How Even a Slight Reduction in Meat Eating Takes a Big Burden off the Planet

Personal Health

The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet by Brian Kateman (TarcherPerigee, April 2017).

On a hot summer afternoon in Manhattan, my friend Tyler Alterman and I met for our weekly lunch. Tyler often writes at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, a cozy, dimly lit café near my office at Columbia University, so we decided to meet on the steps of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine just across the street. He noticed I had brought a chicken salad and was surprised by my choice. “Aren’t you a vegetarian?” he asked somewhat sheepishly. I explained to him that I wasn’t a vegetarian but was eating more plant-based meals and was gradually decreasing my meat consumption to improve my health. Tyler shared that he also had been cutting down on meat, for animal welfare reasons, but had difficulty explaining his efforts to others.

From conversations that we’ve had with friends and colleagues, we realized we weren’t alone. There was a growing community of individuals who knew that large-scale meat production and consumption was responsible for a significant amount of global greenhouse gas emissions, for poor health, and for the suffering of animals. And yet they weren’t able or willing to completely eliminate meat from their diet. Some enjoyed the taste of meat; others didn’t want to make a drastic lifestyle change. So they took the advice of Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” They relied on useful strategies like Meatless Monday and Vegan Before 6 to eat less meat for the benefit of themselves and for their environment.

They knew eating less meat made a meaningful difference, but they still struggled to describe their eating choices, particularly to vegans and vegetarians, the modern day pioneers of abstaining from meat and animal products.

These individuals were not vegetarians or vegans or even on any particular diet. And while they knew of terms like semi-vegetarian and mostly vegetarian, they struggled to adopt them as identities because they were exclusive to people who primarily followed a plant-based diet and seemed morally weak and behaviorally inconsistent. It is true that these identities guide incredibly positive steps toward a more sustainable planet, but for many, they invoke negative associations, feelings of division, and moral incompatibility.

Tyler and I realized there was a need for a term for people like us, people who take action to reduce their meat consumption, no matter the degree or motivation. After many brainstorming sessions, in the summer of 2014 we finally came up with the term reducetarian to describe a person who is simply committed to eating less meat. This is how the Reducetarian movement was born.

Reducetarianism is an identity, a community, and a movement. It is composed of individuals who are committed to eating less meat—red meat, poultry, and seafood. It challenges the notion that the only way to reap the benefits of reducing meat consumption is to eliminate meat from our lives entirely and recognizes that people are at different stages of willingness and commitment to eating less meat.

Reducetarianism is inclusive in that vegans and vegetarians are also reducetarians because they too have reduced their meat consumption. It unites the growing community of individuals who are committed to eating less meat and ends what can sometimes feel like a battle among vegans, vegetarians, and all those reducing their consumption of meat. This new perspective provides everyone with a platform—not just vegans and vegetarians—to make small choices to eat less meat in their own lives and collectively to make huge differences in the world.

With less meat and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins such as beans and lentils, reducetarians live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Dr. Michael Orlich and colleagues of Loma Linda University found that among 73,308 Seventh-Day Adventist men and women, compared to typical omnivores, those who ate less meat had up to a 15 percent lower risk of death. In fact, eating less meat and more whole, plant-based foods is one of the lifestyle habits that unites the people living to 100 and beyond in hot spots of longevity—regions called Blue Zones. Reducetarians enjoy these benefits by setting manageable and therefore actionable goals to gradually eat less meat. For example, they may forego eating meat for lunch if they will have it for dinner, skip eating meat on Mondays, or eat it only on the weekends.

Reducetarians know that eating less meat is good not only for themselves but also for the well-being of animals and the planet. Did you know that the average American eats approximately 2,000 land animals in his or her lifetime, leading to the suffering of over 9 billion factory-farmed animals every year in the United States alone? The number of sea animals killed is so high that it's difficult to estimate. It’s pretty simple: The less meat we eat, the more animals we save. And along the way, reducetarians mitigate water scarcity and climate change issues. Dr. Arjen Y. Hoekstra of the University of Twente in the Netherlands found that diets consisting of less meat could reduce food-related water footprints by up to 36 percent. In a separate study, Dr. David Tilman and Mr. Michael Clark of the University of Minnesota calculated that eating more plant-based proteins could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 55 percent. There’s no doubt about it—eating less meat and being a reducetarian is healthy, easy, and good.

Your journey to a healthier, more environmentally friendly, and compassionate lifestyle begins today—and once you’ve discovered how easy and impactful it can be, you’ll want it to last forever.

This excerpt was adapted from the new book The Reducetarian Solution: How the Surprisingly Simple Act of Reducing the Amount of Meat in Your Diet Can Transform Your Health and the Planet by Brian Kateman, © Reducetarian Foundation Inc. Published by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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