With the holidays upon us, many families and friends are planning gatherings and celebratory meals—most of them likely centering on meat. To help make this holiday season more sustainable, the EarthWays Center suggests adding some vegetarian and vegan alternatives to your dinner table.
Why Eat Less Meat?
Vegetarians and vegans are familiar with the question—why don’t you eat meat? The motivations behind meat-free dining are personal and can vary from health considerations to avoiding harm to animals, but as an advocate for sustainable choices, the EarthWays Center is focused on the environmental benefits of meatless meals.
While consuming no meat significantly lowers your carbon footprint, you do not have to become vegetarian or vegan to reduce your impact on the environment through your food choices. You can have a positive influence just by eating less meat.
Project Drawdown, an organization that is collecting and communicating information about solutions to global climate change, ranks a plant-rich diet as the fourth-highest solution to reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
- A plant-rich diet means eating 2500 calories per day while eating reduced amounts of meat-based protein, around 57 grams.
- By 2050, if only 50% of the world’s population adopted a plant-rich diet, around 66 gigatons of carbon dioxide emission could be avoided. To put that in perspective, humanity annually releases around 34 gigatons of carbon dioxide. One gigaton is the weight of more than 6 million blue whales.
- Purchasing locally produced food when possible can also help to lower carbon emissions.
- Plant-rich and sustainable diets could help reduce water use by up to 50% since raising animals requires a lot of water. Reducing water use is especially important in areas that have to produce more food using less water.
What are Some Great Veg Alternatives?
Increasing the vegetarian and vegan offerings at your holiday celebration can be a little intimidating. Here are a few selections to help you get started.
- Vegetarian Holiday | Food & Wine
- 31 Holiday Recipes for a Meatless Feast | Saveur
- 5 Show-Stopping Vegetarian Main Courses | The Kitchn
- 70 Vegan Holiday Recipes | Vegan Richa
- Meat-free Holiday Dinners | The Green Dining Alliance
New Year’s Resolution?
There are plenty of ways to decrease meat consumption year round. Perhaps adopting a flexitarian diet is the right place for you to start. Some flexitarians only eat meat 2 or 3 days a week while others only eat meat in one meal a day.
If you are ready to go vegetarian or vegan, start slow. Cutting meat or other animal products slowly will make the transition easier. Use as many in-season fruits and vegetables as possible; they are often more flavorful and provide quite the variety of flavor throughout the year. Experiment with new foods, flavors, and spices. There are many cuisines from around the world that emphasize plant based proteins (lentils, chickpeas, etc.) and provide a great source for recipe ideas. Make sure to have fun with it—cooking great-tasting plant based meals can be an enriching experience with friends and family!
Education and Volunteer Coordinator, EarthWays Center