I’m a meat eater. Shit, for almost a year I was eating grass-fed top sirloin with my eggs every single morning. A well-prepared burger could make my knees buckle, I’d pay damn near any price for a truly amazing steak and I believe the simple smell of heavily marinated chicken on an open flame could be legally classified as an anti-depressant. The taste of meat is simply amazing, but the more I learn about what it truly costs to bring that to my table is becoming a much larger personal concern.
*Before we go further, I’ll let you know that this post is not going to try and convince you to become a vegan. Im not a vegan, don’t have plans of becoming one and I’m not convinced that it is even healthy. However, there are some vegan-leaning decisions we can make to help this world and your health and some of what I found may be of interest to you.
While I have been exclusively purchasing humanely-raised meat for my home for a couple of years, I made this a 100%, all-in commitment earlier this year. This was, and is, a commitment to only eat humanely-raised meat in any and all circumstances, including restaurants and the houses of friends and family. If the option is not available, I eat a meat-free option. Simple.
While this certainly made me feel a bit better about myself for a couple of years, that luster is beginning to fade and my eating habits are beginning to make me feel like a bit of an asshole. As I learn more about the environmental impact of meat processing and the complete void of sustainability, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify my levels of consumption and means of acquisition. The real kick in the ass is the fact that I am completely engulfed by an industry that is just a few step away from building shrines to worship the importance of protein consumption. The fitness industry, whether it be bodybuilding, powerlifting, Crossfit or any of the other countless disciplines, rightfully promotes the consumption of a high-protein diet to aid in recovery and the development of new muscle tissue. As most vegans will attest to, the most common first question they receive is, “where do you get your protein from?” Over the past few months I have begun to try and find answers to that question and much more and have found some amazing answers and discovered some strange shit as well.
Here are the things I have learned thus far:
Vegans tend to be assholes.
Obviously this is a careless generalization that is largely exacerbated by a loud minority, but it does hold some water. I have researched countless topics in my lifetime, but never have I come across such a large percentage of holier-than-thou, pompous jerks. So much so, that I really do think that their persona and attitude is hurting their cause. Kind of like Crossfit circa 2011-ish. The workouts and environment seemed pretty damn appealing to a lot of people, but a large chunk didn’t jump on board because of that one douche at the office that worked Crossfit into every conversation and shot down everything else because it wasn’t “functional.”
I understand the emotion that is driving this behavior, but some of channel it much better than others. Attempting to draw parallels between someone’s eating habits the Holocaust is not a great way to gain open ears. Additionally, vegans really need to be sure they are all in and have all of the facts before they start attacking. A large portion of the vegans I have come across are good at eliminating animal products at a level that they personally come into contact with (i.e. food, leather products, etc…). However, they typically do a horrible job looking at the environmental impact of the products they do choose to use or consume at a production level. Without dragging on about this, feel free to research the massive loss of rainforest and animal habitat due to soy bean production. The numbers are hard to swallow and it certainly blurs some of the lines in animal rights as in relates to plant-based eating.
There really are some amazing vegans out there with great platforms that simply provide quality information, understanding that a full-vegan lifestyle is just not for everyone. To no surprise, reading their information actually motivates you to give some of it a shot.
I NEEDED MORE DIETARY VARIETY
As I began to search for alternative sources of protein, my pathetically narrow list of sources became obvious. While I am certainly well aware of the non-animal sources of protein, I typically just viewed them as items I could add for flavor and variety; not necessarily a centerpiece of the meal. Beans, seeds, plant blends and nuts have always been sprinkled into my meals, but were always a means of trying to convince myself that I wasn’t just eating chicken or turkey again…. and again…. and again… and again. As I stared looking into the protein content of non-animal sources, I found myself focusing more on the massive differences in micronutrient composition than the macronutrient profile. Diversifying my protein portfolio has drastically expanded and increased my micronutrient intake, which is inarguably a beneficial shift. It is so easy to fall into a patter of repetitive eating, where you continue to either eat the same or very similar foods over and over again. Looking into additional, vegan-esqe protein sources has not only exposed my shortcoming, but provided a promising remedy.
