Eat More Veggies

Better Health for You and the Planet

Image from the Agricultural Research Service, USDA

Many of us grew up in the meat-potato-vegetable era in which no meal was complete without the presence of meat. Burgers and steaks on the grill, meatloaf, stuffed pork chops, you name it, we were ready with knife and fork to dig in. The meat industry grew and grew to satisfy our appetites. But if we step back for a minute and look, we see that our meat habits are taking a big toll on our health and the health of the Earth. According to the Harvard Men’s Health Watch (2017): “Red meat: in addition to raising the risk for colorectal cancer and other health problems, can actually shorten your life. That’s the clear message of the latest research based on data from two ongoing, decades-long Harvard School of Public Health studies of nurses and other health professionals. It appears “healthy meat consumption” has become an oxymoron. According to the Mayo Clinic, just eating less meat has a protective effect. A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate the most red meat daily were 30% more likely to die prematurely, and processed meats also increased the risk.

Choosing to eat less meat, especially beef and pork, is a powerful way to take care of our health and the Earth. If half of Concord residents  swapped two servings of beef with vegetarian food each week, we’d avoid 1,600 tons of CO2 and save about $35,000 every year.

From Cooler Smarter, Union of Concerned Scientists

Recommended Actions

  1. Eat a  more vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and other  plant-based sources of nutrients.
  2. Eat less meat, especially beef and pork. There are many ways that you can do this. You can try choosing a day or two or three a week to go meatless. You can cook a veggie or bean burger rather than a beef burger. You can become a “flexitarian” – someone who eats mostly plant-based foods, but occasionally eats red meat, poultry and fish.  You can try some new recipes for vegetarian meals with dairy foods and some veggie meals without dairy (vegan). There are a lot of great products on the market now such as almond milk, dairy-free spreads and packaged entrees without meat.
  3. Learn about and enjoy the alternate protein sources: rice and beans, tofu, certain veggies, and nuts. You can still eat delicious meals and feel good about your health! And if you are healthier, you will also save money and live longer. All good! 
  4. Join a CSA or grow your own veggies
  5. Waste less food

Cost Comparison

Meat generally costs more than non-meat sources of protein. Recent research suggests that vegetarians can save at least $750 more than meat-eaters per year.

Environmental Benefits

When we consider the effects on the planet, beef and pork (“the other red meat”) consumption has big consequences. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, food accounts for 14% of global warming gas emissions of the average family. Red meat is the biggest contributor. Why is that? Well, it takes a LOT of energy to raise cattle. First, they have to be fed and watered for months to achieve marketable size. It takes seven pounds of feed and over 600 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. Growing and then shipping the feed also requires fuel and lots of water. In addition, cattle produce a lot of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than CO2. Finally, after the cattle are butchered and packaged, even more energy is required to transport the meat to local stores. As a result, the global warming emissions associated with beef and pork are twice those of chicken, three times those of fish, and five  times those of beans.

FAQs

Q: Will I get enough protein and important vitamins and minerals on a reduced/non-meat diet?  A: Yes, you can. There are many plant-based sources of protein and calcium. Dairy products such as milk and cottage cheese also supply protein and calcium. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a tip sheet for vegetarians and the current Dietary Guidelines contain detailed information to help you know what to eat and how much based on your daily calorie needs. Information on key vitamins and minerals and their sources is available from the National Institutes of Health. Vitamin B12 can be hard to find in vegetables. Vegans who do not eat meat or dairy may take a B12 supplement just in case.

Q: Will eating out be harder? A: You might have to be creative sometimes, but most restaurants have non-meat options and will substitute vegetables for meat in some menu choices. Try the Happy Cow app and website to guide you to more options. 

Q: But I really like meat. Do I really have to give it up? A: If you can’t give it up, then make it something special and eat it less frequently. And when you do have it, eat a smaller portion. Explore different foods and make meat less of a focus. You may find that you don’t need it so much after awhile.

Q: What about local grass-fed organic beef? A: Local humanely-raised organic beef is way better than the beef that is commonly available in grocery stores. Unless labeled otherwise, common grocery store meat probably comes from confined animal feed lots where hundreds or thousands of cows are kept in pens, where they are given antibiotics and fed corn to fatten them up quickly. The CO2 emissions from both types of beef are probably the same so we still recommend that you don’t eat either, but if you want to eat beef occasionally, go local, organic, grass-fed.

Resources/Links 

  1. Tips on healthy eating for vegetarians
  2. USDA Guidelines for Healthy Vegetarian Eating 
  3. MedLine plus advice on vegetarian eating
  4. Environmental Working Group 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
  5. Many local food stores have lots of fruits, nuts, beans, veggies and meat alternatives, including Debra’s Natural Gourmet and Crosby’s.
  6. Reducing waste