As an ethical vegan, I would love it if everyone in the world was vegan!
As a practical vegan, I know that’s not going to happen – at least not in my lifetime!
So if an omnivore isn’t willing to completely give up meat and dairy, I urge them to reduce their intake. Take whatever small steps they are comfortable with.
And I’ve seen those small steps lead to amazing change.
- A milk drinker tries almond or coconut milk, and to his surprise likes it better than “real” milk.
- Cooking students not only continue to cook the vegan meals I’ve taught them, but purchase vegan cookbooks.
- An omnivore commits to three meatless dinners a week, and enjoys it so much half her meals are now meatless.
- And many have continued on to make the full switch to vegan or vegetarian!
The average American eats over 200 pounds of meat and poultry each year.
That’s three times the global average!
The average American also consumes over 600 pounds of milk, cheese, and dairy products.
That’s over 800 pounds of animal products per person, per year.
This is why I was excited to recently make the acquaintance of Brian Kateman, co-founder (with Tyler Alterman) of The Reducetarian Movement. They are working to build a community of individuals who are committed to eating less meat – red meat, poultry, and seafood – for the benefit of their health, farm animals, and the environment. It’s a movement that’s gained the attention and support of such influential leaders as Peter Singer (author of Animal Liberation), Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Paul Shapiro (Vice President of Farm Animal Protection for the United States Humane Society), and Nick Cooney (founder of the Humane League).
I asked Brian to write a post explaining the concept of reducetarians, and then we had a short Q&A.
“In many ways, perhaps like you, I’m the typical environmentalist. I shop at Trader Joe’s and always bring my Go Green Bag. Every morning, I present my refillable cup to the Starbucks barista. And for dinner, I spend 1-2 minutes in a fit of confusion trying to recycle the fork, bowl, food, napkins, and lid that constitute my salad. And yet, despite my intrinsic love for animals and for the environment, I struggle to completely eliminate meat from my diet.
And from conversations that I had with my friends and colleagues, I realized I wasn’t alone. There was a growing community of individuals who knew that large-scale meat production was responsible for global greenhouse gas emissions and for the suffering of animals. And yet, they weren’t able or willing to completely eliminate meat from their diet. Some enjoyed the taste of meat; others didn’t want to make a drastic lifestyle change. So they took the advice of Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” They relied on useful strategies like “Meatless Monday” and “Vegan Before Six” to eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables for the benefit of themselves and for their environment.
They knew eating less meat made a meaningful difference, but they still struggled to describe their eating choices, particularly to vegans and vegetarians, the modern day pioneers of abstaining from meat and animal products.
These individuals were not vegetarians or vegans or even on any particular diet. And while they knew of terms like “semi-vegetarian” and “mostly-vegetarian,” they struggled to adopt them as identities because they seemed weak and inconsistent. These identities guide incredibly positive steps toward a more sustainable planet, but they largely invoke negative associations, feelings of division, and moral incompatibility.
What we need is a positive identity, an inclusive term of moral worth that describes a community of individuals who are committed to eating less meat, and can encourage others to reduce their consumption of cows, chickens, pigs, lambs, and fish. Thus, the Reducetarian Movement was born.
Reducetarianism is an identity, community, and movement. It is composed of individuals who are committed to eating less meat – red meat, poultry, and seafood. With less meat and more fruits and veggies, reducetarians live longer, healthier, and happier lives. They set manageable and therefore actionable goals to gradually eat less meat. For example, they may eat meat only on the weekends, or skip eating meat for dinner if they had it with lunch. And reducetarians know that eating less meat is good for the well-being of animals and for the environment.”
Catherine: Thank you, Brian, for that wonderful explanation. How would you describe your current diet?
Brian: I am a reducetarian in that I actively try to decrease my meat consumption. I primarily eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I eat chicken once per week and beef once per month. I try to order smaller positions of meat from restaurants that work with humanely raised sustainable farms when I do. I’m a huge fan of swap outs – my burritos now are filled with guacamole instead of chicken, and my chicken tikka masala is now vegetable tikka masala. Personal experimentation is the key.
With respect to meat consumption, I view each meal as a choice, either to indulge or to make a more restrained decision, much like whether to eat an apple or a bag of candy. Eating less meat even with respect to a single meal equates to greater personal health, less CO2 emissions, and fewer farm animals harmed. Over a life time, these choices add up to a meaningful difference in the world.
