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The Case for (Temporary) Meatlessness

March 15, 2011

Take a meatless challenge!

Last week marked the beginning of Lent, when many people choose to abstain from something they love: sweets, meat, TV. Some people take the meatless thing a step further by choosing to practice a vegan diet for this 40-day period (an interesting throwback to Lenten traditions during the Middle Ages, when all animal products were strictly forbidden). 

Aside from religious reasons, giving up meat and/or all animal products—even if just for a fixed period of time—is a great practice to adopt, for a healthier body and a healthier planet. Veganism in particular is a hot topic right now, having garnered much attention last month when Oprah and nearly 400 of her staffers took on a challenge to “go vegan” for one week. Strict vegans might scoff at the idea of temporary vegan-ness, but the truth is, if many people cut out animal products for even just one day (or one meal) a week, it could have a profound impact on the planet, as well as our overall health.

Wanna try veganism for a day? The New York Times recently ran an article featuring lots of great vegan recipes, inspired by people giving up meat for Lent. You can also check out Oprah’s Vegan Starter Kit, which has tons of recipes, tips, and multi-media features to answer questions. 

In the meantime, here’s a list of benefits to reducing consumption of meat and animal products, compiled by the folks at Meatless Monday, a grassroots movement to help people improve their personal health and the health of the planet by cutting out meat once a week.

LIMIT CANCER RISK: Hundreds of studies suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Both red and processed meat consumption are associated with colon cancer

REDUCE HEART DISEASE: Recent data from a Harvard University study found that replacing saturated fat-rich foods (for example, meat and full fat dairy) with foods that are rich in polyunsaturated fat (for example, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds) reduces the risk of heart disease by 19%

FIGHT DIABETES: Research suggests that higher consumption of red and processed meat increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

CURB OBESITY: People on low-meat or vegetarian diets have significantly lower body weights and body mass indices. A recent study from Imperial College London also found that reducing overall meat consumption can prevent long-term weight gain.

LIVE LONGER: Red and processed meat consumption is associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality.

IMPROVE YOUR DIET: Consuming beans or peas results in higher intakes of fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron and magnesium with lower intakes of saturated fat and total fat.

REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT: The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide . . . far more than transportation. And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption once a week can help slow this trend.

MINIMIZE WATER USAGE: The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.

HELP REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.

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