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Want to change the way you eat? You came to the right place. Here's a comprehensive guide to eating plant-based.
Words by Grace Hussain
Interest in plant-based foods and dietary habits has been on the rise recently, with a plethora of new alternatives to popular meat products hitting the shelves in stores. This increase in availability and popularity may be making you consider what a plant-based diet could look like for you, and how you might achieve a change in what you eat. There are plenty of different plant-based diets out there that can contribute to improved personal health, help protect animal welfare, and promote environmental well-being. Thankfully, taking the steps necessary to adhere to a plant-based diet has never been easier.
Plant-based eating comprises several specific diets, all of which focus on reducing or eliminating meat consumption and instead consuming more plant-based foods.
A flexitarian may not completely bar any foods from their diet, but they seek to reduce their consumption of meats overall and instead focus on eating foods that come from plants. Some flexitarians may only eat one type of meat, or they may only eat certain foods on special occasions or when they’re traveling.
Those following a pescatarian diet exclude meat such as chicken, beef, and veal from their diets, but they do consume seafood, dairy, and eggs.
A vegetarian diet is similar to a pescatarian one in that adherents abstain from meat and can consume dairy and eggs. The key difference, however, is that vegetarians do not consume fish and other seafood. There are several different types of vegetarians including those that do not eat eggs but will eat dairy (lacto-vegetarian), will eat eggs but not dairy (ovo-vegetarian), or will eat both (lacto-ovo-vegetarian).
Perhaps the diet used most synonymously with the term “plant-based” is veganism. Those adopting a vegan diet abstain from all animal-derived ingredients and foods. This includes meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin, honey, and other additives and derivatives. Like vegetarianism, there are several different types of vegan eating. Some vegans eat only raw foods that do not require cooking whereas others eat only fruit.
There are numerous benefits associated with adopting a plant-based diet. Choosing to adopt a plant-based diet can positively impact your personal health, animal welfare, and the environment.
Adhering to a plant-based diet has been associated with a number of positive personal health outcomes. Those that do eat plant-based have experienced improved heart health, a lower rate of some cancers, better cognitive function, and better control over their diabetes.
The suffering that animals experience routinely at the hands of industrialized animal agriculture is excruciating and pervasive. As part of the egg industry, millions of male chicks are thrown into a grinder alive due to their inability to produce eggs. In the dairy industry, cows are repeatedly impregnated only to have their babies taken from them within hours of their birth. Common housing for pigs being raised for meat fails to provide for their mental well-being and stimulation despite their known intelligence. Chickens being raised for meat grow so quickly that their legs often collapse beneath them, unable to support their unnaturally swift growth. By adopting a plant-based diet, you are rejecting these common farming practices and refusing to contribute to the large-scale suffering of animals on factory farms.
The production of meat and other animal products via an industrialized system has serious consequences for the environment. Not only is factory farming meat a primary driver of global warming, but the livestock sector produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. Another cause for serious environmental concern is that cattle ranching is a primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.
Drastically shifting your diet in any way is likely to have a profound impact on the way your body feels. Adopting a plant-based diet is no different. For example, once you do begin to increase your consumption of plant-based foods, especially when you are selecting a diverse array of fruits and vegetables and not just processed replacements, your gut health is likely to improve. You may even experience improved cholesterol and heart health.
Perhaps one of the biggest battles to overcome when changing our diets is a mental one. Shifting mental energy from focusing on the foods we cannot eat to the ones we can is a great strategy for successfully transitioning to a plant-based diet. Many report that the variety of foods they eat after adopting a plant-based lifestyle actually increases, as they no longer feel the need to center their plates around an animal-sourced protein.
As with all things, it is important to understand your new diet before fully embarking upon it. One of the first steps might be deciding what kind of plant-based diet you’re seeking to adopt. Do you want to eliminate all meat? Will you abstain from meat and eggs? Will you opt-out of honey and replace it with agave? Or will you adopt a fully plant-based, vegan diet, free from all animal products? Consulting with a nutritionist well-versed in plant-based eating may be a good way to access more information and seek guidance as you embark on this transition.
People decide to adopt a plant-based diet for many different reasons. Some are following religious practices while others adopt a plant-based way of eating in protest against the suffering inherent within animal agriculture. Regardless of your reasons for changing your diet, reminding yourself of them often will help you to stick to your new way of eating.
New plant-based eaters may be heartened to learn that a huge range of plant-based recipes is available through cookbooks, blogs, and other online resources. There is a vast array of options to suit every set of dietary preferences. Many proffer simple and affordable recipes that can be made quickly, while others offer a wide choice of meal options easily accessible online.
Preparing your food ahead of time for the week is another good way of sticking to a plant-based diet, as it eliminates the question of what to eat for lunch when you find yourself in the middle of a busy day.
Though many restaurants are beginning to offer delicious and diverse plant-based options, dining out may prove harder than eating at home. Choosing to prepare food at home more often can provide an opportunity for trying out delicious recipes and allows you the choice of many delicious plant-based dishes.
Picking up a few plant-based staples such as rice, beans, tofu, vegetable stock, and basic vegetables can make meal preparation easier while allowing you to create delicious and simple meals.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet may seem daunting at first but there are many strategies that can be employed to make a change in eating habits easier.
Instead of changing your diet radically overnight, instead try shifting your diet over a longer period of time. Choosing plant-based substitutes to replace the meat in your favorite dishes can be an easy way to start without having to make big changes to your dietary habits. With the emergence of alternatives for most meat dishes, including burgers, meatballs, and sushi, swapping out meat has never been easier.
Starting with meatless Mondays and then building toward only consuming meat once a week is a good way to gradually decrease your meat consumption while being able to explore delicious plant-based recipes and add them to your menu.
Of course, the last step in a gradual departure from meat consumption is to eliminate it fully from your diet. By taking a slow and steady approach, by the time you have fully eliminated meat you should be equipped with favorite food blogs, recipes, and restaurants to help support you as you continue on your plant-based journey.
If aiming for a fully vegan or ovo-vegetarian diet, once meat is eliminated from your diet you can begin the process of reducing your consumption of dairy. Though taking this step may seem even more daunting, it is important to remind yourself of the reasons you are seeking to give up dairy. Gradually reducing dairy provides time to identify and become an expert at creating some favorite dishes that align with your dietary preferences. During this period is it important to be kind to yourself and recognize that at times you may slip up, but that reducing dairy intake is better by far than giving up on your decision.
The final elimination of dairy is a laudable accomplishment. You will have set a goal and achieved it. You will have identified meals and resources that you can lean on to sustain your plant-based lifestyle.
There are a number of steps you can take now to launch your journey toward plant-based eating. Check out Mercy for Animals’ vegetarian starter guide for a range of tips, tricks, and information as you start your journey. Find a few favorite plant-based food blogs for recipe inspiration. Use Happy Cow to locate restaurants near you that offer plant-based menu options when you’re dining out. With so many resources within easy reach, there has never been a better time to start eating plant-based and benefit yourself, animals, and the environment.
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