In the country’s largest meat-packing plants, there’s a growing concern about what the future of protein could look like in our nation’s food system. The impact is being felt from livestock farmer to consumer and everyone in between. It’s an eye-opening moment to rethink our animal protein consumption. Here at Foodsmart, we believe shifting to a less “meat-centric” diet is better for your health, better for your community, and easier on your wallet. We’re not asking you to give it up entirely, just to have an open mind about making a positive lifestyle shift for you and your family. It’s the right time and here’s why:
Part of a healthy diet:
Shifting your diet to be more plant-centric–which means incorporating plant-based protein sources like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and soy–can improve your health in numerous ways. From weight loss and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes to improved heart and brain health, a plant-based diet is linked to a lower risk of chronic disease. And it’s certainly possible to get all of the protein you need from plants. All proteins, whether from animals or plants, are made up of a mix of amino acids; they differ in their composition of these amino acids. As long as you’re eating a varied and balanced diet and meeting your caloric needs, you can get enough protein from plants.
As meat availability fluctuates, you don’t necessarily need to go vegan right now. But it’s a great time to start shifting the focus of your meals away from meat and toward plants, whether that’s vegetables or a plant-based protein source like chickpeas, edamame, or lentils. As you transition to a plant-based diet, keep the following tips in mind:
- Use meat as a garnish or “condiment” to add bursts of flavor
- Sub out part of the meat in meals like meatballs, meatloaf, and burgers with ground mushrooms, lentils, or beans
- Commit to at least one meatless meal per week. You can search Foodsmart’s recipes for vegetarian or vegan recipes by updating your dietary preferences to exclude fish, pork, poultry, red meat, shellfish (and dairy and eggs if you’d like to try a fully vegan meal). For recipes that are plant-centric but might have some meat or dairy, search our recipe categories: Leafy Greens, Tofu & Soy Recipes, and Recipes with Whole Grains are great places to start.
If and when you do include meat in your meal, what you purchase makes an impact. Educating yourself about how livestock is raised and where your beef, chicken and pork comes from is important. Our mantra is to think smaller: support your local grower and farmers.
Family farms have dotted the landscape of our country since its inception, with generations cultivating the land and raising livestock to feed families and their community. The rise in population in the U.S. and higher demand for meat paved the way for large confinement animal feeding operations (known as CAFOs). In CAFOs, animals are packed tightly together and are an environmental disaster for the surrounding community, emitting high levels of animal pollution into the air and water. And it’s not just the cows and chickens that are cramped together. Human workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the butchering lines.
So what can you do as a consumer? Is it possible to eat meat in a sustainable and ethical way? The answer is yes if you follow a few simple guidelines:
- Reduce your portion size: Retrain your mindset to fill most of your plate with greens and vegetables; meat is the supporting player. That could mean a few lean turkey meatballs in a vegetable and grain bowl or a handful of shredded chicken on top of a big, green salad. Aim to limit any animal protein serving to weigh under 4 ounces–that’s about the size of a deck of cards.
- Read Labels: Look for the words “USDA Organic, Grass-fed, and Certified Humane” on the packaging. These labels mean the animals have been raised in a pasture, allowed to eat grass instead of feed and are not injected with antibiotics unless the animal is sick.
- Buy consciously: Be curious about where your food comes from. Support your local farmers and read the fine print if you’re shopping online. If you’re lucky enough to have a local butcher, ask questions; that’s what they’re there for. And remember, better quality often means better flavor and more health benefits for you.
Reducing the amount of meat in your grocery shopping trip doesn’t mean spending extra money on fancy greens and expensive meat substitutes. Spending less time at the meat case makes more room in your cart for seasonal fruits and vegetables, dried and canned beans, and herbs and seasonings. Beef, chicken, and pork can take a big chunk out of your grocery budget so your dollar stretches further when you swap them for plant-based proteins. Items like lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, and nuts and seeds also have a longer shelf life. That means less waste and fewer trips to the store (whether in person or online).
And don’t forget about the freezer aisle. There you’ll find economical grab-and-go options for greens, fruits, and veggies that are prepped and ready to go. Bags of frozen spinach, green beans, peas, and fruit are great options. You can toss them into this Szechuan Tofu & Green Bean Stir-Fry or blend some berries into this Mango-Coconut Green Smoothie.
Looking for more info on plant-forward cooking? Head over to our beginner’s guide for tips on stocking your kitchen and easy and delicious recipes to get you inspired.