"Reducetarianism" is about cutting down the amount of meat and processed food you buy and eat, for the good of your health and the planet—here are some tips to become a reducetarian
An increasingly popular way of eating called “reducetarianism” may sound like a new weight loss fad. And if you try it, you might lose some pounds. But that’s not the main goal; instead, reducetarianism is about cutting down on the amount of meat and processed foods you eat, making small changes that are healthy for you and the planet.
Even though most of us now understand that consuming too much meat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, global research shows that meat consumption has increased every year over the past 25 years.
“Many people think of it as an all-or-nothing premise: Either you’re a vegan, or you’re not,” says Brian Kateman, co-founder and president of the Reducetarian Foundation. “But the vast majority of people don’t want to go vegan.” So he has a simple message for the rest of us: “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.”
Compared with a vegetarian or a vegan, reducetarians take a more flexible approach that acknowledges the challenges of giving up meat entirely but still limits meat, poultry and dairy products when possible.
If this all sounds good to you, here are six fairly simple things you can try:
1. Eat more plants
Eating more vegetables will help your health and the climate. Credit: Prostock-Studio
The flip side of eating less meat is eating more whole-plant foods. Animal products often displace fresh fruits and vegetables, leading to an increased risk of deficiency in nutrients from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A more plant-based diet can help lower the risk of health problems including colon cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
"The climate toll from raising plant-based foods is half or less of the toll caused by animal-based foods"
And research has shown that the climate toll from raising plant-based foods is half or less of the toll caused by animal-based foods. This is largely because it takes a lot more land, water, energy and other resources to produce a pound of animal meat compared to plant protein, says Dana Ellis Hunnes, senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Centre in the United States, and author of Recipe for Survival. “Cutting back on meat and dairy products is the most action-oriented thing you can do to be a more environmentally-conscious consumer,” says Hunnes.
Just a few meatless meals each week can make a difference. Reducetarians believe that every plant-based meal is a win for people and the planet.
2. Choose better meat
The type of meat you buy matters, too. Grass-fed and grass-finished meat from animals raised without antibiotics tend to be the more sustainable options. For example, by grazing, cows encourage grass growth and nutrient turnover in the soil, which may help offset cattle’s climate impact, according to a study published in Agricultural Systems.
"Grass-fed and grass-finished meat from animals raised without antibiotics tend to be the more sustainable options"
Paying attention to where your meat originates is also important. Brazil—one of the world’s largest beef exporters—clears vast amounts of rainforest to raise cattle. As a result, a steak from that country can have more of a climate impact than locally-raised beef.
3. Look for local produce
“You’re always better off getting food locally whenever possible,” Hunnes says. “It’s a great way to support your farmers, give back to the community and support the local economy.”
But it can be difficult to source everything locally. So experts say that when you’re trying to shop more sustainably, you should pay attention to which products require air transport. Depending on the season, some culprits include berries, green beans, snap peas and asparagus. These items can have a carbon footprint 50 times greater than food that travels by boat. Hunnes advises that you try frozen versions instead.
4. Buy sustainable seafood
Make sure your fish is sustainably sourced. Credit: VictorHuang
Overfishing is a major contributor to climate change. According to research published in Frontiers in Marine Science, choosing more sustainable options for seafood could help make fish populations more climate-resilient.
“The most environmentally friendly seafood choices would likely be those that are wild-caught with a line-and-pole method—meaning only one fish is caught at a time,” says Hunnes. “Industrial fishing methods are abhorrent when it comes to sustainability; they pull up all types of bycatch.”
What’s bycatch? Hunnes explains that these are “unintended species that end up dead when they’re thrown back into the ocean.”
Around the world, many countries have implemented regulations for commercial fishing. Norway’s commitment to sustainable fishing operations have helped make the country one of the world’s largest seafood exporters, second only to China.
When buying seafood, check the package for certifications. For example, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) awards its blue check logo to fisheries that meet certain sustainability requirements.
5. Avoid ultra-processed food
Ultra-processed food is a broad category that includes sausages, frozen meals, sodas and many snacks and candies. Most are heavily packaged in plastic—itself an ecological nightmare. And, generally, they’re not very good for your health.
But there’s more. A 2020 report published in the Lancet reviewed just how environmentally damaging these convenient, low-cost, and typically low-nutrient foods are. Some reasons to avoid ultra-processed foods:
- They often feature wheat and corn as key ingredients, industrial crops that contribute to poor soil quality and chemical runoff into water supplies.
- They tend to contain palm and soy oils, major drivers of deforestation.
- They require multiple stages of processing, packaging and distribution.
6. Trim your food waste
Composting leftovers rather than throwing them away cuts down on food waste. Credit: Daisy-Daisy
According to the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 Food Waste Index Report, 1 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally each year. That means one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted. Not only is this inefficient, but the food generally ends up in landfills, where it produces large amounts of methane—a gas that’s 25 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide emissions.
"1 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally each year, which means one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted"
Simple ways to reduce food waste include:
- Freezing fresh food if you can’t use it before it spoils.
- Experimenting with using parts of vegetables or fruits that many people discard, such as carrot greens and celery leaves (both of which make a delicious pesto or chimichurri sauce) and banana peels (which are wonderful blended into banana bread).
- Composting food rather than throwing it away.
The message of reducetarianism is that you don’t have to be perfect to help yourself, your family and the planet. It’s about making small changes in how you eat and shop for food.
By Adam Meyer and Leslie Finlay
Banner photo: Alex Raths
Read more: How to feed a hungry planet
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