Why considering a vegetarian diet?
Meat is tasty, juicy, there is nothing better than smashing pulled pork and brisket in your mouth at a barbecue joint. With a good barbecue sauce, it tastes like heaven! For a very long time, I was a meat eater and when looking for a place to get dinner, my first thought was to find a good spot for getting burgers or barbecue. Also, as an active person and a runner, there is a lot of articles recommending a meat-centered diet to help muscle recovery. And with the common belief that high-quality protein comes from meat, you can't help thinking you have to eat meat. At that time, all my meals included a high-quality protein source, such as a piece of white meat, fish or sometimes, red meat.
However, after a while, I started to read articles, books and understand if these claims were legitimate and if we really need meat. Not only for active people (and potential runners) but for everybody. Long story short: you do not need to eat a cow per week and you might be better not to eat meat. I started to embrace the vegetarian diet (not vegan!) months ago and since then, feel better than ever. Since then, many folks ask me what motivate me to stop eating meat and what I am eating instead. So, here it goes.
Are you willing to eat shit?
I did not start being vegetarian because I did not like meat or wanted to save animals. Just because meat production is now gross, disgusting and a hazard to our health. Let's face the facts: today, 90% of meat contains fecal matters. And a recent study from Consumer Reports reported the same issue recently. This is why you need to wash the meat before cooking it and make sure you do not contaminate your vegetables and other food items. Is also means that basically, when you eat meat, you are literally eating grilled shit. Bon Appetit!
If eating shit is still ok for you, consider the antibiotics, medication and the feeding process of animals and the impact on the meat you eat. According to the Consumer Reports study, more than 50% of beef contains more than 2 types of bacteria. Are you willing to take the risk? And about the raising process, let's face it: keeping a cow in 23 square feet and feeding them with chicken coop waste, remains of pig or even soy is just no sane. Back in the days in the country-side of France, I remembered watching cows in farms eating grass. Why did you compromise the raising process so much and just drive it towards profits?
What is actually in your meat - credits
Not really convinced by the healthy argument? What about the impact on the environment? Animal production impacts the planet more than your car and the biggest change you can make to reduce your carbon footprint is probably to drop meat.
The following table shows the resources required to produce a Kg of meat. Let's face it: it takes a lot of resources to just feed the animal. Now, think also about the impact of the overall production process: land pollution (having hundreds of cows/chicken/pigs at the same place increase the pollution), transportation (need to move the animals and their grain/forage), etc.
And with the current evolution of the population, this is not realistic to keep the same diets. Alternatives have to be found. This is why people invest massively in meat substitute (see Bill gates note on that - the dude is investing in meat alternatives production).
Grain and forage inputs per kilogram of animal product produced - from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full
But dude, I need protein!
Your body needs protein for sure, especially if you exercise. But we eat way too much. And way too much protein. Look at our society: obesity, diabetes - the impact of our food on our health is obvious. And the need of a high protein diet is a myth: in fact, if you drop meat from your diet, you are more than likely to meet your daily protein needs. And if you think that meat is the best protein source, think twice: eggs are actually the best protein source (and please stop thinking about the fat content of the egg, this is probably better than the fat from the meat you will eat), even better than meat and also contains vitamins. Thinking about efficiency? A chicken will produce plenty of eggs - so, rather than killing the animals, just take the eggs!
If you want to focus on plants, there are no complete protein so, you will need to combine plants to meet your protein needs. There is no real difficulty and very easy to meet your daily needs. Take some hummus (peas) with bread, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (between 10 and 15g), lentils with pita bread (easily 20g of protein) or greek yogurt with granola (between 10 and 20g, depending on the yogurt and granola contents). Comparing to meat? A 4 oz steak will provide around 20g of protein, which is close to the values reported below.
If you are not exercising, you likely need about 1g of protein per Kg of body weight. So, a dude like me needs about 75g per day, which is easy to meet. Exercising every day, you might need more and I usually end up by eating between 80g to 100g a day. Again, this is rather a matter of balance and some day you will eat more than others but as long as you are around your target, you are just fine!
Where can we find good meat?
Short answer: nowhere but in a farm you know.
