Vegetarian Awareness Month, which began on Oct. 1, is a good time to recall that being kind to mother nature pays off in multiple ways: From taking care of your clothes to keeping an eye out for food waste, going green doesn’t just help preserve a healthy planet — but can also save you some serious cash.
If you’re looking for environmentally friendly ways to trim your budget without sacrificing taste, giving up meat is a surprisingly good place to start and — between cheese, eggs, sweets and rad vegan burgers — still leaves lots of latitude to indulge when you want to. There’s also a good financial case: Those who eat meat spend about $750 more on their diets annually than vegetarians, according to a study in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition.
The authors arrived at that figure by comparing a seven-day meal plan from the the Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate program with a plant-based olive oil diet, or PBOO. In addition to saving nearly $15 each week, people on the hypothetical PBOO diet also got a diet that was richer in nutritious fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And if $750 a year isn’t enough to get you to re-think that afternoon burger, you might consider the medical savings.
One 1995 study — noting that high levels of meat consumption have been linked to higher risks for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes — estimated the total health costs of American meat consumption as high as $61 billion, comparable to the costs of smoking. That’s more than $98 billion in today’s dollars, using the Department of Labor’s inflation calculator.
Another case for vegetarianism? Protecting the environment: The process of raising cattle alone is responsible for some 20% of U.S. methane emissions, one study found. And if all the grain fed to U.S. cattle was fed to humans instead, it would feed an estimated 800 million additional people every year.
Given the economic and moral case for cutting down on meat, it’s no surprise that even McDonald’s, arguably the most famous burger flipping joint of all time, is investing in meatless “meat.” The company recently announced that certain burger locations will begin selling a vegan patty, sparking hope that the other large fast-food chains will also start offering more plant-based meals.
There’s plenty of other reasons why guilt-laden carnivores should feel optimistic. An innovative new “bleeding veggie-burger,” which achieves a meat-y taste using a compound called heme, has begun hitting high-end menus courtesy of a Silicon Valley startup called Impossible Burger.
The Impossible Burger is not yet widely available, as Wired reports, but it has appeared in cities like Denver, Indianapolis and Chicago, sometimes to rave reviews. The company is also working on a “meatless fish” product too, according to Reader’s Digest.
Still skeptical? Other startups are exploring the possibility of lab-grown meat to put into hamburgers, which would drastically cut down on the environmental costs associated with producing meat. They’ve made headway — the cost of producing a test-tube burger shrunk from more than $300,000 per burger in 2013 to just $11 in 2015, though Inverse notes the burgers aren’t yet commercially scalable. In other words, it’ll still be some time before these guilt-free paddies are available at your local grocery store.
Delicious tricks to going meatless — on a budget
Now, you don’t need to wait for a scientific breakthrough to enjoy indulgent, scrumptious plant-based meals. Eggplant, mushrooms and legumes like black beans are all good meat substitutes to have on hand that are also generally cheaper than the meat they’re subbing in for.
Dried beans, for example, can be fashioned into burger patties and cost about $1.30 per pound, according to the Department of Labor. The same amount of ground beef costs about $4.20. Alternatively, grains like brown rice and root vegetables like sweet potato can also be used as burger-replacements.
To be sure, while some groups will always make the case for full veganism, there’s no reason why your plan for cutting down on meat needs to be so dramatic. Perhaps consider going meatless just part of the time — with flexitarianism, or semi-vegetarianism as it is sometimes known — or by cutting out processed meats like cold-cuts and bacon, as Harvard’s T.H Chan School of Public Health recommends. A diet high in processed meats and alcohol, the American Institute for Cancer Research recently found, may increase your risk for certain kinds of cancer.
Meatless Mondays, or meatless weekdays are other good ways cut down without having to quit cold turkey. Though it seems a small change, one study found that a single meat-free day each week will reduce your total consumption by as much as 15%.
Is finding healthful local food a challenge? If you’re looking for other ways to cut your expenses, you might even consider making for a new city like Orlando, Florida — one celebrated hub that ranks high on WalletHub’s 2017 best places in the U.S. for vegetarians and vegans — which also offers an affordable high quality of life.
Finally, if you’re worried about not eating enough protein, remember that fish, though it generally costs the same as meat, delivers similar nutritional value with way less in the way of saturated fats. Buying frozen seafood, or simply eating lots of cheap and sustainable shellfish like mussels can help you take your diet in a more pescatarian direction — without spending too much cash.
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