The planet we call home has supported life for approximately 3.5 billion years, and even in the face of evolution, seismic activity and natural fluctuations in the climate - there has always been a balance - but human activity is beginning to change this, and our consumption of meat is one of the biggest contributing factors.
So how does meat impact climate change and the ecological dilemma?
Well, there are two reasons for reducing the amount that you’re eating.
Firstly, agriculture, and the rearing of animals in particular, is the third most pollutive industry in the world - with industries like tanning following closely behind.
Secondly, it’s actually pretty good for you (as well as the environment) to reduce the amount of meat that you’re eating.
If you look at areas of the world that have the lowest numbers of people recorded with chronic disease - they tend to eat a lot less animal protein - which means they’re not eating as much saturated fat that clogs up your arteries. On top of that - fiber rich vegetables and beans help reduce the risk of heart disease and a high-blood pressure.
Oh, and there’s one other benefit of reducing the amount of meat you’re eating. The cost! Ever wondered why vegetarians are always able to afford that extra pint or glass of wine in the pub? That’s right, it’s because they’re saving an average £750/$1,000 more than you by not eating meat.
Firstly, no-one is asking you to go tee-total on meat, because like most diets - it’ll work for about a week before you fall back into your old habits and give up on the whole idea as there are foods that you just miss.
Most research has shown us that if we want to get our emissions right down for the planet, we need to be managing a 40% reduction in the amount of meat that we’re eating.
So if you start with ‘meatless Monday’ and work towards adding in ‘save the planet Saturday’ and one other day of meat-free eating (we’ll let you name it yourself) - then you’re already well on your way to helping both yourself and the planet.
Cutting down on the amount of meat that you’re eating is a great first step - but actually there’s something else that you can do that will help the environment.
To put things into perspective, if two people eat 100g of meat - one being red meat and the other being white, the person eating the white meat (chicken, turkey etc.), would have a carbon footprint that’s 113kg of CO2 lower (that’s just over 250 miles in the car) than the person eating the red meat (lamb, beef etc.).
So when you do eat meat - save the beef or pork for the special occasions, or at least do what you can to reduce that the most.
Reducing your red for your white is also good for your body. While red meat is good in moderation (for iron and other important minerals), excess red meat consumption can lead to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, strokes, and even certain cancers.
One of the best ways to start phasing out meat in your life is to use vegetables that pack a punch, both in terms of flavour and texture. Vegetables like hearty mushrooms, aubergines jackfruit, cauliflower and potatoes all work well.
One region that has fully embraced meat free living is the middle east, and Israeli in particular. In Tel Aviv roasted cauliflower is a common centrepiece for a vegetarian feast, with its crispy burnt edges and golden crust rivalling any cut of meat.
Chef Eyal Jagermann puts together the most incredible roasted cauliflower as part of the Israeli course we offer on Rassa.
Seeds and nuts are a great source of protein, flavour and crunch when incorporated into meals such as salads, stuffings or roasts. They can be oily, buttery, rich and when you’re craving something with a deep flavour they can provide that earthy flavour that just can’t be beat.
But if you want an all purpose hack for making your meals more, satisfying, filling and nutrient dense - don’t look any further than tahini. Made from ground and roasted sesame seeds, this paste is creamy rich and perfect with middle eastern dishes.
While there are many varieties of tahini available, here at Rassa we have an unequivocal favourite - Belazu. Number one for flavour, this variety uses Ethiopian sesame for smooth texture and pale colour.
Using nut and seed based pastes/butters, or toasting them and serving them with roasted vegetables creates a satisfying crunch and will make sure you have the essential protein and fats that you need (and lose from not eating meat).
I’m not just talking baked beans - kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas, lentils, and if you can get your hands on them, indigenous Tepary beans that were revived by Ramona Farms in Arizona.
They’re high in protein, and most of the time will act as a perfect replacement when you’re yearning for a juicy steak.
In fact, beans have a number of health benefits. Beans act as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and they have been proven to improve your overall gut health.
Once again the middle east stands as a good role model for the rest of us with dishes like hummus, masabacha and falafel all featuring pulses (and are incidentally featured on our Israeli course). These dishes are perfect if you’re trying to cut down on the amount of meat that you’re eating because they all have a satisfaction to them that goes some way to filling the hole left behind by meat.
So the next time that you’re cooking your famous chilli with kidney beans, consider doubling down on the beans, introducing a mix, and doing away with the meat altogether.
Tofu and seitan both make brilliant replacements to meat if you’re trying to cut down while still getting some sort of meaty texture in your food.
Tofu is great as it contains several anti-inflammatories and antioxidants - but it also contains a ‘complete’ source of protein - meaning that it has a well balanced amino acid profile. It also contains lots of fiber and essential minerals required in the body.
Seitan is equally good as a meat-replacement, with a high-protein, low-carb alternative. However - if you’re really looking for something that’s healthy - consider tofu over seitan, as seitan is still highly processed, and some research has shown that it’s not great for your gut.
These options are just that - options. You don’t need to change your habits overnight - in reality, the most long lasting habits are begun with moderation in mind. They become part of your routine, and with time are built upon.
So if you take anything from this list of ideas, try to use it to replace a meaty habit that you’ve got used to and see if you can make it stick!