Meat Free Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays?
First of all, I’m not a vegan, vegetarian or even a pescetarian. I’ll state from the outset that personally I don’t have a problem with the concept of eating fish, meat or animal products so that’s not what this blog is about. I do however, completely respect different beliefs in this area, and love working with (a growing number of) vegetarian clients.
Secondly, I can’t claim to be an active environmentalist. Don’t get me wrong, I care about the planet, but other than reusing plastic bags, recycling, and being selective with certain cleaning products and cosmetics (no microbeads, thanks!) I’ll admit that there is a lot more I could be doing.
So why exactly am I writing a blog about reducing meat?
Well, there are a few reasons:
As a general rule I encourage clients to widen the variety of their healthy food choices as much as possible. Nutritionally meat and fish are great sources of protein, vitamin B12 and iron, and in the case of oily fish – omega 3 essential fatty acids. Many of these nutrients come in forms that the body can use much more easily than plant based alternatives. Great stuff. But with low carbohydrate, high protein and paleo diets still popular, many of us are eating more meat than we used to. Could there be a down side?
Regardless of your stance on saturated fats (still a lot of controversy in this area...), animal fats and dairy products are also a source of arachadonic fatty acids. These are the “bad” omega 6 fatty acids that, in excess, can encourage inflammation in your body. As far as essential fatty acids go, boosting your omega 3 fatty acids intake is great (eg. with oily fish, walnuts and flax seeds) ; but if you’re eating loads of red meat and dairy as well, you may be making it harder to manage the balance between the two fatty acid groups.
Supporting more vegetarian clients and creating a vegetarian diet plan last year made me look at meat free food ideas and recipes a little more creatively; but as much as they provided more options, it still didn’t encourage me to eat less meat.
Fast forward to Goa at the end of last year, and during the 4 weeks of yoga training I followed a yogic, vegetarian diet. Even though we made our own food at the weekends, I decided to stick with the vegetarian options. That was by far the longest time I had gone without meat, and it was fine. I just didn’t find myself craving meat. The food was amazing, and Indian food lends itself quite naturally to vegetarian diets; but it was also useful for me to know that I could do it, which was part of the challenge I had given myself. At times I did feel that I needed more protein (especially I was trying not to eat too much dairy), and it was quite heavy on the carbohydrates (fine for the amount of yoga we were doing) but otherwise it worked well and I did feel good for it.
When I got back to the UK, I knew that even though I would not be turning vegetarian, I would make a real effort to cut down on the amount of meat that I ate. I’d been away from my kitchen for so long, it was a great excuse to get creative again. Thanks to the idea of Veganuary there was a lot of inspiration in the shops too.
With that idea in my head, I finally got round to watching the documentary, Cowspiracy, on Netflix. This had been in my list for as long as I have had my account, but it always gets skimmed past. Anyway, it felt like the right time to watch it, and I was blown away. As a general rule I’m always sceptical of any documentaries like that, especially with such dramatic titles! Safe to say when I watched it I was fairly incredulous. Even allowing some leeway for some bias, the figures were terrifying.
(If you haven’t watched it yet, I would definitely encourage you to. Even if you are a hardened carnivore, it’s fascinating from an environmental point of view, and who doesn’t love a big helping of big industry conspiracy?!)
Check out some of the key stats below:- 51% of the earth’s greenhouse gases are from livestock farming (compared to 13% from transport)
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of the Amazonian rain forest destruction
- 1/3 of earth’s fresh water is used by the meat and dairy industrywww.cowspiracy.com/infographic
In short – beef and dairy farming are contributing way more to greenhouse gas and climate change than cars are; but it is a huge industry and so the facts are not very widespread.
Organic, free range poultry and animal produce, is not just a better nutritional option (less pesticides and a better omega 3:6 fatty acid ratio), but a more compassionate approach if you do eat meat. Again – I’m not going into the morality of eating meat, but I don’t like the idea of animals being in cages without being able to walk and living in constant pain. Although eating organic eggs won’t break the bank (£2 for 6 organic eggs is still a bargain in my eyes for the nutrients they provide!) other organic meat can be costly. Reducing your meat intake can make the organic meat a more financially viable option...
...Environmentally though, free range, organic beef is not the better option, so less is still better ...
So what now
As I said at the start, I still eat meat; but so much less than before! Beef is now a much rarer treat and I’ve found myself ordering off the vegetarian menu more than a couple of times. I generally avoid cow’s milk for intolerance reasons, so my dairy intake is minimal. There is a lot more to talk about when it comes to meat and dairy as well as fish consumption; but for now this is the first step for me, and hopefully has given you something to chew over ;)