One of my friends argued that meat in fancy dinner places served good meat. For example, in the USA, fancy steak houses are not impacted by the problems usually found in meat found in the grocery stores. Bottom line is: these places have good reputations and if the steak is expensive, it should have a good quality, right? She tried to bring me to such places when there was some good deals. But it turns out that such places serve meat that comes from animals raised with antibiotics and have often the same issues than the meat in your grocery store. As pointed out by a French Chef in "Bon Appetit", the meat in fancy dinner place has likely the same issues as the meat you can get you your grocery shop.
Just think about the cut of costs: even with a steak at $20 in a steakhouse. Much of the money goes to the store, the wages of the employees, chef, etc. At the end, how much is dedicated to your meat (and only the meat, not the side and other sides)? Probably not much and I would assume less than $5). So, how a restaurant can have a good piece of meat at that price when organic meat costs more, about twice? There is no magic: this is not possible and the solution is just to cut on the quality. That is by decreasing the quality of our meat that we also lowered our quality standards. By the time, the meat we considered bad several years ago appears good now.
Why not being vegan?
Seriously, vegan is the boring side of being vegetarian - there are so many constraints that this is almost impossible to follow such a diet. Also, meeting your protein need with a vegetarian diet is easy: you can eat milk, cheese, eggs - there are plenty of combinations and the probability to have deficiency is very low. On the other hand, you have to be very careful is you choose to go vegan (especially for vitamins or iron).
On the other hand, when going vegan, getting your protein is more challenging and you have to juggle with the different potential combinations. Then, cooking not only becomes a real challenge but being a full vegan is difficult to follow when going out. There are almost always vegetarian substitution in restaurant but vegan options are not so popular. From a personal perspective, I have no problem eating milk or eggs (after all, I use the products from the animals, I do not kill them) and love the different types of cheese I eat when I go back in France!
Example of a vegetarian diet
I have been following a vegetarian diet for more than 6 months now. Switching in the beginning was difficult and I had to find alternatives. Once you are used to it, this is not an issue. This is the typical things I eat through a typical day:
- Breakfast: greek yogurt with granola, a toast with peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal
- Lunch or dinner: lentil stew with some potato chips, hummus with pita bread, spinach dip with chips, egg-salad sandwich, spinach salad with an avocado/egg sandwich, chili with piece of bread, sandwich with egg and hummus, bean salad, veggie burger with salad, sweet potato taco, veggie stew. There are a lot of opportunities!
- Mid-day meal: shake with chocolate milk and half banana, a toast with peanut butter and jelly, protein bar, yogurt with chestnut cream
This keeps me full for the day and provides enough fuel to run between 50 to 100 miles and 2 to 3 hours at the gym every week. Of course, when running more, I take more fuel (for example, instead of having one toast, I might go for another one) - but not too much. Many folks think you need to eat way more if you run but you do not need too much and eating more than you need will makes you heavier, slower and might impact the joy of running.
Is the vegetarian diet the bulletproof diet? No at all and there are still a lot of issue to address if you go vegetarian (e.g. chemical used in crops, impact of pesticides, safety of GMO, etc.). To mitigate these issues, I buy most of my food local, organic and try to promote responsible farming. This might be not the definitive answer but will reduce potential issues. But there is clear scientific evidence that we do not need meat, that the production process is not safe for the consumer and that meat production is not sustainable considering the evolution of the worldwide population.
Unfortunately, I still eat meat sometimes. When going out with friends, at a party or at a work meeting there are sometimes no vegetarian alternatives. As I do not want to stay hungry forever, I might consume meat sometimes if there is no alternative. I hate food-snobs and I do not want to impose my vision or choices: when being in a group, I accept what the majority wants. Unless there is a real safety issue and a potential threat, I do not want to bore other and accept from time to time that meat will not kill me right away.
But after six months, I have no regret for being now vegetarian. I feel better, I love the food I eat every day and think I avoid many potential health threats with this change. In addition to my transportation policy (run commuting), it decreases my impact on the planet. If you ever considered to switch for a vegetarian diet, I suggest you give a try for a month, you might be surprised by how easy it is to change.
- Should we eat meat? - Vaclav Smil
- Bon Appetit - Anne de Loizy
- Slaying the protein myth
- Ultrarunning and Vegetarism
- How safe is your ground beef?