Is Healthy Really as Simple as Eating Less Meat?
Brian Kateman grew up eating a steady diet of hamburgers, hot dogs, and Buffalo wings. Now, at age 28, he’s pushing a nonjudgmental, plant-forward agenda with The Reducetarian Foundation, a 2-year-old group encouraging Americans to cut down on the 210 pounds of meat they eat every year.
What did you have for dinner last night?
BK: I had a quinoa bowl, actually.
I grilled 4 pounds of grass-fed beef for a dinner party last weekend, but I did eat more vegetable-forward lunches and dinners during the week to follow. Does that make me a reducetarian?
BK: Totally. I mean, I think most people eat meat with every single meal that they have, so it sounds like you eat a lot more plant-based meals than the average person. Just curious—how much grass-fed beef?
It was 4 pounds for five people.
BK: That’s certainly a lot in terms of a single setting, but it sounds like you were almost flirting with “weekday vegetarianism” or maybe “Vegan Before 6:00.” As a weekday vegetarian, you don’t eat meat during the week, but on the weekend it’s your choice. With Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6:00, you cut out animal products for breakfast and lunch, but for dinner it’s your choice. All of these strategies are great, and they don’t require you to completely give up the foods you love.
Does the world really need another term for these movements?
BK: “Reducetarian” allows us to see our shared vision—vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, people who are eating less meat. I think it’s easy to focus on the differences, and what we’re trying to do is say we’re all against factory farming—it accelerates climate change and is responsible for the suffering of many animals—and we all think that reducing animal product consumption is a good idea. So whether a person is reducing by 10%, 20%, or 100%—they’re all on the same team. I hate the idea of calling a vegetarian who occasionally eats animal products a “cheating vegetarian” or calling a vegan who occasionally eats animal products “a lazy vegan.” We need a positive spin on it. Through all of our work, we’re trying to create an inclusive movement that gets people to focus on reducing meat consumption—both on an individual level and on the societal level, too.
For many Americans, dinner still means meat, vegetables, and starch. What do you say to the traditionalists who wouldn’t be happy without a pork chop at the center of their plate?
BK: I think the main thing to know is that plant-based foods can be delicious—and they don’t have to be foreign. When I first started out, if I was making a curry, I just put vegetables in it instead of meat. To a person who does want to have meat in most of their meals, they could just have a smaller portion. Cut a 16-ounce steak or 8-ounce piece of chicken in half and put on more of whatever vegetable you like. Or if you’re going to make spaghetti Bolognese, have it be more of a flavoring rather than the center of the meal.
Are your parents reducetarians?
BK: They’re reducetarians, but they’re on the beginning of the journey. One thing that’s interesting to me is that different motivations will speak to different people. Some people might eat less meat because of the environment or they care about animals, but I find that there are a lot of people who are concerned about their health. My parents fall into this category. My dad has diabetes. My mom is overweight. And I often say to them, “I just want you to be on this planet longer.” And, “I don’t want you to have a heart attack, Dad.” Or, “I don’t want you to have breast cancer again, Mom.” Those messages resonate with people because we all want to be healthy.
Why is meat so relatively cheap here in the States compared to other countries?
BK: There are many forces that make meat artificially inexpensive. Most people don’t choose food based on ethics or environmental issues or even their own health. They primarily choose food based on taste, on price, and on convenience. And often, meat is readily accessible, it’s inexpensive, and it tastes good. As a result, Americans eat more and more meat—to the detriment of the planet and to their health. When you think about the system here—we have these clear plans to raise [seeds] to grow feed that we will then feed to the animals, and then we ourselves eat those animals. It’s an incredibly resource-intensive system, but the government has subsidized all of these inputs. So the meat producers are not actually paying for what it’s worth. So who pays the price? [We] the citizens do. We pay the price, in terms of health care and environmental damage.
What does healthy mean to you?
BK: For me, healthy means the continual process of harmonizing one’s body and mind with the planet. It’s about eating foods that increase our vitality and longevity while minimizing our impact on the environment. It’s about resisting rigidity and embracing compassion for oneself and for all other beings. Most importantly, healthy isn’t a single state of being; it’s an evolving journey.
Pick up Kateman’s book, The Reducetarian Solution, a collection of informative, nonjudgmental essays about why we should eat less meat, who plays a role in why we eat so much in the first place, and how to cut back.