5 Helpful Vegetarian Diet Tips for Meat-Free Newbies

Happy World Vegetarian Day! Cutting back on red meat and dairy can be one of the biggest steps to reduce your carbon footprint. While we’re campaigning for renewable energy and a transition from fossil fuels, we’re also looking at other ways we can protect ourselves and the environment.

So why start a low-carbon diet, and where do you begin making changes? Check out these great tips for cutting back on meat.

I’ve been an activist for two years and a vegetarian for six. During this time, I’ve cited animal welfare, my feelings towards factory farming, and ‘because someone dared me to’ as reasons for my meat-free diet. Now, my main motivation for vegetarianism comes from environmental concerns: I’ve recognised it’s an easy way to reduce my carbon emissions.

Just like a fossil fuel transport system, the meat industry is impacting the environment. And when we eat red meat every day – one of the most resource-intensive foods in modern Western diets – it impacts heavily on our water use and carbon footprints. Here’s a breakdown of Australia’s emissions by industry:

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According to the Australian government, due to emission of greenhouse gases like methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, agriculture accounts for 15% of national emissions.

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It’s pretty scary stuff. Image via GrubStreet 

According to the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s scientific report:

“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet.”

In Australia, there are many factors that contribute to the carbon emissions caused by our food consumption – production, packaging, transport, and cooking methods – which means there are also lots of ways to cut back. But for those who are thinking of reducing their red meat intake or giving up meat altogether, here are four helpful tips I’ve gathered to help with adjusting to a meatless life.

1. The rules of your diet are up to you

Your diet is a very personal part of your life. In Australia, many of us are lucky enough to have autonomy over what we eat, which means we can control what we put in our mouths.

You don’t need to follow the rules and trends of other herbivores – just the advice of your doctor (and maybe your mum). Some vegetarians choose to eat sustainably caught seafood, and some vegans eat eggs from their own chickens. Others – called ‘freegans’ – eat meat and dairy that would otherwise be thrown out to avoid food waste. As long as you’re safe, healthy, and making the decisions you want for yourself and the world – you’re all good.

Fruit and Vegetables Stall in Quiapo Market, Manila

2. It’s okay to start slow

If dropping meat from your diet right now sounds daunting, you can try phasing it out over time. Initiatives like Meatless Mondays where people stop eating meat one day of the week are a great place to start (not to mention you’ll be alongside people like Sir Paul McCartney and Chris Martin). You could also make an effort to choose the vegetarian option when eating out, or start by cutting the most resource-intensive meats like beef from your diet.

If you’re anything like me, it’s making the decision to commit to a new diet that is difficult – after that it’s easy! But if you slip up or forget, be kind to yourself and keep at it.

3. Talk to your friends and loved ones

Sometimes our diets affect the people we live with or see a lot. If you’re sharing food preparation duties with someone, make sure you talk to them about your decision and make an effort to work out a plan. Maybe some nights you’ll cook separately, or you’ll make dishes with the meat on the side – or they might even make a change with you!

People Enjoying Healthy Vegetarian Food at Corner Tree Cafe, Makati, Manila

If you’re visiting friends or family for a meal, let them know about your new diet. You might want to bring a vegetarian dish or two to share, or offer to come early to help cook and prepare. Your diet doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying your life.

4. The Internet is your best friend

From nutritional information, to vegetarian recipes, to helping you find the perfect ingredient substitutes – the internet has everything a vegetarian needs.

Here are some handy online tools and resources:

What if I can’t cut back on meat right now?

If you can’t stop eating meat, but still want to bite away at your food footprint, there’s still lots you can do. You might choose to buy local or organic produce, stop eating processed or packaged foods, or grow your own fruit and vegetables at home. There are even ways to make changes to the ways you consume meat and dairy to reduce your carbon food footprint – like choosing from more ecological farming methods – for example, buying grass-fed rather than grain-fed beef.

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What is ecological farming?

Ecological farming ensures healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow by protecting the soil, water and climate, and promoting biodiversity.

Livestock reared ecologically integrates farm animals as essential elements in the agriculture system; they help optimise the use and recycling of nutrients and, in many regions, provide a necessary farm workforce. Such methods rely on grasslands, pasture and residues for feed, minimising use of arable land and competition with land used for direct human food production, and protecting natural ecosystems within a globally equitable food system.

