Flexitarianism Cuts to the Meat of the Matter | Seventh Generation
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Flexitarianism Cuts to the Meat of the Matter

Author: the Inkslinger

Meat or something vaguely like it has been making headlines as reports of "pink slime" relieve the nation of its collective appetite. But the real and far bigger story where meat is concerned isn't what we're eating, it's what we're not eating. Here's how you can (and why you should want to) serve up some meatlessness for you and yours.

A few weeks ago, we talked about "peak everything," a new era in which we'll use less of a lot. Now we can add meat to the list. According U.S. Department of Agriculture data compiled by the Earth Policy Institute, America has already passed "peak meat." From a high of 184 lbs. consumed per person in 2004, we've fallen to a projected 166 lbs. per person in 2012, a 10% drop in eight years.

There are a lot of reasons why we're eating less meat, but the most important is that we're simply choosing to do so. In fact, one of the biggest cultural trends in 2012 is expected to be something called flexitarianism, the substantial reduction (but not complete elimination) of meat in our diets.

That's one heaping helping of delicious news because meat production requires huge amounts of water, land, and feed, and produces copious quantities of wastes and greenhouse gases. And that's not even addressing the ethical issues involved in factory farming. Meat is, to put it mildly, not the most sustainable food source on the planet.

Nor is it the healthiest. Aside from the drugs industrial producers typically administer to animals, red meat has been linked to colon cancer, and a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health finds that meat consumption increases the risk of death by 13-20% depending on the product in question.

These are all big basted bummers, and they're why we've cut back at my house and chosen to go flexitarian ourselves. We still indulge, but our meals are increasingly vegetarian, and we don't miss the meat when it's absent. Here's how we do it and how you can keep the meat lovers in your own family happily and more healthily fed:

  • Explore the amazing world of beans. They're a cheap, tasty source of high quality protein with which you can do almost anything. I love the cookbook Bean by Bean.
  • Make veggie-burgers. I've mentioned my affection for the hearty recipes in this cookbook before.
  • Eat fish. It's a satisfying main-course as long as we shop for it sustainably.
  • Experience the joys of canned salmon. Fresh non-farm-raised salmon is pricey but wild-caught in a can is not. Add it to salads, make untuna salad, or fry up some salmon patties by combining it with egg, breadcrumbs, small potato chunks, and herbs.
  • Try commercial meat substitutes. We don't rely on these as they're pretty processed, and we're a whole-food family, but manufactured products can fill the occasional gap. We mix Gimme Lean brand "beef" with egg, breadcrumbs, and herbs for a killer meatball you'd swear is veal.
  • Go for the soy. There's some debate about the wisdom of eating too much soy, so moderation is key, but foods like tofu and tempeh can take on all kinds of flavors and make great meals.
  • Have breakfast for dinner. Meatless quiche or frittata entrees are as savory as they are filling and nutritious. Ditto diced hard-boiled eggs on salad.
  • Get some vegetarian cookbooks. My family's journey toward flexitarianism wouldn't have gone anywhere without inspiration from others. So browse your favorite independent bookseller and pick some cookbooks that look good.

Taken together, these ideas can move your family toward a healthier flexitarian way to eat. Even one dinner a week makes a difference. Start there and work up to whatever level of meatlessness works for your family. Done gradually, the hardcore carnivores at your table won't even notice that they're helping to save the planet and even themselves.

photo: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture


gwich9 picture
I am 5 days into a vegan diet. I agree with chrisxpinko, definately a transition period! But I am doing this! Any other links or suggestions for recipes, would be greatly appreciated! Im finding that Im bored already....but I read a book called Skinny Bi*%h and then watched Forks over knives. I have been about 80% organic for years..This information educated me and I wish I had heard of it sooner. I love my seventh Generation products!
snailkite picture
I agree with Chrisxpinko. And even moreso since flexitarianism is a workable solution for all of the carnivores out there. My family has been flexitarian for many, many years. Some weeks we have no meat in our diet, other weeks it may appear in 20-30% (though never pork, beef or any other red meat). Prior to this change we had meat with nearly every meal. The gradual reduction has allowed us to great reduce our meat intake and our contribution to the impact on the environment. When rgrillo states that it's "not a meatless monday problem," you are right. But imagine if 20% of meat consumption ended, or 40%, or 80%? The most promising thing about being a flexitarian is that we've gotten many people to move in this direction over the years. Very few of my acquaintences could make the jump from carnivor to vegitarian, but many have begun to reduce meat consumption when they see (and taste) our example.
chrisxpinko picture
You are correct in stating that adopting a vegetarian diet for one day a week will not solve any environmental problems. However, as a longtime (coming up on fifteen years) ethical vegan who is pretty pessimistic about the future of humanity and the planet, I have to say that I appreciate Seventh Generation providing an entryway for people. Realistically, telling people to become vegetarian/vegan or else won't accomplish much. Most people need to transition, if they will choose one of those paths at all. People typically don't respond well to an all-or-nothing kind of choice. Most people will feel defeated before they begin and just keep doing what they are doing. Oppenlander is right, but I think he is likely too much for people who have no familiarity with the subject matter. People often run away from overwhelming amounts of hard facts that fly in the face of what they have always believed, especially when it is something as fundamental as eating. It presents difficult questions like "What am I doing?" "What am I doing to my children?" and "Is what I'm doing wrong?" These are really daunting mental challenges for many people and the likely response will not be one of permanent, profound change. Most people need to wade in, and that's what's going on here. I know it's frustrating, but at least as far as I have experienced in life, it's how most people, at least in the States, work. To be fair, the author does state "Even one dinner a week makes a difference. Start there and work up to whatever level of meatlessness works for your family." This is meant to be a beginning for people. He doesn't say to do a meatless Monday and leave it there, feeling great about yourself. The people who buy Seventh Generation products today, with their seemingly ubiquitous availability (Target, every grocery store, etc.), are surely no longer limited to the old school independent health food store set. Many of these people, I suspect, really don't have much of an idea about the environmental impacts that animal agriculture has. The above article has a host of great information to help people get educated. This is a start. I like starts.
rgrillo picture
Learn why going meatless once a week will never come close to providing a viable solution to our looming problem of global depletion. See http://comfortablyunaware.com/. Oppenlander is one of the leading experts on the subject of how our food choices are contributing to global depletion of resources. Learn what is truly sustainable about food choices and what is NOT, contrary to popular misconceptions. He also has a compelling presentation video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drS5hHdelR8&list=PL945246D5A5E6FDFF&index=2&feature=plpp_video. I really wish 7th Gen. would just stick to what it does best and stick to the subject of its products.