Do the Earth (and Yourself) a Favor: Go Meatless

By Guest Contributor Lani Furbank

The veg scene in DC is growing fast, and for good reason! Eating less meat is better for the planet and for our health – plus it can be downright delicious. Luckily, diners now have two more meat-free meal options in the DC area. Chef Bertrand Chemel of 2941 Restaurant just launched his “Meatless Monday” Vegetarian Tasting Menu, and Vegan Queen Doron Petersan (of Sticky Fingers Bakery) is opening 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. I 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 didn’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 (I’ll literally eat anything except for cold oatmeal), and I have come to love vegetables. While I’m not vegetarian anymore (pasture-raised pork sausage is my one true weakness), I do try to go meatless a few days a week, because it’s a dietary choice that is much better for the planet.

In 2012, the US consumed 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 easier (not to mention less sustainable), meaning that meat is now more readily available and affordable. However, this accessibility isn’t universal, and it isn’t a good thing, because industrial meat is now of a lower nutritional quality than it used to be, and it takes a much higher toll on the environment.

Americans are the second highest meat consumers on the planet. Our per capita yearly consumption is 270 pounds…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 year…

Credit: NPR’s The Salt

The inequality of meat consumption is certainly a problem, but the bigger problem is the sheer amount of meat our planet produces and consumes in total.

Industrial agriculture already sucks up about 17% of our nation’s energy use (almost as much as car travel), and the most energy intensive food we produce is…you guessed it…meat.

It takes approximately eight times more fossil fuel 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, you’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), we can support more people on earth if we eat lower on the food chain – eat more vegetables instead of animals. As our population grows, this is the sort of mindset we need to adopt to avoid a global food crisis.

Producing meat isn’t just energy intensive, but it also produces more greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global climate change. An average 2,000 Calorie diet results in 2.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as an average vegan diet. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go vegan, but if you switched from a high-meat diet to a low-meat diet,you would reduce your carbon footprint by 920 kgC02e per year!

The industrial meat industry also accounts for 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 bays contributing to the over 230 “dead zones” across the East Coast.

If that’s not enough, consider the health benefits of eating less meat. Vegetarians and vegans have a lower risk of developing heart disease, colorectal, ovarian, and breast cancers, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that most of the harmful aspects of the meat industry only really apply to factory farms. So, buying and eating local, pasture-raised, hormone-free meat is a big step in the right direction. But, regardless of the type of meat we’re eating, all of us could benefit from cutting back just a little.

And luckily, the following dishes from 2941 Restaurant and Fare Well won’t leave you wondering, “where’s the beef?”

2941 Restaurant’s elegant and impressive vegetarian tasting menu is available every Monday night for dinner through December. Even though it’s an 8-course tasting, it doesn’t need to be ordered by the whole table.

Beet Carpaccio with Meyer lemon sabayon, Parmesan, nasturtium leaves, and shaved candied pecans.
Butternut Squash Velouté with apple cider compote, and apple slices. The sweet compote balances the rich, savory squash flavor, and the apple slices add a nice crunch.

 

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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 at www.LanisCupOfTea.com.

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