For many compassionate omnivores, mention of the word “vegan” draws up mixed feelings. You may feel guilty, envious, helpless or even judged as you grapple with wanting to make a difference, yet feeling incapable of going “full plants ahead.”
These conflicted feelings are at the heart of the reducetarian movement. In his TEDx Talk, Brian Kateman, co-founder and president of the Reducetarian Foundation, said he feels these connotations hold, “at least in part, a key to solving complex problems like global warming and the loss of biodiversity.”
Much like going vegan-ish or flexitarian or partaking in Meatless Mondays, reducetarianism empowers individuals to cut back on animal products for greater good. By eating less meat, seafood, dairy products and eggs, Kateman and his foundation assert, you can enhance the environment, your health and the lives of farm animals. While Kateman is not a vegan, he seems to be onto something too.
Here are some of the reasons you may want to bid farewell to meaty overindulgence and welcome more plants into your diet.
1. You Want to Be Like Beyoncé
Numerous celebrities are making plant-inclined diets as chic as red-carpet fashion. Singer Beyoncé and rapper Jay-Z went fully vegan for 22 days for what they called a “spiritual and physical cleanse.” Former president Bill Clinton eats primarily vegan vittles, but has allowed himself wiggle room for occasional animal proteins, such as fish. Media maven and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey championed Meatless Mondays at her studio.
Celebrity influence may not seem like the most noble reason to eat fewer animal products, but it’s a powerful one.
"It’s valuable because it awakens people to the need for a revolutionary shift in how we eat,” said Victoria Moran, author of “Main Street Vegan,” host of the Main Street Vegan podcast and director of the Main Street Vegan Academy.
Moran believes that veganism is the way of the future, but that many people aren’t prepared to transition quickly to the lifestyle. “They need to see from people they admire that small changes matter,” she said. “And, statistically, they absolutely do.”
2. You Care About the Environment
Americans consume billions of pounds of meat and dairy products annually from billions of animals. Global meat production tripled (to around 600 billion pounds) between 1971 and 2010, according to the Environmental Working Group. All of this requires huge amounts of pesticides, fuel, chemical fertilizer, feed and water while simultaneously generating significant amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic manure and wastewater that pollute lakes, rivers and oceans.
Cutting back on animal products can help shrink your eco-footprint. Lamb, beef, cheese, farmed salmon and pork are particularly damaging to the planet, says the EWG, as they generate the most greenhouse gas and require more resources, such as pesticides, water and chemical fertilizer.
When you do opt for meat or dairy products, you can make greener choices. For example, you can swap out commercial milk, yogurt and cheese for organic varieties from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals. It may cost more up front, but if you commit to eating fewer or smaller portions, you may even end up saving money.
3. You Worry About Animals
While many vegans feel there is no ethical way to consume animal products, many plant-based enthusiasts feel somewhat differently. Perhaps you want to eat eggs, but you dislike the way many hens are treated by being kept cramped in tiny cages or injected with hormones. Or maybe you’ve heard that pigs are among the world’s smartest animals and feel torn about consuming such a perceptive creature.
If you feel conflicted about eating animal products or because of the ways conventional farm animals are treated, reducetarianism provides a way to lower your intake and industry demand, leading to fewer animals facing harm.
Based on national averages, each person who gives up meat completely saves nearly 200 animals per year. If you currently consume meat as regularly as many Americans, cutting your intake by half could save close to 100. To ensure that the animals you consume are treated as well possible before they’re processed for meat, choose organic, pasture-raised meats whenever possible.
4. You Want to Boost Your Health
A study published in Circulation in March 2015 analyzed the effects of a vegetarian-inclined diet on heart disease. In reviewing the cardiovascular health and diets of more than 450,000 people ages 35 to 70, researchers linked leaning toward vegetarianism with a 20 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease. The most helpful diets emphasized nutritious plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts and olive oil.
Plant-based diets are also linked with a lower risk of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer, according to the American Heart Association. By eating fewer foods that increase inflammation and risks for these diseases, such as high-fat, processed meats and dairy products, you’ll have more room in your diet for beneficial fare. Foods like legumes, whole grains, flaxseeds and plant oils are valuable staples of a heart-healthy diet.
5. You Struggle to Meet Your Nutrient Needs
For many people, a fully plant-based diet can fulfill all essential nutrient needs — which can’t be said about a diet consisting of animal products alone. People who have conditions that affect nutrient absorption, however, such as celiac disease and colitis, or who’ve had intestinal damage, may have a tougher time meeting their nutrient needs, such as protein, iron and vitamin B-12, without some amount of animal fare.
These folks may also have difficulty tolerating high-fiber foods, such as legumes and whole grains, which vegetarian diets tend to emphasize. During symptom flare-ups, they also require more protein than the average person, says the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.
If you fall into this camp yet want to go plant-based, working moderate amounts of animal-based foods into your lifestyle may help fill in nutritional gaps while helping you through these flare-ups.
You may also benefit nutritionally from reducetarianism if you’d love to go vegetarian but have an allergy to plant foods, such as legumes, that would make doing so difficult — or if you simply don’t feel equipped to eat a well-planned plants-only lifestyle.
6. Going Vegan Feels Restrictive
Many vegetarians and vegans find tremendous freedom in eating diets sans meat or animal products altogether. For many others, however, such diets feel highly restrictive, which can lead to feelings of defeat if you give it a try, then cave and eat a cheeseburger.
“I struggled with an eating disorder for many years, so going completely without meat or dairy feels rigid to me, which can trigger old thought patterns and behaviors I need to avoid,” said Sandra S.
For people like Sandra, stepping toward vegetarianism while allowing yourself flexibility to consume some animal products can act as an important form of self care.
A fully vegan diet can also feel restrictive to people who’ve eaten meat-heavy diets their entire lives, have other dietary limitations, such as allergies, or who live in geographical areas where vegan options at grocery stores and restaurants are relatively few and far between.
“I feel great knowing I’m making a positive difference for animals and the planet in whatever ways I realistically can,” Sandra said. “I think we all need to start where we’re at.”
What Do YOU Think?
Have you dabbled with vegetarianism? Tried and failed to maintain a fully vegan diet? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.