If you love a juicy burger but you also care about the environment, it’s likely that you’re often conflicted about your food choices. Perhaps you’re worried about the health effects of eating so much meat but can’t give up the bacon for breakfast?
You’re not alone.
There’s a growing number of meat lovers who want to make better choices. To both save the planet and improve their health. If this is you, then the flexitarian lifestyle might be exactly what you’re looking for.
What on Earth Is a Flexitarian?
It’s possible that you’ve never heard the word flexitarian. But the term has been around for more than ten years. A flexitarian is someone who primarily follows a vegetarian diet. But they will also occasionally indulge in animal products.
Unlike the ethical reasons for being a vegan or vegetarian, a flexitarian makes food choices based on health or environmental grounds.
The Problem With Meat
The way we’re currently farming and feeding billions of people isn’t sustainable. There are many issues that contribute to the complexity and scale of the problem with meat.
The world’s population is growing. The UN estimate that there will be 9 billion of us by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Today the world’s populations stands at around 7.5 billion.
To put that into perspective, the UK population is around 65 million people. China’s population is almost 1.4 billion people. So we’re potentially adding the equivalent of another China to the world in only 32 years time. And everyone needs to be fed.
Producing 1 kg of beef requires 15 times as much land as producing 1 kg of cereals. Producing this same amount of beef requires 70 times as much land as producing 1 kg of vegetables.
The livestock industry is responsible for generating more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, buses, trains and planes in the world combined.
Livestock eat 1.3 billion tonnes of grain every year. It takes 10 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef. On average, 40% of global grain production is used for livestock feed. In richer countries the proportion of grain used for animal feed increases to around 70%. Much of this grain could instead be used for human consumption.
To meet the demand for meat, huge areas of land must be cleared to grow this grain and to rear animals. In Central America alone, 40% of the natural rainforest has been cleared in the last 40 years. Much of this has been used for cattle pasture.
On average, it takes over 15,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of beef. That’s equal to 61 barrels of wine! 1 kg of lamb uses 8,700 litres and 1 kg of pork requires 6,000 litres.
In the past half-century meat consumption per-capita has more than doubled. This means more water, land, feed, fertilizer, fuel and waste. These are all limited resources. The demand for meat is also estimated to grow by 75% between now and 2050.
If you’re concerned about not consuming enough of a specific nutrient on a plant-based diet, you needn’t worry. A diet of whole, plant-based foods provides all the nutrients, fibre and protein that we need. It also reduces our calorie intake from saturated fat, helping to decrease our risk of heart disease and obesity.
The only exception is vitamin B12, which is generally only found in animal-based foods. Many plant-based foods are now fortified with B12, such as the Moving Mountains “Bleeding” B12 Burger. You probably shouldn’t eat burgers every day, so you might need a B12 supplement too.
Transition to Eating Less Meat by Going Flexitarian
For a meat-lover, removing meat, and all other animal products from your diet is no mean feat. So why not go flexitarian?
Reducing the amount of animal products you consume will help look after the environment and your own health.
Dietary labels such as vegan or vegetarian can be absolute, off putting, and intimidating. As long as you’ve done your research and are feeling good about what you eat, that’s all that matters.
How to Become a Flexitarian
Don’t be afraid to cut down very slowly. Try limiting meat and dairy to once a day, then once a week, then once a month. Do what feels comfortable to you.
When you do eat meat, eat better quality, free range or organic meat.
Change your view of meat. Change what used to be the staple ingredient of a meal, to a flavouring agent in much smaller quantities.
Be confident that plant-based foods can give you all the nutrients you need. Plus, they really can keep you full!
Mix up your protein – think mushrooms, tofu, beans and chickpeas.
Plan your meals in advance to make it easier to stick to your new diet.
Remember that your freezer is your friend! Fruit and veg can go off quickly but you can prolong their life by freezing them.
Buy some new plant-based recipe books to inspire yourself. Books from plant-based gurus Mildreds and BOSH are great examples. They can help you see the transition to eating less meat as an exciting adventure and opportunity to try new things.
Whichever way you approach being a flexitarian, remember that it’s designed to be flexible. Take it slowly and don’t give yourself a hard time if you crave the occasional steak or bacon roll!