For political and economic reasons, Americans were encouraged to increase their consumption of meat, for decades. What used to be consumed in small quantities, a few times a week, became a “necessity” at every meal.
“While eating meat a few days a week can be a healthy part of your diet, most Americans eat much more than the USDA recommends,” says Robert S. Lawrence, M.D., Professor in Environmental Health Sciences and director of the Bloomberg School’s Center for a Livable Future.
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show men in the U.S. consume as much as 190% of their recommended daily allowance of protein while women eat as much as 160%. In addition, Americans derive the majority of their protein from meat and other animal sources.
Now, of course, we’ve “discovered” that going meatless, even once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also reduce your carbon footprint and conserve fresh water and fossil fuel.
Reduces risk of cancer: Hundreds of studies suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Both red and processed meat consumption are associated with colon cancer.
Reduces risk of heart disease: A recent Harvard University study found that replacing saturated fat-rich foods, such as red meat and full fat dairy, with foods rich in polyunsaturated fat, such as vegetable oils, nuts and seeds reduces the risk of heart disease by 19%.
Reduces risk of Type 2 diabetes: Research suggests that higher consumption of red and processed meat increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Reduces obesity: People on low-meat or vegetarian diets have lower body weights and body mass indices. A recent study from Imperial College London found reducing overall meat consumption can prevent long-term weight gain.
Plant based foods are naturally low in fat, low in cholesterol, high in vitamins, and rich in minerals, such as iron, calcium, zinc and full of healthy fiber. Fiber helps you to feel full faster, aids in healthy digestion, and lowers the risk of colon cancer and diverticulitis.
Growth hormones and antibiotics aren’t used on plants.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions, more than transportation emissions.
Saves water. The water needs of livestock far exceed those of vegetables or grains. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound versus 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water required to produce a single pound of beef.
Reduces dependence on fossil fuels. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. compared to 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a significant way to cut fossil fuel demand.
How much difference can one night each week really make?
- Greenhouse gas emission reductions would equal everyone in the U.S. switching from a car with average fuel (22 mpg) to a high efficiency car (50 mpg) such as the Toyota Prius.
- We would each save about 1 ton of water, enough to fill up the bathtub 22 times per week.
- We’d collectively save about 12 billion gallons of gasoline.
Meat is more expensive than vegetable based meals. Meat also has to be prepared, which requires electricity, whether it’s the stove, microwave or the oven.
“Meatless meals are a nutritional bargain,” says Seton Outpatient Nutrition Services Senior Clinical Dietitian Wendy Morgan, RD, LD. “You can buy dry beans and combine them with a cornucopia of other vegetables and whole grains to create soups, casseroles and meatless main dishes that are tasty, satisfying and often pennies per serving.”
The “meatless Monday” campaign is the brainchild of John’s Hopkins, Bloomberg School For Public Health. Since its inception, many organizations, restaurants and individuals have instituted meatless Monday’s.
Easy meatless substitutions
- Instead of chicken soup, try split pea or navy bean soup.
- Instead of pasta with meat sauce, try pasta with cannellini beans, zucchini, carrots and fresh tomatoes.
- Instead of bacon, ham, turkey or shrimp on a salad, try chopped nuts or sunflower seeds.
- Instead of a turkey sandwich, try peanut butter, cheese or avocado.
- Instead of a chicken enchilada, try a cheese and bean enchilada or a bean and rice burrito.
Here are links to some satisfying meatless meals.
Some of the recipes call for chicken broth. For truly meatless meals, substitute vegetable broth.
- Beet Borscht
- Berry Cold Berry Soup
- Chunky Gazpacho Soup
- Curried Butternut Squash Bisque
- Summer Cucumber Soup with Yogurt and Dill
- Emerald Spinach Soup with Tomato
- Healthy Potato and Cheese Chowder
- Hot and Sour Soup
- Leek, Asparagus & Herb Soup
- Lentil Soup
- Pumpkin, Potato and Leek Soup
- Roasted Pear and Squash Soup
- Three Cheese Black Bean Chili & Cheddar Crust
- Fresh Tomato Soup Au Gratin
- Two Potato Bisque
- Walnut and Cucumber Gazpacho
- Baked Ziti with Roasted Vegetables
- Avocado Fettuccine
- Roasted Garlic Avocado Pasta
- Pasta with Tomatoes and Cream
- Black Bean Chili
- Cauliflower Lentil Curry
- Eggplant Parmigiana
- Indian Falafel Burger
- Mild Pea and Sweet Potato Curry
- Southwestern Black Bean Cakes with Guacamole
- Spinach Manicotti
- Superb Salad Supper
- Sweet Potato Black Bean and Caramelized Onion Burritos
- Vegetable Frittata
U.S. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health
Livestocks Long Shadow. (2006) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy
Kreith, Marcia. (1991) Water Inputs in California Food Production. Water Education Foundation. Sacramento, CA 95814