of passing on meat just a few days a week can become the springboard for far more impressive and thoughtful eco-actions throughout our lives. Is it a battle cry for greenie greatness? Anything is possible with the right inspiration.


The health benefits associated with a plant-based diet are hard to deny. If you are personally seeking a dietary program that will instill you with vim, vigor and countless welcome ‘side effects’, vegetarianism is the way to go. Cutting out the animal products and instead dining exclusively on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins works synergistically to reduce cholesterol levels in the body which in effect rolls out the red carpet for other happy dietary benefits such as a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and other mainstream diet-related high fat, high cholesterol illnesses. Plus, a nice little side effect is that you'll probably lose a little weight without really trying.


You might even experience more pep in your step when you pass on meat in favor of greens and grains. At first, a seemingly perpetual hunger might rule your world, inspiring you to eat far more volume than what you typically consumed as a carnivore, but the remarkable reality is that all of that extra food won’t result in weight gain (According to Dr. Dean Ornish). With a diet heavy in plant fibers and phytochemicals, your body will also function at optimum levels with nary a superfluous cholesterol molecule in sight. That’s enough to make anyone skip to the loo!


Creating a home cooked vegetarian meal is typically more cost-effective than integrating meat into recipes, and even if you commit to embracing vegetarianism just two days each week, it’s quite possible to stretch your budget a lot further than you imagined. Some notoriously frugal yet filling veggie choices include legumes (like lentils, split peas, kidney beans, etc.), eggs, pasta, oatmeal, rice, and how about the great old standby, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches??


Does your busy schedule leave you little time to make home-cooked meals? Yet another advantage of vegetarianism is that when you don't have to fuss with meat, meal preparation is often a lot more streamlined. It takes just a few minutes to chop up the fixins' for a huge salad or drop some spaghetti in a pot of boiling water, whereas with meat, you have to prep it, trim it, cook it and slice it. In many cases, you can even go raw for certain meals or set aside some time on the weekends to cook basic staples that can then be quickly microwaved throughout the busy school/work week.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/jmcphers