The Beefetarian Blues

Click here to subscribe to our Feeding Your Family Newsletter

This article is featured in the July '07 Feeding Your Family Newsletter
Recipes: Versatile Vietnamese Salad Rolls
What's in Season? Beans! The Beefetarian Blues Things We Love! The Meatrix
Health Check: If You're Going to Eat Meat ...

By Larissa Phillips

Before I start talking about why we should all eat less meat, let me just say that I am a complete failure when it comes to vegetarianism.

I have tried to quit meat since I was a teenager, when my older sister first brought home this cool new idea about food. We both promptly quit meat - with different results. What was effortless for my sister (who two decades later still has not wavered) was torture for me.

Vegetarian diets turn me into a wild animal - but a weakened one, like a wolf living on granola. The sight of raw meat makes my mouth water. I dream about steak and hamburgers. My attempts at vegetarianism always end in moments of intense craving that finally propel me to a steakhouse. Instead of feeling sickened after those first meals-of-flesh in however many months, I feel like the color is coming back into my cheeks.

Because of these experiences, I have come to believe that some bodies really do need meat, and mine is one of them. So, now that I have made it clear that I am not standing on a vegetarian soapbox (and let me add that a recipe that can include meat follows this tirade), I am going to rail on about why we should all eat less meat.

In terms of the environment, a meat-centered diet is not sustainable. We are cutting down rain forest to make room for cattle to graze. The manure produced by the cattle industry is an environmental hazard. Never in history has a population eaten as much meat, so cheaply, as Americans do.

The reason we can eat so cheaply is because several decades ago Americans figured out that the assembly line concept could be applied to animals. The vast majority of our meat comes from industrial farms where animals live lives of untold misery. Factory farming also creates huge amounts of animal waste, with no means of dealing with it. Even the workers are treated badly; meatpacking has one of the nation's highest rates of work-related injuries.

But even if you are eating pasture-raised organic meat from small family farms, too much meat is not good for your health. More fruits, vegetables and whole grains equal less heart disease. It's a fact.

There are probably hundreds more reasons for cutting down on meat, but those three do it for me: the environment, animal welfare and my own health. I will probably never quit eating meat entirely, but by relying on cooking models from outside of the United States - Asian, Italian and Mexican, for example - it is easy and delicious to relegate meat to a modest supporting role, instead of its usual obnoxious star appearance. Besides, when meat is no longer the mainstay, it becomes possible to afford high-quality, well-raised meat from small family farms. Summer is a perfect time to explore these options.