Steps toward Sustainability: The Flexitarian Diet

As I change my daily routine to become more mindful and sustainable, one of the changes I have made is to go vegetarian once a week!

When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, people usually discuss driving less, recycling, turning the water off when we brush our teeth and the lights out when we leave a room. While all of these actions aid in the reduction of greenhouse gases, one of the most effective changes we can make is in our diets, yet few people seem to consider this.

A study found that as the world population rises and more countries eat Westernized diets (high volumes of red meat, dairy, and processed foods), “It could lead to dangerous levels of climate change with higher occurrences of extreme weather events, affect the regulatory function of forest ecosystems and biodiversity…and pollute water bodies such that it would lead to more oxygen-depleted dead zones in oceans.”

According to the study, animal production generates 78% of total agricultural emissions due to the methane gas that is released from cattle through digestion and manure. This manure becomes runoff when it rains, washing into and polluting water sources and contributing to dead zones.

When you compare the effort and efficiency of raising animals compared to plants, the difference is staggering. For example, “beef is more than 100 times as emissions-intensive as legumes,” due to the amount of feed, water, and land it takes to raise cattle.

So how can we change our diets to make a positive impact? While many would argue that a completely plant-based diet would be the most effective, This diet for the average person is not sustainable. While I currently don’t plan on becoming vegan, this doesn’t mean I can’t make changes in my diet to help the planet. Enter “flexitarian”- someone who still consumes meat, but does so in a smaller amount and consumes more fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The study believes that this diet “is the least stringent that is both healthy and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough for us to stay within environmental limits.”

So what do I eat on my vegetarian days?

You may find the switch to flexitarian easier than expected. I went into this “diet” (it’s not about restricting calories, just being mindful about your food choices) eating red meat only a few times a month due to cost and nutrition. I eat vegetarian once a week, and try to incorporate one vegetarian meal a day. I don’t feel like I’m restricting myself, because it helps me make mindful decisions that benefit not only the environment but my own health. You can find more ideas about what to eat here!

Breakfast: Avocado Toast with Spinach and Egg

food-2655269_960_720This is one of my favorite foods of all time, no matter how “basic” it is. You can cook the egg to your preference, and you only need half an avocado to spread two slices of bread. Add some spinach for an extra serving of greens, and there you go!

Lunch: Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Sweet Potato, Quinoa, and Avocado

This meal is actually vegan, though you could add an egg to it if you’d like. Because it is mostly veggies, you can fill up your bowl and eat until you’re satisfied. This is my favorite meal right now!

Dinner: Fake chicken Teriyaki with Riced Veggies

Whenever I’m craving a not-so-healthy meal, this is my go to without the guilt! The fake chicken I use is from Gardein (tofu would also work), which comes with the teriyaki sauce. Stir in the riced veggies after steaming in the microwave, and you have a sit-and-watch-Netflix meal.

 If over the course of a year you:

Ate one less burger a week, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for 320 miles.

Skip meat and cheese one day a week with your family, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for five weeks – or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes.

Skip steak once a week with your family, it would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for nearly three months.

And if the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.


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