How to Actually Cut Back on Meat

A lot of people intend to reduce their meat consumption for many great reasons, but alas, the law of inertia makes it hard to change.  Anyone who has ever been in a row boat knows that it’s way easier to adjust the angle than to turn around.  That’s why I wrote up this list of lower meat diets–a menu if you will–of lifestyles.  It turns out that cutting back on meat consumption is one of the most incredibly impactful actions an individual can take, so take a look and see if any of the diets I mention would be a good fit for you and be sure to share this article with friends who may be of the same mind…

Whether you’re passionate about cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions, saving water, fighting poverty and inequality, deforestation or public health, cutting back on meet has a shockingly big positive impact.  But many people never take the first step because we tend to see eating meat as a binary choice–you do it or you don’t.  So consider this an invitation to move beyond the binary and start making an impact with a lower-meat diet that you can adopt effortlessly within the confines of your lifestyle.

Chances are, you already recycle and save water and electricity when you can. So from a standpoint of efficacy, you might as well start making an adjustment in the area with the biggest positive impact–which is diet, hands down. If what you’re looking for is recipes and ideas for replacing your protein with plant-based sources, then this article about my vegan bodybuilding meal plan may give you some good ideas.

With out further ado, let’s look at this list, in approximate order from smallest to biggest positive impact.

    A campaign image from

    This diet gets the week started off right with a day of fresh, plant-based meals.  It can be especially effective as a way of communal lifestyle change and is a great option for roommates or families trying to live sustainably.  It’s also a great opportunity for food activism, or sharing great recipes to show meat-eaters the possibilities of excellent vegetarian or vegan food.

  2. WEEKEND VEGETARIAN For those who see the value in eating less meat but are daunted by the task of learning a completely new way of cooking, this is a good option.  Weekdays can be intensely busy, but weekends provide an opportunity to slow down and experiment with new recipes.  In this way, you can expand your culinary horizons and add to your repertoire of go-to meals to cook at home, which makes this diet a great way to transition towards vegetarian or vegan living. Whether it’s a long term plan or a stepping stone, the weekend vegetarian diet is accessible to everyone and can reduce meat consumption by 30%.
     In the summer of 2011, the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg turned some heads by announcing “I just killed a pig and a goat” in his Facebook status. He later explained that his personal challenge for 2011 (he gives himself a challenge each year) was to only eat animals that he personally hunted or killed.  Thus, the original meat sourcing method of humans everywhere was reborn and dubbed The Zuckerberg diet. He explained as follows: “I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat.  So my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have.” While the extent to which this diet reduces social and environmental impact depends on the consumption habits of the user, it may be a beneficial way of transitioning to eating less meat.  Those who feel no ethical qualms over taking life for their nourishment may at least use this method to hunt animals which have not endured factory farm life and in some cases, which have not been fed with valuable grains which could feed several times more humans directly.
    Though, I am not Mormon, their scripture clearly indicates that Mormons should consume meat sparingly.  Their writings state that ‘Flesh of beasts and fowls of the air [are ordained] for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly.”  A discussion of these writings can be found at this website.  But suffice here  to say that this is a deliberately low-meat diet, containing predominantly plant-based foods. Based on direct and literal interpretation of the passage above, those who follow this Mormon diet may eat meat, but do so in a spirit of appreciation (or thanksgiving) and minimize their portions.  In this way, one who only consumes one to two ounces of meat at a given meal, (about the size of one or two fingers) will reduce their environmental impact and enjoy better health.

    For those who wish to reduce their environmental impact relative to a traditional western diet, pescatarian is a bit of an improvement.  Relative to chicken, pork and beef, farmed fish requires fewer resources and greenhouse gas emissions per pound. With that said, it’s important to be conscientious of unsustainable fishing and sourcing methods.  A good way to keep an eye on this is with the Seafood Watch App.  Of course, if everyone went pescatarian, it would further overwhelm the world’s oceans, but for the time being it’s slightly more sustainable than normal meat-eating.
    For those who want to have a much more substantial impact, weekday vegetarianism can be nearly as effective as a fully vegetarian diet, while retaining the possibility to eat whatever you want on Saturday and Sunday. Weekdays are a straightforward framework for majorly reducing you meat consumption and forming parallel habits for weekdays and weekends which take thinking out of the equation and allow for positive impact through habit-inertia.  More info on the idea of weekday vegetarianism can be found in Graham Hill’s ted talk.
     A fridgetarian commits to keeping a meat free home but leaves open the option of consuming meat and other animal products when out with friends.  This can be an impactful option for those who would be inclined to go vegetarian but fear that it could limit their social lives.  While there is no reason to think that it should, this option offers flexibility that can help someone decide to make a commitment. With that said, this diet is intended to be more than a punchline for someone who eats out every day.  Those who genuinely want to make an impact should use this label in earnest, try to acquire most their protein from plant based sources and avoid beef for good measure, as it’s impact greatly exceeds that of other meats.
     A holidarian adopts a vegetarian diet year-round but preserves the option of eating meat during holiday meals.  For those with a strong cultural heritage, there can be a powerful attachment to holiday meals with family.  In truth, a loving family will understand and accommodate your dietary preferences, especially if you explain them politely.  But those who are on the fence for this reason, can leap off and go holidarian.

    Though there’s no consensus on the exact meaning of this term, I think of flexitarianism as a diet which focuses on not contributing to the demand for meat, but is otherwise “flexible.”  For example, a flexitarian might partake of some chicken leftover from a banquet if they knew it would otherwise go to waste.  In other words, a flexitarian is open to consuming meat provided that they don’t contribute to market demand by purchasing or letting others purchase meat for their consumption. This was my dietary framework for about 3 years during college before I began moving towards a vegan diet.  It’s also basically the diet of Buddhist monks, as the Vinaya instructs its adherents to accept whatever alms they are given, meat or not, so long as no animal is specifically slaughtered for their consumption.   If what’s important to you is erasing your impact, then removing all traces of financial support for the meat industry from your diet by going “flexitarian” is a good way to go.

    This is the diet of one of the most influential bodybuilders of the 20th century, Bill Pearl, who won 5 Mr. America titles and wrote several strength training textbooks. By retaining eggs and dairy, you can still have animal protein while somewhat reducing strain on the planet. This is because eggs and dairy have a lower feed conversion ratio than meat.As a result, eating these options reduces strain on feed grain, farmland and irrigation water.  This can have a surprisingly massive impact, which you can read about in this article. If going vegan feels like too drastic of a change, it’s because it is a big change for most people.Moreover, what many vegans sometimes forget in their newfound zeal is that a large proportion of them had some experience with a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet before transitioning to a fully plant-based diet. If any of these options can help systematically and effectively cut back on meat consumption, then you’re encouraged to take the leap.It is the most impactful lifestyle change that most of us can make, for reasons I’ve discussed in this article. So if you feel ready to take the leap, make some kind of mental commitment based on the options above then share this on social to help others do the same. If everyone were to cut back, the positive impact on society and the planet would be truly massive.

    Photo links to my vegan bodybuilding meal plan.

    [Jaras Watts is a vegan bodybuilder and writer living in Southern China.  He is fluent and literate in Mandarin and Spanish, enjoys playing ping pong and suspects he could qualify for a Guinness world record for most tofu eaten in a 1 year period. He advocates for reduced meat consumption with a focus on China and the US which are the number 1 and 2 consumers of meat on earth. He is an aspiring writer and really appreciates when people sign up for his email list and share his work.]

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