Eat A Vegetable, Save The World

fresh vegetables
A vegetarian diet is good for you, and good for the world.
(cc) Martin Cathrae

October 1st is Annual World Vegetarian Day, kicking off Vegetarian Awareness Month. The event was founded by the North American Vegetarian Society — NAVS — in 1977 and promotes “the health-supporting and life affirming benefits of vegetarianism.”

For many, a vegetarian diet is a traditional lifestyle based on deeply held religious beliefs. For others, it’s a lifestyle choice they’ve made after careful consideration. And for some, it’s just not an option. If you fall into that latter group, read on. You may find that while it may be a shock to your system, cutting meat from your diet is a change worth making.

Let’s get the nasty statistics out of the way first.

NAVS highlights a Harvard University Study that indicates that eating one serving a day of unprocessed red meat — about the size of a pack of playing cards — may increase a person’s risk of premature death by 13%. Processed red meat is worse. Eating one serving a day — that’s one hot dog or two strips of bacon — increases risk of premature death by 20%. Much of this comes from meat as a contributing factor in heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Another Harvard study, this one from the Harvard School of Public Health, links the consumption of red meat to type 2 diabetes, one of the fastest growing diseases in developed countries. According to NAVS, the study found that a 100 gram serving of unprocessed red meat increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 19%, while a mere 50 gram serving of processed red meat increases the risk by a whopping 51%.

Another drawback of a heavy-meat diet: Livestock production increases greenhouse gas emissions, specifically carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Some of this is due to the heavy use of fossil fuels in livestock farming, while much of it comes from the animals themselves and their waste. Enough said about that.

In general, adopting a vegetarian diet reduces our individual carbon footprint. Of course, that depends on what we use to replace the meat on our menu. If it includes processed foods from foreign countries then we may still be responsible for the fossil fuels used to process and transport those items.

A better alternative is to eat locally grown fruits and vegetables whenever practical. Doing so supports local farmers and reduces the monetary and environmental cost of shipping food across the country or around the world. If we can grow some of our food ourselves in backyard, rooftop, or even balcony gardens, so much the better.

Fortunately, a vegetarian diet doesn’t have to be boring. There are countless meatless recipes to satisfy even the most demanding diners. How about roasted tomato and thyme soup? Or spicy eggplant stir-fry? Perhaps a Mediterranean chick pea stew or Cajun spiced grilled portabello mushrooms will be to your liking. Care to try a dish of roasted cherry tomato pasta with Kalamata olives and capers? A hearty crockpot vegetarian lasagna with tomato sauce, tofu, garlic, basil, spinach, and onions would certainly hit the spot on a cold day. And if you love to barbeque, just about any vegetable and many fruits can be roasted over an open flame. Top with your favorite sauces and seasonings and you’ve got a palate pleasing entrĂ©e.

For those concerned about their protein intake, rest assured that there are plenty of non-meat alternatives, including beans, pulses or legumes, nuts, seeds, and soya products. When combined with grains and other vegetables, they more than compensate for anything we may miss from meat, fish, and poultry.

For some, there’s nothing better than a big juicy hamburger, a nice thick steak, or eggs with bacon and sausage. But if we can replace that with garden fresh alternatives, we’ll be doing both our bodies and our world a favor.

Willing to give a vegetarian diet a try? Check out How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food.