By Guest Contributor Lani Furbank
The veg scene in DC is growing fast,Â and for good reason! Eating less meat is better for the planet and for our health â€“ plus it can be downright delicious. Luckily,Â diners now haveÂ two more meat-free meal options in the DC area.Â Chef Bertrand ChemelÂ ofÂ 2941 RestaurantÂ just launched his â€œMeatless Mondayâ€ Vegetarian Tasting Menu, and Vegan QueenÂ Doron PetersanÂ (ofÂ Sticky Fingers Bakery) is openingÂ Fare Well, an all-vegan bakery, diner, and bar this fall.
So, are you veg-curious? Read on, and you will be.
I was a vegetarian for nearly five years growing up. IÂ did it for ethical reasons, after learning about how veal was raised. There was only one problem. I just happened to be one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. Oh, and I didnâ€™t like vegetables. Needless to say, that made keeping a vegetarian diet very challenging, and I was probably lacking a lot of nutrients during that time.
Thankfully, my palette has now significantly matured (Iâ€™ll literally eat anything except for cold oatmeal), and I have come to love vegetables. While Iâ€™m not vegetarian anymore (pasture-raised pork sausageÂ is my one true weakness), I do try to go meatless a few days a week, because itâ€™s a dietary choice that is much better for the planet.
In 2012, the US consumedÂ 52.2 billion pounds of meat, which is more than five times the amount our nation consumed in 1909. This is mostly the fault of the exponential growth of factory farming, which has made meat production cheaper and easierÂ (not to mention less sustainable), meaning that meat is now moreÂ readily available and affordable. However, this accessibility isnâ€™t universal, and it isnâ€™t a good thing, because industrial meat is now of aÂ lower nutritional quality than it used to be, and it takes a much higher toll on the environment.
Americans are theÂ second highest meat consumersÂ on the planet. Our per capita yearly consumption is 270 poundsâ€¦which is more than double the world average of 102.5 pounds, and dwarfs India and Bangladesh, which weigh in at under 10 pounds per yearâ€¦
The inequality of meat consumption is certainly a problem, but the bigger problem is the sheer amount of meat our planet produces andÂ consumes in total.
Industrial agriculture already sucks up aboutÂ 17% of our nationâ€™s energy useÂ (almost as much as car travel), and the most energy intensive food we produce isâ€¦you guessed itâ€¦meat.
It takes approximatelyÂ eight times more fossil fuelÂ to produce one calorie of meat than it does to produce one calorie of grain for human consumption. If you think back to energy efficiency equations, youâ€™ll remember that when calories are passed through multiple levels of the food chain (i.e. livestock), we lose efficiency. So, this means that (dependent on the quality of the agricultural land),Â we can support more people on earth if we eat lower on the food chainÂ â€“ eat more vegetables instead of animals. As our population grows, this is the sort of mindsetÂ we need to adopt toÂ avoid a global food crisis.
Producing meat isnâ€™t just energy intensive, but it also produces more greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global climate change. An average 2,000 Calorie diet results inÂ 2.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissionsÂ as an average vegan diet. This doesnâ€™t necessarily mean you have to go vegan, but if you switched from a high-meat diet to a low-meat diet,you wouldÂ reduce your carbon footprintÂ byÂ 920 kgC02e per year!
The industrial meat industry alsoÂ accounts forÂ a large portion of agricultural land, and it plays a big role in the pollution of our local waterways. Factory farms produce unimaginable amounts of manure, and most of this runs off into rivers, lakes, and baysÂ contributing to the overÂ 230 â€œdead zonesâ€ across the East Coast.
If thatâ€™s not enough, consider the health benefits of eating less meat. Vegetarians and vegansÂ have a lower riskÂ of developing heart disease, colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancers, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Now, itâ€™s important to keep in mind that most of theÂ harmful aspects of the meat industry only really apply to factory farms. So, buying and eatingÂ local, pasture-raised, hormone-free meatÂ is a big step in the right direction. But, regardless of the type of meat weâ€™re eating, all of us could benefit from cutting back just a little.
And luckily, the following dishes from 2941 Restaurant and Fare Well wonâ€™t leave you wondering, â€œwhereâ€™s the beef?â€
2941 Restaurantâ€™s elegant and impressive vegetarian tasting menu is available every Monday night for dinner through December. Even though itâ€™s an 8-course tasting, it doesnâ€™t need to be ordered by the whole table.
Lani Furbank is a freelance writer and photographer who covers the intersection of food, farming and the environment. She is based in the DC area and loves cooking, hiking and crafting. Read about her adventures atÂ www.LanisCupOfTea.com.