For a number of years, I had been talking about becoming a vegetarian. I could see the health benefits as well as environmental benefits, but completely removing meat seemed a bit extreme for my tastes.
I recently discovered flexitarianism, a vegetarian diet where one eats meat occasionally. I limit my intake of meat and seafood, but I can still enjoy a hamburger at a barbeque. Though strict vegetarians and vegans may find this unacceptable, I am experiencing many benefits, some of which were completely unexpected.
Most striking in this period of rampant inflation is that my food bill has decreased. Meat and seafood have always been expensive, but consumers are now paying upwards of 20 per cent more for many of these products. Without them in my grocery cart, I can get a lot of delicious alternatives for much less money.
The other unforeseen advantage is that it is so much easier to keep my kitchen clean. Meat is really messy to cook with and meat fat gets all over everything. In addition, I don’t have to worry about salmonella and other maladies carried by meat juices or undercooked meat. This has certainly reduced the stress of food preparation and made cleaning much less arduous.
There are, of course, many health benefits to eating less meat. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these include a decreased risk of heart disease, weight loss, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes and management of pre-diabetes, as well as reduced risk of cancer. After several weeks of flexitarianism, I have to admit that I feel really good.
In all of this, the elephant in the room is the environmental cost of meat and seafood. Global fish stocks are depleted, and they are unlikely to recover without a decrease in consumer demand. Meat production contributes significantly to greenhouse gasses.
Not only that, but creating pastureland also makes it more difficult for the environment to recover from greenhouse gas emissions. The Amazon jungle is often referred to as the lungs of the earth. Deforestation in South America to allow for the expansion of the cattle industry is worsening climate disruption, and much of the beef produced there is for North American markets.
We also need to consider how much animals eat. A study at Cornell University estimates that 800 million people could be fed with the amount of grain that is now fed to livestock in the United States. Given the fact that the war in Ukraine is causing a global food crisis, now would be a good time for those of us in wealthy countries to leave more food for our neighbours.
Because much of the world eats very little meat, there are many amazing recipes for delicious meals that do not include meat. Since becoming flexitarian, I have rediscovered some incredible dishes in my traditional Middle Eastern cookbook, and I know that I have just begun to scratch the surface of culinary possibilities.
Many individuals and families are looking for ways to make ends meet as we watch our paycheques shrink due to inflation. As individuals, we do not control global markets, government policies or the decisions of our employers not to pay us what we deserve. None of us can stop global warming or the war in Ukraine. Each of us does, however, control the way we respond to the current crisis. We choose whether to be part of the problem or part of the solution.
Becoming flexitarian stretches our grocery budget, improves our health, reduces stress in the kitchen, and allows us to enjoy culinary delights, including the occasional serving of meat and seafood. In addition, we are able to do our part in preserving the planet for future generations and we are able to reduce the impact of the global food crisis.
It really is a great time to become flexitarian. Trust me, you’ll love it.
Gerry Chidiac is a Prince George writer.