In 2003, the American Dialect Society awarded ‘flexitarian’ as the year’s most useful word… this is interesting, considering that perhaps 7 people actually know what it is! Well, I recently became one of these 7 and will help to push this figure into double digits… a flexitarian is a “vegetarian who occasionally eats meat”… Yes, confusing and contradictory… so why bother? Aren’t we labeled enough? Yes, but to be quite honest, anything that can help ‘steer’ us away from the meat industry is a welcomed friend (pun intended).
Committed vegetarians make up only 3% of our population… it is this select few who might have issues with flexitarians…. ‘part-time vegetarians’ or ‘vegetarians with little will power’ have been used to describe this ambiguous classification of eaters. There’s no time for hatin’ though… because two people who cut their meat consumption in half is the same as one person going completely veg, and that’s a huge deal!
So why the beef with beef? Oh man… a million different reasons! Here are just a handful:
- The world’s meat consumption multiplied 5 fold since 1950 (we kill 10 billion animals a year in US alone).
- 30% of the Earth’s land surface is directly or indirectly devoted to raising the animals we eat (this number is somehow projected to double in 40 years).
- 18% of Green House Gases come from livestock production (more than the entire transportation industry).
- It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to make 1 pound of beef… a pound of lettuce = 15 gallons, potatoes = 30 gallons, apples = 83 gallons of water.
- Millions of acres of rain forest are cleared each year for cattle ranchers, further accelerating climate change.
- Lifestyle diseases like diabetes, strokes, heart disease, and certain cancers are far more prevalent in US than other parts of the world and can be directly attributed to our higher demand for meat and dairy.
- Half of all antibiotics are fed to livestock… this is potentially scary as it would be harder for people to fight diseases that have immunities to antibiotics.
- Factory farming is inhumane and disgusting, creating acres of ‘manure lagoons’ that pollute neighboring areas.
Pow… that list was like a body blow from Evander Holyfield! It’ll take the breath right out of you!… Clearly the consequences of this system are massive, but unfortunately there really isn’t a whole lot going on to address these issues. It’s one thing to tell people to drive less or to switch to CFL light bulbs, but to tell them to give up hamburgers or bacon is much more personal and subjectively offensive. This is sadly ironic because it’s significantly easier to alter our diets than say the transportation industry…
And quickly hitting on the water issue… you might have breezed right by the number of gallons it takes to produce a pound of beef (2,500.) To put this into perspective, we use around 5,000 gallons of water a YEAR for showering!… So why is it that we are told to think that shorter showers are a legitimate solution when there’s this brontosaurus in the corner? What’s wrong with this picture? If I were to ask someone to choose between a quarter pound burger or a month and a half of showering, I’m guessing most would choose the hygienic option!
Here in America, people for some reason feel that they need to have meat with every meal. It certainly doesn’t help that factory farms have been heavily subsidized, making it cost effective for the masses to indulge in their carnivorous ways… doesn’t it seem a little odd that it costs more to get a head of lettuce from the grocery store than a meal-ready double cheeseburger from a fast food chain? Considering the embodied energy, water, and resources of the two, and the negative health effects from malnutrition, this is pretty absurd!
This post is particularly relevant for me because the past 5 months or so I’ve been doing the vegetarian thing… errr flexitarian thing… I’m eating about 98% meat-free now… couldn’t quite completely give up the omnivore status… When I do choose to eat meat though, I make sure that it is free-range, grass fed, and local. I’m also staying away from red meat as much as possible, going more for fish and chicken (much smaller eco-footprints, but just as tasty over an open flame! mmmmm). I was initially worried that I’d get cravings for a juicy cut of prime rib or a rack of ribs, but interestingly the opposite has happened. I’ve become ravenous for veggies! My pallet has rapidly adapted to enjoy all the non-meat offerings out there and I’ve found that I’m cooking for myself a lot more than before…
There are hundreds of studies showing that a vegan diet is the healthiest, and thousands more showing that meat is natural and necessary for us to eat… we shouldn’t be debating this right now. We really should be discussing how the developed countries of the world can break their addiction to the quantity of meat that is being consumed. A concept called ‘Meatless Mondays’ has been thrown around with the intention of getting people comfortable with the idea of going meat-free for at least one day a week. In Belgium, an entire town is taking this concept and running with it. The Flemish city of Ghent has designated every Thursday as “Veggiedag” — Veggie Day — calling for meat-free meals to be served in schools and public buildings. A link to an article by Time magazine on Ghent HERE… curious how they will enforce this… veggie police?… “YOU! Drop that schnitzel and put your hands in the air!!!”…
I recently read that an individual who switches from a traditional American diet to a vegetarian one creates more of an environmental benefit than someone who switches from driving a Hummer to a Prius! How’s that for going green!… Some powerful stuff indeed, but it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing undertaking. A whole lotta people making moderate changes makes a bigger difference than a handful of virtuous ones…. so on that note, Flexitarians Unite! (And if you’re already a vegetarian, treat yourself to a nice long shower today!)