Insights from not eating meat for a month

Written on February 2, 2019 (Published September 19, 2019):

 I was told the other day that there are five reasons why people don’t eat meat. I found it very well-put. The reasons are, in no particular order:

  1. Religion

  2. Animal rights

  3. Health

  4. Cost

  5. Environment

Over the last year, I watched a number of documentaries that explore the subject of meat and dairy consumption, and the industrial animal agriculture industry at large: the classic “Cowspiracy” and “Food Inc.”, Natalie Portman’s “Eating Animals”, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Before the Flood”. Some of the facts I learned about industrial animal agriculture’s impact on the environment were truly astonishing. For example, 18% of all greenhouse gases globally are a result of the animal agriculture – more than all planes, ships, cars combined. In addition, raising animals also contributes heavily to global deforestation -- around 30% of the Earth’s land surface is currently used for livestock farming.

So for me, environmental concerns were at the forefront of my reasons for reducing my meat consumption. Coming in at a close second was the fact that I was becoming increasingly nervous about the quality of the meat that I was buying and that was being served to me at restaurants.

I decided to give up eating meat for 30 days. No red meat (pork included) and no chicken. I did still eat some fish (around once a week), so I guess the term is not vegetarian but pescotarian. I had been wanting to cut back on meat for a couple of months, but I had a lot of reservations cutting it out entirely. The fact remains that the majority of people eat meat. Would not eating it somehow affect my health? Would I be able to recover properly from training (I train Brazilian jiu-jitsu and weight lift 4-5 times a week) or would I start losing all the muscle without animal protein?

Before I dive into a unique insight from not eating the meat for one month, I will briefly cover the most obvious ones.

Cost and cooking effort

I noticed it is much cheaper and easier to cook a meat-less dishes.

Examples:

·     a $50 meat lasagna (granted the meat was organic and antibiotic-free so it was more expensive), was now $20 when we made it with eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms.

·     my restaurant dinners have become even cheaper eating as a vegetarian, since we also stopped drinking alcohol. We can go to the best restaurants and leave with a $120 bill for two people, whereas it would have easily cost $300 in the past.

·     a meat chili that would take 2 hours to make, was now 30 minutes when we only used vegetables.

Health

I have noticed no changes to my energy levels, muscle weight, skin, or digestion. Maybe 30 days is an insufficient amount of time, but I think if I was calorie deprived I’d lose at least a few pounds… I didn’t. It is worth noting, that I also have not increased my carbohydrate or sugar intake to compensate (I combined my experiment with 3 weeks of no sweets). I maintained my muscle weight through other sources of protein other than meat – mostly these were vegetables and legumes like beans or lentils, but I also had eggs, tofu, or vegan protein shakes. At one point, I bought crickets and tried adding them to my smoothies for more protein. Unfortunately, even though I see a huge potential in insect protein (it is much cheaper and requires an order of magnitude less water to produce equal amount of nutrition), I couldn’t conquer my brain telling me in the morning “It’s a beautiful day today! Time to eat some bugs :)”… Maybe one day I will give it another go!

 

My unexpected insight from the meatless month

1.    We are wired to resist change

I broke my 30 days by cooking a giant stew from two legs of lamb. It was delicious, however as I was eating it, something odd happened – I suddenly became very aware that I was eating a slaughtered animal. Perhaps in the shift from eating only plants to eating meat, I encountered a similar mental barrier as when I shifted from having meat every day, to not having any. It seemed as though my brain was resisting the meat, just like it resisted plant-based meals at the beginning of the 30 days. I take this as evidence of something I have long suspected about how we, humans, are wired: we don’t like change. So, perhaps, the answer to making changes in our lives is simply adopting a new habit for a time long enough for your brain to start thinking it is the new norm. I have given up alcohol, coffee, Instagram and Facebook that way. This meat-less month only made my awareness of this strategy to self-betterment more pronounced.

2.    I appreciate meat more now

“I am on the top of the food chain and I eat what I want” – I always thought in the past. I had never really thought about animal rights when it came to food, and it wasn’t the original reason why I wanted to reduce my meat consumption. Interestingly, I noticed that I no longer even associated meat with living beings. The word “chicken” to me basically meant “tasty rubbery protein” that I put on top of my greens. This 30 days really brought the source of meat I eat into my mental spotlight. I haven’t spent enough time thinking about animal rights to give an educated opinion here, but at least I become aware of the fact that that every time I have eaten meat in the past, I have turned a blind eye to the fact that I am indirectly paying another human to kill an animal I will eat. I believe that if we all had to butcher our own meat, we’d all eat a lot less of it.  

Having gone 30 days without meat I feel like I have grown to not only truly appreciate the meat that I consume, but all my food. I had time to think about the quality of meat, and other food, that ends up in my shawarmas or fast-food chains, or what processed meat actually is (animals guts and chemicals?). I no longer want to eat low quality meat. I want to eat high quality meat, and far less of it. However, now that I know I can live off of plant-based protein perfectly fine, I can eat the meat occasionally, perhaps, every other week, but get local, traceable meat raised without antibiotics. I don’t think I am ready to cut the meat out entirely, but I have definitely proved to myself that it is certainly not a dietary necessity.

~ continue reading below~ 

Written and Published on September 19, 2019:

The above article was sitting on my computer for almost 9 months. I am not entirely sure why I didn’t post that article then, but having had time to re-think my meat consumption once again, I decided it would be interesting to see how my perception has changed in the last 9 months. Reading the article above I remembered what I was going through and it triggered a desire to go vegetarian (and occasionally vegan) once again. Even though I returned to eating meat after the original 30 days, my meat consumption has been substantially less than it was prior to the 30 days, and the change seems permanent. Nine months later, I still eat less meat -- perhaps, 2-5 meals a week (including lunches and breakfasts), down from eating meat with almost every meal.

The original reason for giving up meat – environmental considerations - remains on the top of my list of reasons why I continue with a primarily plant-based diet. Industrial meat farming in its form is simply not sustainable to feed almost 8 billion people. However, increasingly I am growing aware of the fact that I am eating animals. Every time I think about “how the sausage is made” I go for a vegetarian option.

Like I said nine months ago, I don’t know if I am ready give up meat forever, or if I will eat it occasionally, but reducing meals with meat from my previous 15-20 per week, to 1-2 meals would reduce my footprint by 90%! And that’s something.

Thanks for reading!