I grew up eating meat every day of my life. It never really crossed my mind about where the meat came from, or how the animals had lived before they ended up on my plate. When I did start questioning it and looking into it, I was pretty horrified. I quickly decided I no longer wanted to eat meat, and I didn’t want to feed it to my kids. We are not vegetarian, we just don't eat meat. We do eat fish , although I’d love to stop that one day too.
I believe that worldwide, we eat far too much meat. The majority of meat is produced quickly and cheaply to keep up with the demand, so unfortunately the animals are subjected to a horrific life; they are farmed specifically to be slaughtered, living their entire lives in cages with no room to move, before their lives are ended in the slaughterhouse. I know not all animals are reared this way, but the reality is that two out of every three animals are factory farmed.
Environmentally the impact of meat production is devastating. The Food & Agricultural Organisation says that livestock production is responsible for around 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, although other organisations have this figure at closer to 50%. The Amazon Rainforest – which has been called the lungs of the earth – has been facing severe deforestation problems for decades and in the last 30 years it has decreased in size by a fifth, with around 70% of that to be converted to pastures for cattle to graze. The reality is scary. If just one person decided not to eat any meat on a Monday for a whole year, their carbon footprint would be reduced by the same amount as not driving your car for a whole month – pretty amazing!
And then there is the health impact - it’s no secret that eating less meat, particularly processed meat, is going to be beneficial for your health. Those who stick to a plant based diet eat fewer calories, less fat and have a much lower risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and type2 diabetes.
If you love eating meat, and don't think you could ever leave it out completely from your diet, then cutting down is definitely an option. The term 'flexitarian' has actually been coined to describe someone who eats mostly plant based foods, but occasionally eats meat – why not work on your flexibility and start reaping the health benefits?
What are the other options?
You could include tofu in place of meat in some dishes or add beans and legumes to stews and casseroles – all provide you with good amounts of protein, and really are delicious. I did struggle when I first stopped eating meat, it was difficult to think of new meals and we ended up eating the same dinners over again, but thankfully there are so many amazing recipes available online we have a bit more variety these days.
Feel free to share your favourite veggie dishes – I love finding out what other people eat for dinner – it's a great way to get new ideas and inspiration!
Good luck to anyone who decides to give it a try!