Catherine: According to Mark Bittman’s VB6 book, the average American eats over 200 pounds of meat per year. So by reducing your intake of chicken to once per week and beef once per month, you are definitely making an impact!
In my personal experience, many people are intimidated by veganism or vegetarianism, because it seems such a huge, difficult commitment. But the concept of “eating less meat” is very non-threatening and doable for most omnivores. How do people respond when you tell them they can “reduce” – that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition?
Brian: Most people respond very positively to the idea that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Many of us care a great deal about our health, the environment, and animals, and want to contribute to these issues. Being a reducetarian provides platform for everyone to join this movement of eating less meat. I think most vegans and vegetarians are thrilled by the idea of reducetarianism – they understand it’s hard for some to eliminate meat consumption. Of course, there are a small majority of animal rights activities who believe that the eat less meat message simply isn’t enough. While I think this attitude has tremendous moral grounding, it’s not a practical solution for the billions of people who are not vegetarians or vegans at this time.
Catherine: I agree. I admit, as an ethical vegan, I had very little difficulty giving up meat. Sometimes, it’s easy and very tempting to judge. But America is at a crisis point. Ethical vegans can’t afford to feel smug and superior – we live on this earth with everyone else. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and 72 million adults are obese. Diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are skyrocketing. Air and water pollution are increasing. We worry about drought, yet about half the water in the United States goes to raising animals for food. We worry about hunger, yet about 70% of grains and cereals grown in the United States are fed to farmed animals. Not to mention the horrors of factory farming! I truly believe we have reached a point where every choice you make counts, every action you take makes a difference. I’m one of the vegans that is thrilled by the concept of reducetarianism.
I also like the name. There are other names floating around out there – flexitarian, semi-vegetarian, plant based, “moderation” – those are all kind of vague, and seem to imply the person just eats vegetarian or vegan an unspecified part of the time. Reducetarian is more active – someone who is actively choosing to reduce their meat consumption.
You launched your campaign in mid-November. How many people have taken the pledge to eat less meat?
Brian: In just a few weeks since launching, several hundred people have taken the less meat pledge at www.reducetarian.com. However, in reality, I think millions of people were eating less meat far before the reducetarian movement launched. Several polls have shown, particularly in the developed world, that people are reducing their meat consumption to better their health, save money, tackle climate change, etc. We hope the reducetarian concept will encourage millions more to join the effort.
Catherine: Do you also reduce or encourage reduction of dairy products? For example, do you advocate drinking almond or coconut milk?
Brian: At this time our reducetarianism message is largely focused on meat reduction, but we certainly encourage people to understand how their eating and drinking choices in the broadest of sense impact their health, the environment, and the lives of farm animals. There is tremendous value in drinking more almond milk and less cow milk for example, or swapping out two eggs for one egg during breakfast. The reducetarianism mindset is really applicable to many other forms of consumer behavior, but eating less meat is our primary campaign because it is a major driver of climate change, the suffering of animals, heart disease, and more.
Catherine: Just asking because some of the dairy-to-nondairy swaps are the easiest changes for people to make. Many people actually prefer almond or coconut milk to cow milk, and prefer the taste of Vegenaise to real mayo. Swapping butter for Earth Balance is also an extremely easy switch for many omnivores.
I agree, however, that meat is what “makes the connection” for most people.
Finally, like Erik Marcus, I believe being vegan is a skill, like learning to play the guitar. Most of us can’t do it perfectly right away. How important do you think it is for vegans to be positive role models and share our skills and knowledge?
Brian: It is incredibly important that vegans and vegetarians be positive role models for those who wish to simply eat less meat because they have developed the skills and knowledge to effectively reduce their meat consumption. Vegans, vegetarians, and other reducetarians should not be at war with one another; on the contrary, we should be united by our shared commitment to eating less meat.
Catherine: At this point in time, I don’t think we can afford NOT to be united. Thank you for visiting my blog!
Brian Kateman is Co-Founder and President of The Reducetarian Foundation. He develops unique education programs at the Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability and conducts research within the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University.
To learn more about Reducetarian, watch the TEDxCUNY Talk, take the #lessmeat pledge for 30 Days at www.reducetarian.com, like them on Facebook or Twitter, or donate to their Indiegogo Campaign. Every dollar up to $15,000 will be MATCHED!
The Reducetarian Foundation, Inc. has applied for their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status and foresee a favorable decision, which would be retroactive to November 2014.
What do you think about the Reducetarian movement?