Meatless Monday. You’ve heard the term in the media, from Paul McCartney promoting a vegetarian diet to celebrity chef Mario Batali offering Meatless Monday in 14 of his restaurants. Even President Bill Clinton jumped on the bandwagon for weight loss and health reasons. Why all the concern with eating meat? Americans consume 200 pounds per year, an actual increase of 57 pounds annually since 1957. We eat seven more pounds of red meat, 46 more pounds of poultry, and four more pounds of fish than we did in the 1950s. Our factory-produced livestock has made meat inexpensive and obtainable for Americans. But what seems cheap may not be so when you look at the effect on our health and the damage to the environment. It might just be the time to figure out a more sustainable way of eating. Meat is the “Hummer” of the food chain. It takes 70 percent more agricultural land and 20 percent more energy per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of meat than plant agriculture. Meat also uses 100 times more water than plant protein to produce. One kilogram of meat produces more greenhouse gases than driving for three hours. With 311 million Americans eating 200 pounds of meat a year, the impact is enormous! With regard to health, the longevity studies point to a plant-based diet (one that includes a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, and nuts) to promote good health and longevity. The Okinawan Centenarian Study, the China Study, and Dean Orrnish’s studies show 25 years of evidence that supports this type of food plan as the one to follow to decrease the risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke, and type-2 diabetes. Another startling statistic to consider is that 70 percent of the antibiotics consumed in the United States are used in livestock production, increasing our risk for resistance. Plus, many foods contain preservatives and additives for freshness and color, which also contribute to ill health.
You do not need to become a complete vegetarian to help protect the planet and your health. Substituting vegetarian meals for one-third of your diet is enough to impact your health and the environment. On average, we consume 14 lunches and dinners per week. Making five of them vegetarian is doable for even the most carnivorous among us. Dishes like pasta primavera, black bean soup, hummus with whole grain pita, and a tofu stir fry can easily be incorporated into a weekly menu. In addition to the health benefits, food prices are predicted to skyrocket in the next five years. With the premium prices for cleaner, more sustainable meat, eating some vegetarian meals can help balance and maintain a weekly food budget while also healing your body and the planet. Portion size is also important. When consuming animal protein, we should consume less than most of us are accustomed to eating. Recommended portion sizes are 9 to 10 ounces per day for men, and 6 to 8 ounces per day for women and children.
Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemna and In Defense of Food, summarized exactly what the healthiest diet is for all: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Simple concept but so true!