The big environmental benefits of eating a little less meat

27 June 2017

On the one hand, adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle brings a tonne of health benefits, without any of that troubling animal cruelty. On the other hand, meat is delicious and quitting it is really hard — no surprise that almost everyone who swears off it for good ends up crawling back into its seared, juicy embrace.

The good news is you can enjoy steak and schnitzel and still score those sweet veggo benefits, if you commit to eating less meat rather than cutting it out altogether. It’s an increasingly popular trend that offers you dozens of names to choose from: flexitarian, weekday vegetarian, and even “reducetarian”.

The movement has now fuelled the Darwin Challenge, an iPhone app that tracks how much meat you’re eating — or rather, how much meat you’re not eating — and informs you of the environmental impact of your choice.

According to Charles Darwin, the man behind the app (and great-grandson of Charles), if every Australian took a meat-free day every week for a year, it’d save $1 billion, 130,000 cattle, 66 million chickens, 1 billion fish, an area of forest the size of two ACTs, and a quarter of a million Olympic swimming pools of water.

(Oh. Is that all?)

The impacts are so great because Australians are huge meat lovers —we’re the world’s second biggest meat consumers per capita, after Kuwait. According to OECD data, in 2014 we each chowed down 90kg of pork, beef, chicken and lamb, and meat consumption has doubled here in the last four decades.

Though meat consumption is dropping off in North America and Europe, it’s expected to double worldwide in the next 35 years. If that prediction comes true, Darwin warns “no sapling or sardine will be safe”.

“We will probably cause a mass extinction of species over the next 100 to 200 years, greenhouse gases will be very hard to control, water supply will reduce and the oceans will be even more depleted than they are today,” he tells Coach.

If the benefits to the environment and your long-term health are too lofty and abstract to convince you to cut back on meat, Darwin adds a shorter-term, more superficial benefit: weight loss.

A recent study found a vegetarian diet is twice as good at cutting body fat than conventional diet — all the more reason to eat more vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruits and nuts and make the steaks and schnitties occasional (and delicious) indulgences.

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