Ready to change your diet and impact on the Earth? Take one of the I Know Who Grew It pledges here today.

  • Isayah Kuhlmann

    This is a great article, i decided to cut back on meat three days ago and I’m loving it. Some good advice in this article, thanks.

  • Erikkko

    What does the abbreviation LULUCF mean? (It’s in the pie chart.)

    • abc

      land use, land use change
      and forestry (LULUCF)

  • Bev

    Amazing blog post Rashini <3 I wish more people were aware of the harmful effects that animal agriculture can have on our planet. Go girl!!

  • Jeremy Monforte

    Good stuff. Glad to see GP acknowledge animal agriculture as a major contributor to climate change.

  • Bron

    You give some good advice and facts, Rashini, but I do not like your statement that, ‘ Some vegetarians choose to eat sustainably caught seafood, and some vegans eat eggs from their own chickens.’
    I agree that it is up to people to eat what they want and it is great if they are making an effort but calling yourself a vegetarian when you eat fish, or eating eggs, then calling yourself a vegan is like saying that your home runs on 100% renewables, but you use a diesel generator. It confuses the issue and is untrue. I hate going into a restaurant and saying that I am vegan and being offered a dish containing eggs because they are free range. When a friend rang a restaurant and asked if they had anything suitable for vegetarians, she was told that they had an extensive vegetarian menu. When she arrived, the only vegetarian dish was vegetable pasta. The other dishes they presented her with were all fish. This was very upsetting for her, as she was being taken but as a special treat for her birthday. There was another restaurant which would have been suitable, but it was booked out by the time she saw the unsuitable menu at the first one. People who use the wrong terms make it very difficult for those who rely on terms being used correctly. It also means that restaurants are less likely to go to any effort to accommodate true vegetarians and vegans.

    By all means, if you want to make an effort, but do not wish to be a true vegetarian or vegan, go ahead, but give an accurate description of what you do eat.

  • Rebecca Henshaw

    Hello

    I came to your website looking for clarity on the animal agriculture and sustainability debate. There was little to NO information I could see! One of your core values are:

    • We seek solutions for, and promote open, informed debate about society’s environmental choices.

    You fail to equally and loudly report the devastating impact of animal agriculture – How are you providing open and informed choices/debate??? One article mentioned a toxic water source on a farm – no reports of the impact of farming in general! Another example is this article…

    Forest destruction

    Standard Page 10 May, 2011 at 15:30

    Ancient forests are destroyed every day to supply cheap timber, pulp and paper, and palm oil to the world. – No mention of farming/agriculture and its devastating effects!

    How can you claim to inform people when you leave out the major causes of destruction? Saying ‘eat a little less meat’ and providing a few links and pics is a poor attempt at covering and informing the public about this issue! I would love to see some REAL facts about the effects of farming on our planet/land reported by you guys – I found them – but not here on your website!

    Maybe you could use this as some inspiration for some research for a future article???

  • Maddycat

    #1, #2 and #6 completely negate the victims of a carnist diet – the animals. It’s deplorable that you fail to mention the suffering caused to individuals, whose lives matter to them, by actions such as so-called “sustainable” seafood. Not only that, you are actively encouraging people to cause suffering to those individuals. “Meat Free Monday”?? So it’s okay to be a contributor to environmental devastation and animal suffering 6 days a week? Time to strengthen your stance Greenpeace and promote veganism as a moral baseline.

  • Mark Berriman

    I have been vegetarian for 33 years and it is a breeze! Fantastic energy, clear mind and knowing that I am not contributing significantly to global warming or to animal cruelty is a great weight off the shoulders of the planet and my conscience. Get informed … there are excellent resources online like http://www.nutritionfacts.org

  • Ranveig V

    Dear Rashini,
    I’ve also recognised that it’s an easy way to reduce carbon emissions! 🙂 I’m considering to go vegan. My goal is to reach a healthier weight before an event I’m attending, and I want to try the Scarsdale Diet: http://scarsdaledietplan.com/scarsdale-vegetarian-diet/

    Do you have any experience with this diet, Rashini?