From plastic waste to health concerns to social etiquette, there are reasons why I don't want to cut meat out of my life completely.
The world must eat less meat. That message has become loud and clear in recent years as science has shown that animal agriculture emits more carbon into the atmosphere than the entire global transportation industry. In other words, cutting meat out of one’s diet is the single most effective action one can take to make a difference in the fight against climate change.
That is precisely why my husband and I have reduced our family’s meat consumption. We’ve gone from eating meat every night to eating it once a week, if that — always in smaller quantities and sourced from local farmers, never from the supermarket.
I read books and watch documentaries on plant-based eating in order to stay motivated, educated, and on track with this lifestyle change. I craft careful menu plans, order new cookbooks from the library, and purchase vegan ingredients in order to make it easier. [See: 3 ways to make vegetarian cooking much easier]
All of this, however, is not a transition phase leading to an ultimate goal of full-blown vegetarianism. I am happy where I’m at, and will not be pushing a meat-free lifestyle any further.
No doubt this will irritate many readers. It has triggered heated discussions with friends, including a long-time vegetarian who spoke about the importance of committing so that vegetarianism actually becomes easier.
Believe me, I’ve thought long and hard about it, and could easily make the commitment if I wanted to; lack of willpower isn’t the problem. There are other reasons (explained below in no particular order) why I don’t want to do it completely.
First, it’s extremely important to me to be able to eat food that is served to me by others.
As someone who has lived abroad and traveled to many countries, I cannot imagine the embarrassment I would have felt in many situations if I hadn’t been able to eat the meat- dishes that poor families had prepared for me — families that do not have the luxury of opting for a meat-free diet.
Second, I strive to live a zero-waste lifestyle as much as possible, and plant-based proteins are not conducive to that.
Fresh meat from the local butcher shop, placed in my own reusable containers, generates less packaging waste than the non-recyclable plastic wrapping in which tofu, seitan, tempeh, paneer, and other protein alternatives come. Those wrappings, once cut open, go directly into the garbage can, which I hate. (Yes, I realize I could make some of these things from scratch, but let's be realistic; as a working mother of young kids, I do not have the time to ferment and press my own tofu.)
Third, I don't feel comfortable removing meat entirely from my kids' diets.
I know that many children have been raised on strict vegan diets and turned out perfectly healthy, but it makes me nervous. I don't know enough about supplementation to raise my kids confidently on a meat-free diet, so I prefer to expose them to meat occasionally, in small quantities. That way I know they're receiving the nutrients they need.
Fourth, I don’t think that pushing for global plant-based eating is a realistic solution.
It’s reduction that really matters, and that’s precisely what I’ve done and will continue to do. I like the philosophy espoused by the Reducetarian Foundation, which advocates for the practice of eating less red meat, poultry and seafood, as well as less milk and fewer eggs.
From an article written by the Reducetarian’s founder Brian Kateman in the Washington Post:
“A core concept of reducetarianism is that demanding people cut out meat entirely is neither effective nor sustainable. Despite decades of activism, polls show that only 2 to 3 percent of Americans are vegan and vegetarian and that 84 percent of vegans and vegetarians eventually go back to their meat-eating ways. By supporting efforts to reduce the consumption of animal-based foods regardless of the degree of reduction or the motivation behind it, the reducetarian campaign aims to create an inclusive community, shifting focus away from generating ‘pure’ vegans and vegetarians and instead toward us decreasing societal meat consumption.”
Reduction is the most manageable place to start. By advocating for that, we can get people on board with plant-based eating who never would have considered a shift to committed vegetarianism.