Recently, Audubon intern Shawn Query gave us some good reasons to swear off plastic bags, along with other changes we can make in order to practice whatever brand of environmentalism we preach. As her term ends and my internship begins, I thought I'd expand on one of her ideas. I became a vegetarian back in January. As a former devotee of "delicacies" like cheeseburgers and turkey cold cuts, if two years ago someone had told me I'd one day be a veg-head, I'd have thought they'd lost it.
I came to this decision as I became increasingly aware of what's wrong with modern meat. I won't go through the litany of reasons--but just consider this: a six ounce steak requires about 16 times more fossil fuel energy to produce than a meal of rice and vegetables that provides the same calories. This is not to mention the rivers polluted, water consumed, forests cleared, and antibiotics used to bring beef to our plate, as noted in a 2006 United Nations report.
Vegetarianism is a big lifestyle choice that not everyone wants to make. Like learning a new language, I think a vegetarian diet is more easily acquired at a young age. But even reducing your meat consumption incrementally is a good environmental decision. I'd like to offer some suggestions that helped me phase out my burger-guzzling ways. Others tips can be found here, along with tons of recipes.
1) Cut the slabs: Reduce your consumption by foregoing whole portions of steak, chicken breast, or fish fillet. Chop up smaller portions in salad or pasta instead.
2) Treat meat like a treat: Try meat-less weekdays, but allow it on weekends. Or stop cooking meat at home, and instead, order it only in restaurants. Cut out, say, the breakfast bacon and lunchtime sandwich, but serve it up for dinner.
3) Eat meat only at home: You control what's in your fridge--stock it with meats that do less harm. Fill your freezer with free-range chicken and grass-fed beef and know which fish are over-fished. Avoid meat as it comes served by way of a waiter or take-out window.
4) Try substitutes: I've awoken to the versatile joys of beans and tofu and veggie burgers. Yet I can't stand any "meat" that requires quotation marks. Of course, don't knock it before you try it.
As for me, after reducing my meat indulgences to a bi-weekly frequency, I became a vegetarian because all-or-nothing decisions happen to be easier on my resolve. Though I've been nothing but happy so far, summer BBQ season is just around the corner and I have yet to refuse a Thanksgiving turkey. Who knows whether my willpower will hold? Still, by this point--whether vegetarian or flexitarian--I think I've permanently reduced my personal impact by many fleshy tons.
- Jessica Leber