Even those of us who choose to eat burgers and wings can probably agree that vegans and vegetarians are onto something.
But adopting and sticking to an entirely meatless lifestyle is much easier said than done. A recent poll showed that only 5 percent of Americans identify as vegetarian or vegan. Another study found that those who follow a plant-based diet are likely to return to their meat-eating ways at some point — especially after a night of drinking.
Part of the problem with the vegan and vegetarian messaging is that it sounds like an all-or-nothing commitment. These restrictive labels imply that the only way to mitigate the environmental, animal welfare, and health problems associated with meat is to completely eliminate it from one's diet.
And this simply isn’t true. Every plant-based meal is one worth celebrating.
We need to replace static and self-defeating identifiers like “lazy vegan” and “cheating vegetarian” with more inclusive and positive ones. So I coined the term “reducetarian” to celebrate the large community of people who are choosing to eat less meat.
Reducetarians may still enjoy the taste of meat, but they're committed to reducing their carnivorous consumption nonetheless.
With less meat and more fruits and veggies, reducetarians live longer, healthier, and happier lives. A strong body of scientific evidence suggests that increased meat consumption is correlated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. Reducetarians know that eating less meat isn't only good for them — it has environmental benefits as well.
The meat industry is responsible for somewhere between 18 and 50 percent of all global greenhouse gases emitted and a third of freshwater used. Moreover, livestock production is the world’s largest user of land resources. Perhaps most morally relevant, factory farming kills more than 60 billion animals a year — often in brutal and inhumane ways.
If you’re interested in becoming a reducetarian, hold yourself accountable by making an online pledge to eat less meat for the next 30 days. Share your commitment with others. Make a public commitment and encourage friends to join you.
Work to set manageable and therefore actionable goals to gradually eat less meat.
One of your goals can be to participate in Meatless Mondays, or you can choose to only eat meat on the weekends. Try to order an 8-ounce steak instead of a 16-ounce one or abstain from eating meat for dinner if you had it for lunch. When preparing dinner at home, modify your favorite recipes by using half the meat and double the vegetables or swapping out that beef burger on the grill for a veggie one.
Most importantly, don’t despair — you can always get back on the reducetarian wagon by simply eating less meat at your next meal.
In many ways, the use of categorical imperatives — that we must never eat meat — has put vegans, vegetarians, and those who strive to eat less meat in a boxing match for moral superiority. It’s exhausting, and as the data suggests, largely unproductive. Ultimately, reducetarianism allows us to focus not on our differences but on our shared commitment to eating less meat, regardless of where we fall along this spectrum.
So, remember: Small acts lead to great impacts. And when it comes to meat consumption, it doesn't have to be all or nothing.