Well, I’m kidding a little. We Americans love meat – roasted, grilled, fried, baked or simmered all day in our greens. We don’t consider a meal complete without a big hunk of beef, pork or chicken taking up half the plate, and when we hit the fast food joints, we head straight for the double-thick, extra-large, bacon-covered animal flesh. We feed our kids the same way, teaching them to savor all that fatty goodness, and to turn up their noses at broccoli.
And let’s face it: meat is yummy. Is there any aroma more intoxicating than thick steaks on your outdoor BBQ? Who can live without fried chicken? Or a succulent, perfectly roasted turkey?
The problem is the amount of meat we consume far exceeds what is healthy for our bodies, our community or our planet. Americans eat an average of .75 pounds of meat per day — more meat than any other country in the world. Almost 3 times as much. Our meat consumption is a major factor in global warming, because it takes a lot more land, water and energy to raise animals than to grow plants.
Raising cows, pigs, chickens and sheep for our food creates almost 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than the emissions from all forms of transportation, including all the cars, trucks, trains and airplanes all over the world! Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is key to slowing global warming.
If we increase plant consumption, and cut back on the meat, we can dramatically decrease the emissions produced by our food system, help protect the earth from climate change, and at the same time, reduce our risk of obesity and heart disease.
Here are some ideas for cutting back:
Reduce the amount of meat you and your kids consume every day. Does your 9-year-old really need 6 chicken wings? Maybe 3 or 4 are enough. Serve more fruits and veggies to make up the difference.
Meatless lasagna or pasta dishes are good choices to reduce or eliminate meat from a main course. Substitute meaty Portobello mushrooms or chunks of eggplant.
When you’re cooking out, grill some veggies. Squash, eggplant, peppers and asparagus are great on the grill. And don’t forget the fruit – there’s nothing so sweet as fresh grilled pineapple.
Cook together and eat together as a family when you can. We eat on the run so much, we don’t always realize how much we need to be together. Let some meals be about nourishment and connection, instead of a chore to get out of the way.
Take your kids food shopping with you, and spend extra time in the produce department instead of the snack aisle. Pick a new fruit or veggie to try every month.
Help your kids see the connections between our food, our health, and the survival of our planet. You don’t have to become a vegetarian to do your part. Just add extra veggies – instead of extra meat – to your family’s plate.
This story originally appeared in The Times Weekly.