If you're a devout foodie, you may have noticed the sudden spike of vegetarians and vegans in pretty much every part of the food world. From fast food chains offering up veggie burgers, to fine dining spots adding vegan tasting menus, to restaurants that serve only vegetarian food—eating a diet with more plants and less meat is becoming increasingly popular.
Unlike some crazy diet fads, this lifestyle change is rooted in some serious science and logic. Here are some reasons you may want to consider joining the crowd and lowering your daily meat intake.
1. It's cheaper.
If you’re a vegetarian, lentils, beans, and nuts are probably your bffs. These meat substitutes are loaded with protein, fiber, and iron. They can be used in a huge variety of ways, and most importantly, they are ridiculously cheap.
One can of black beans packs as much protein as an entire chicken, and usually costs about 75 cents. Lentils, another nutrient-dense meat alternative, can be bought in bulk for close to nothing.
If you are as broke as I am, money could be more than enough reason to give vegetarianism a shot. But don't be fooled. The price does not reflect the quality. There are so many ways to put together a tasty, meat-free and filling meal without having to worry about the cost.
Unless you are talking fancy, edible gold-dusted tempeh bacon, using a plant-based protein source and less meat every once in a while will keep your wallet in healthy shape.
2. It makes the Earth a little happier.
Americans eat more than 57 pounds more meat per year today than we did 50 years ago. Many people eat meat at every meal. While I admit I probably won't be able to turn everyone into vegetarians, we need to recognize that the amount of meat we are consuming in the U.S. right now is excessive and unnecessary.
The animals we are eating require a huge amount of water and land, and produce over 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Feasting on less meat has greater impact on lowering your carbon footprint than ditching your car. Not only do plant-based protein sources require significantly less water than meat, they don't release terrifying amounts of unwanted gases into the atmosphere.
If that's not enough, there are numerous documentaries on Netflix exposing not just the environmental factor, but the gross mistreatment of the animals that make up our burgers and hot dogs.
Major meat corporations raise and kill their livestock in pretty disgusting and inhumane conditions. While there are a small faction of local farms doing it right, the most accessible and cheap forms of meat come from companies you might not want to support.
3. Plants taste awesome.
I promise there's more to the plant-based lifestyle than lettuce and tofu. Seriously, there is an endless supply of hearty and satisfying plant-based dishes out there. Think falafel waffles, black bean burgers, and veggie stir-fry. You can even create an entire Thanksgiving feast without meat.
If you look into the most popular and sacred recipes of some cultures, you will find a plethora of truly flavorful and filling vegetarian foods. People have been eating and happily surviving without meat for a very long time. The options are truly endless.
Some new and some ancient, all sorts of plant-based meals are offered at almost every restaurant these days. As soon as you start looking for meat-free foods, you will notice that they are all around you.
More and more chefs are transforming vegetables into mouthwatering main courses, and incorporating alternative sources of protein into their dishes. As soon as you open yourself (and your plate) up to a life of less meat and make veggies the star of your meal, you will discover a new world of flavor possibilities that meat just can't compete with.
4. Your body will thank you.
Everyone knows “vegetables are good for you.” They're packed with vitamins and minerals, are low in cholesterol, and they're the ultimate source of fiber. But what does all of this mean?
Plant-based foods have everything your body needs to stay energized, healthy, and properly nourished. There's nothing in meat that you can’t get from a plant-powered plate, and in the end, a well-balanced vegetarian dish will provide your body with more of what it needs than your classic meat-based one.
As if that weren't enough, a plant-heavy diet also reduces your risk of things like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. Plants are jam-packed with nutrients and low in saturated fats and LDL cholesterol. While a steak may leave you in need of a nap, a solid plant-based meal will leave you feeling energized and satisfied.
I do not intend to convert everyone to strict vegetarianism with these four reasons. I don’t think we should free all of the chickens and cows and live solely on veggie burgers. All I'm trying to do is to encourage you to consider having a little less meat in your diet, for your health, your wallet, and the Earth.
For some, maybe that means giving meatless Mondays a go. For others, it could mean letting veggies have their time in the spotlight year-round, or saving meat for special occasions. Perhaps it's sticking to locally sourced meat from farms you actually trust. It could even mean becoming a legit vegan.
If nothing else, just know what it takes to make your food, and find a diet you can enjoy and be proud of.