Why Going Vegetarian Once A Week Makes A Difference

Just one day can make a big difference.

If there's one thing meat-eaters don't like, it's being criticized for their dietary choices.

Asking meat lovers to completely change their ways can be a hard sell, so vegetarians have had to shake up their tactics a bit to reduce meat consumption. If giving up meat for good isn't an option, cutting it out just once a week is a small step that can still make a big difference. 

Meatless Mondays entail foregoing meat just one day a week and focusing instead on fresh, healthy alternatives like vegetables and nuts.

Many people have a hard time going vegetarian because eating meat played a role in human evolution.

Throughout our history, food was often scarce. Many of our ancestors relied on the fatty, salty goodness of meat to get through winters and times when the next meal was uncertain. As a result, we're wired to crave those flavors, as Scientific American explains. 

Though starving during the winter isn't a problem most people in the developed world face, consumption of meat has never been higher. The average American eats over 275 pounds of meat each year, a staggering 40 percent increase from the amount eaten in 1961. This isn't just bad news for animal rights advocates, but also for those concerned about public health and the environment.

Eating large amounts of meat, particularly when paired with a sedentary lifestyle, has been linked to a higher risk of obesity, certain cancers and the number one global killer: heart disease.

A study published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2013 followed over 445,000 people for over a decade and found that those who ate the most meat experienced the most health complications and had higher BMIs (Body Mass Index) than those who ate a more plant-centered diet. Similar studies have also found that meat consumption correlates to a higher likelihood of developing disease. Additionally, too much red meat and organ meat can contribute to the development of kidney stones and other renal problems.

As NPR explains, some of the health risks may not be the result of excess meat, but of too few vegetables. Participating in Meatless Mondays encourages people to add vegetables to their diets, promoting overall health and well-being.

Cutting back on meat isn't just good for the body, it's good for the Earth as well.

A considerable amount of the focus on livestock's role in climate change has been on methane emissions from the animals, but it also takes a tremendous amount of resources to rear those animals, cattle in particular. For the amount of land it takes to raise 250 pounds of beef, a farmer could grow 50,000 pounds of tomatoes instead. While a cow may require 1,850 gallons of water for every pound of meat it produces, a pound of vegetables uses about 50 times less. This is particularly important as water insecurity becomes a bigger problem for the Western states.

Then, of course, there are the animals themselves.

The horrors of factory farms are well documented, with cramped living spaces and brutal treatment. Not only that, but these harmful practices have effects that extend beyond the plight of the animals themselves.

In the interest of generating higher profits, for example, livestock are indiscriminately given antibiotics to help them gain weight quickly, according to the CDC. The FDA has found that antibiotic use in animals has been rising in recent years. (Roughly 80 percent of the antibiotics administered to livestock are specifically aimed at accelerating weight gain.) With the growing threat of antibiotic resistance — something that threatens all of us — public officials are searching for new ways to regulate this use in order to protect human health.

Kate Mara from "House of Cards" has teamed up with The Humane Society of the United States to express the impact that giving up meat just one day a week can make. Check it out:

Sure, Meatless Mondays alone might not be enough to save the planet.

But the goal of the program is to increase awareness about what we're eating, and how we can make dietary choices that are good for us and for the environment. 

Check out the list of celebrities who participate in Meatless Mondays, and be sure to join them!

Image credit: shironosov/iStockphoto