REDUCING ANIMAL PROTEIN INTAKE IS SIMPLE
As I mentioned before, my current goal is not to completely eliminate animal products from my diet, but to reduce and consume more responsibly. Complete elimination is virtually impossible for me to wrap my head around, as I am guessing it is for most. However, reducing my intake of animal protein and supplementing it with other sources has turned out to be a rather easy feat. In general, most of the non-animal sources will contain a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fats, so I start with these items. I start by fulfilling my non-protein targets with the alternative sources first and then completing the protein target with the animal protein. For example, when building a meal I may do so by adding enough quinoa and/or beans to reach my desired carbohydrate levels, then look at how much protein I would still like to add after accounting for the protein provided from the quinoa and beans and then add enough chicken breast to fill the remaining void. I essentially end up in the same place as I would have with a traditional chicken and rice plate, but with more variety and less chicken. There are countless different combinations and recipes you can use to achieve your desired end-game, it just takes a bit of simple research and experimentation.
USE A WEEKLY LIMIT SYSTEM
I use an incredibly basic system to help make this transition to lower animal-protein consumption. We hit up Whole Foods to go grocery shopping once a week and try to get everything in one shot. For a very long time, I had a very consistent quantity of meat that I would purchase from the counter. I almost always ordered the exact same amount of chicken breast, ground turkey, ground bison, sirloin and salmon every single week. So I made a simple change and slowly started to purchase less of each. Naturally, I began to fill the void with other items, simply as a means of not reaching the end of the week with nothing but beans and kale left to eat. In addition to purchasing less meat, I purchased more of the known alternatives and I figured it out from there. Admittedly, I have a lot of work to do in regards to expanding my culinary variety and techniques. 75% of the time, I end up with some Mexican-esque combination of rice, beans, quinoa, veggies, meat and sauce; but I’m working on it. There are certainly many different ways to reduce your animal protein consumption a bit, but I can personally attest to the effectiveness of just purchasing a little less.
CATEGORIZE MEALS BY CONTENT
Another great way to help quantify your animal meat and product consumption is to categorize meals into vegan, vegetarian and traditional (containing animal meat). For those that may be unfamiliar, vegan do not consume any animal products whatsoever, while vegetarians will consume the non-meat/flesh products of animals, such as eggs and dairy. By categorizing your meals, you can begin to easily adjust the amount of each kind of meal you eat daily or weekly. For example, you could simply start by saying “I will replace 3 of my traditional meals with 3 vegetarian meals per week.” If you average 4oz of meat protein per meal, you just eliminated almost 40lbs of meat from your yearly consumption. With this basic system, over time, you could easily scale and increase the total number of daily or weekly vegan and vegetarian meals you are consuming, or not. Remember, I’m not suggesting that anyone becomes a full-blown vegan or vegetarian, Im just saying that I believe all of our diets and the global environment could benefit from any small shift we can make. Regardless of the extent, take a look at your eating with these categories in mind and challenge yourself to make a small change.
I SIMPLY FEEL BETTER
Since implementing some of these small changes, I really do feel better overall. Keep in mind, I’m not someone that shifted from eating highly-processed, low-quality foods to eating less-processed, more nutritious food. I was already eating, by most standards, very well. My meats are all humanely raised (Step 3 or above on the Whole Foods Animal Welfare Rating), I purchase organic fruits and vegetables and I do not consume any artificial sweeteners or colors. Still, this small shift has contributed to an increased sense of well-being, health and energy. It may be due to the increased variety of sources and the accommodating micronutrients or it may be the mindful connection to my choices and the understanding of the impact these choices have. In all likelihood, it is a combination of both.
Like I said from the start, I don’t plan on becoming a full-on vegan or vegetarian and I don’t actually believe that doing so is a healthy choice. But I am certain that the vast majority of us consume too much animal based protein and not enough legumes, vegetables, nuts and grains. Additionally, I believe that the health of our environment and eco-system needs us to reduce our crippling reliance on big agriculture. So take an honest look at what you are putting on your plate each meal and simply look for ways to add variety and reduce your total consumption of animal protein. You will feel better on a number of different levels and, when you do eat it, you may actually enjoy that sirloin steak even more now.