It is long overdue for Americans to commit to making life better for themselves, our planet, and all of its inhabitants, starting with what’s on our plates. Public figures from Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Cory Booker to Carrie Underwood, Ellen DeGeneres, and Usher, have all come to the same conclusion: choosing to eat delicious, meat-free meals can have a noticeably positive impact on our health and the world we live in. They are a just a few of the millions of people across the country who are taking a break from the standard American meat-centered diet.
Prestigious organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Heart Association have been advocating for a shift toward a more plant-based diet. The medical community’s research found eating more vegetarian meals can reduce our chances of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, three of the leading causes of death in the U.S. It also helps us reduce the chances of becoming obese, which could lead to a host of other health issues.
Not only is reducing meat consumption a painless way to improve our health, but it is also a powerful way to reduce our impact on climate change. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. In Sierra Club’s “True Cost of Food” materials, its advice for us is pretty clear: “Eat more vegetables, fruit, and grains and less meat.” According to The New York Times, “If Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius.”
When eating meat, eggs, and dairy, we should consider where those products came from. In most cases, the animals were forced to live in conditions that we would likely find unacceptable. Chickens are immobilized in small cages, unable to spread their wings. Breeding pigs are locked in crates so cramped they cannot even turn around for essentially their whole lives.
Fortunately, incorporating vegetarian and vegan meals into our diet is easier and more delicious than ever. A quick Google search for “easy vegan/vegetarian recipes” will give you mouthwatering, and free, recipes to whip up at home. Many of the meals we are used to are already meat-free, including protein-packed vegetarian chili, hearty bean burritos, and the classic spaghetti with marinara sauce and veggies. We can also bring back our childhood favorites like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hummus wraps.
It’s never been more in tune with the times to choose a less resource-intensive and more animal-friendly diet. Major restaurant chains such as Denny’s, Chipotle, Burger King, and PF Chang’s have satisfying, plant-based meal items. And why not expand our meal choices with international fare like that found at Chinese, Thai, Ethiopian, and Mexican restaurants, which seem to have a long list of meat-free dishes to satisfy even the hungriest customer.
I realize what we choose to eat is a deeply personal experience. The Humane Society of the United States believes any positive steps in creating a healthier, more humane food system should be applauded. That’s why we advocate the Three Rs: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products and “refining” our diets by switching to products from sources adhering to higher animal welfare standards.
The current high levels of meat consumption in the U.S. support inhumane practices in industrial factory farms, and push small family farmers out of business. Eating less meat is better for animals, creates less waste and pollution, and places more value on humane and sustainable agriculture, which benefits family farmers and generates more income for rural communities.
Taking part in Meatless Monday, Vegan Before Six, or other easy meat reduction strategies is a small step toward saving farm animals from the horrors of large-scale factory farms. It’s an easy commitment to honor to help create a more humane society. The ASPCA has declared April as Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, so when is a better time to start than now?
It’s not about taking the final steps; it’s about taking the first. Find a path forward that works for you and know you have the power to choose foods that make us healthier, the planet cleaner, and cause animals less suffering. Will you join the millions on this journey?
Image source: Marilyn Peddle / Flickr