What We Mean When We Say ''Less Meat, Better Meat''

@freemanlafleur via Twenty20

There are many terms for the practice: flexitarian, reducetarian, weekday vegetarians, Meatless Mondayer, quasi-veg. But what seems evident is that the "less meat, better meat" strategy is taking hold of our collective conscious. So, what does "less meat, better meat" really mean?

The Less Meat, Better Meat Strategy

It's no secret that industrialized meat production is resource-intensive and damaging to the environment. The demand for cheap meat has resulted in a system which exploits animals, laborers and ecosystems. A collective shift toward a less meat-heavy and more plant-based diet could benefit the environment, not to mention animal welfare, public health and local economies. Everyone has their own food traditions and preferences, so vegetarianism and veganism, while being terrific options for some, are not necessarily viable for all. But if you're concerned about the issues surrounding industrialized meat production, try eating a little less meat (or a lot less) and fewer animal products. When you do choose to eat meat, try to purchase from farmers who raise animals humanely and sustainably when you can.

It's Not an All or Nothing Proposition

Eating "less meat," can be a spectrum - from those who eat meat once a day or once a week, to those who choose not to eat meat at all, to those who abstain from all animal products (such as dairy and eggs). Heavy meat eaters can reduce their consumption by moving meat off to the edge of a vegetable-centered dish (such as a vegetable stir-fry with a little added meat), or by replacing a five ounce portion of meat with a three ounce one. Simply by taking a day off from meat (like with Meatless Monday) a person can decrease their meat consumption by one-seventh, or by nearly 15 percent! This can have the effect of decreasing the problems associated with industrial meat production and consumption by about the same quantity.

The concept of less meat isn't so hard to understand, but the "better meat" principle is a little more complicated, especially when consumers take into account cost. "Better" meat refers to the way in which animals have been raised and meat has been produced, taking into consideration the issues regarding sustainability, animal welfare and labor practices. As a rule, pasture-raised livestock and poultry indicates a high quality of life for animals since they tend not to be overcrowded and can roam freely in their given environments. Buying local and knowing the farmer who raises the livestock and poultry is the most reliable way to assure he or she is raising "better" meat. When knowing your farmer isn't an option, AWA and Certified Humane labels are a reliable replacement.

Industrialized meat and factory farming has developed, in part, because it is the only way producers have been able to keep up with the demand for cheap meat. We won't sugar coat it: buying "better meat" does often mean buying more expensive meat, but that is because it is virtually impossible to protect our environment, animals and laborers and still keep meat unsustainably cheap. Not everyone can afford to buy "better meat" or animal products all the time. But other sources of protein - vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains - are less expensive than meat on the dollar. By buying meat less frequently, the money saved can be reallocated to buying better meat from local farmers, if you are able to.

The Power of Consumer Purchasing

Consumers have the power to vote with our forks - and we can, and do, shift demand. "Less meat, better meat" can be a powerful influencer on the industrialized meat industry in two ways: first, by eating less meat we help discourage harmful farming practices, and second, by purchasing more sustainably-produced meat, we help incentivize farmers doing their best for animals, people and the planet. A few more added bonuses to "less meat, better meat?" We help bolster public health and local economies, sending a message to producers that consumers care about the treatment of our planet and its inhabitants.