More veggies, less meat; flexitarians find middle ground

The trendiest diet these days is meatless – sort of.

According to the American Dietetic Association, approximately a quarter of Americans consider themselves flexitarians – a vegetarian who eats meat occasionally – as a result of eating veggie-friendly meals at least four times a week. Despite the growing obesity rate, some folks are starting to realize that healthier eating can lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and certain cancers.

A recent Centers for Disease Control report states that $147 billion dollars is spent on obesity-related costs annually. If that is any indication of future health care trends, more Americans might start to skip the meat section at the supermarket a little more often.

Along with the health of human beings, the health of the planet also plays a role in meat consumption. A groundbreaking 2006 United Nations report shows that global meat production contributes to 18 percent of greenhouses gas emissions. While many of these environmental problems are caused by the corrupted food industry, the American diet also has a role to play. Most statistics show that the average American eats 200 pounds of meat every year. This gives new meaning to Bart Simpson’s famous words: “Don’t have a cow, man!”

Looking at all of these statistics recently has me rethinking my own eating habits. A common aspect of food consumption throughout the African Diaspora is the importance of meat. Growing up with a Jamaican mother who is also a fabulous chef, meals like curried goat, stewed chicken and oxtail made daily appearances on my family’s dinner table. I don’t think I can completely become a vegetarian; veganism is certainly not an option for me. Flexitarianism is starting to look a lot more interesting.

I am not the only black person thinking about this nation’s meat problem. Bryant Terry, an eco-chef and food justice activist, has been leading the charge on meatless eating for years. Recently I started reading his latest cookbook, “Vegan Soul Kitchen.” Don’t be fooled by the word vegan in the title: Terry doesn’t label himself a vegan or even a vegetarian.

“When I reflect on my journey with food, I realize that most of the times when I was naming my diet, it was for other people,” Terry told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I want to empower people to embrace a more ethical, sustainable and helpful diet without feeling like they have to box themselves into a model.”

Since I started eating meat only three to four days a week two months ago, I have felt more physically fit. I also have a good feeling of creating a smaller carbon footprint. I have also started to embrace the other Jamaican diet of being “ital” – no red meat and only fresh foods. With African Americans suffering from a disproportionate obesity problem and dying from preventable diseases which may are linked to a poor diet, perhaps many more of us need to re-evaluate our diets.

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