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Eating Less Meat Helps The Environment. Here Are Recipes To Help

Source: Becky Harlan/NPR
Source: Becky Harlan/NPR

Each week, people in the U.S. eat the equivalent of  three burgers' worthof beef. That's according to Richard Waite, a senior research associate in the food program at the World Resources Institute. But if Americans could reduce that consumption by half, it could have a major impact on creating a more sustainable food system, according to projections from WRI. That's because meat production is hard on the environment: It requires a lot of land to raise cattle — and globally, many forests are being cleared to make room for those animals. Deforestation releases lots of heat-trapping carbon dioxide that had been stored in the trees into the environment. And cows themselves release a lot of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas,  in the form of burps. If people in the U.S. and other heavy meat-eating countries could cut back their beef consumption down to just 1.5 burgers a week, "it would actually make it possible to feed 10 billion people by 2050 without any further deforestation," says Waite. To curb your diet's environmental impact and fight climate change, you  could go vegetarian or vegan — but you don't have to. It turns out, cutting back a little can have a big impact. Experts like Waite recommend eating less of the most resource-intensive meats: goat, lamb and especially beef — the most commonly consumed of these meats. Cows "take the most land to grow and feed," he says. If you're a meat lover, these tips and recipes can help you dial back your meat intake — and explore new flavors you might really enjoy. Fighting Climate Change From Home

"I always tell people to start by adding to the familiar foods that they're already making," says  Tracye McQuirter, a public health nutritionist and author. Having stir-fry? Swap in plant-based proteins for meat — try adding tofu, cashews, almonds, mushrooms or edamame. If you're shopping on a budget, McQuirter suggests cutting costs by buying beans and nuts in bulk and shopping for frozen vegetables, which she says are "just as nutritious" as fresh. Spices and seasonings can go a long way in bringing the flavors you love into your food. "If you love Thai, if you love Ethiopian, if you love Caribbean [food]— keep those spices on hand as well," she says. Try to have at least three colors on your plate at a time. "They each reflect specific nutrients and antioxidants — cancer-fighting agents — in your food," says McQuirter. "The way that you really know that you're getting the nutrients that you need on a plant-based diet is just by having variety. So don't focus on the day, focus on the week, and just have a variety of grains and beans and fruits and vegetables." Looking for inspiration for your next meatless Monday? McQuirter shared two vegan recipes to help you kick off a diet lighter in meat, but still rich in flavor.

Vegetable Pot Pie

[caption id="attachment_179008" align="aligncenter" width="703"]

Vegetable pot pie from Tracye McQuirter's book Ageless Vegan.
Kate Lewis[/caption] Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons water or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ cup finely chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 (13.5-ounce) can light or regular coconut milk (or more, if desired)
  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat or oat flour
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, peas, and green beans)
  • 1 (13.5-ounce) can or carton of chickpeas, drained
  • 2 (9-inch) frozen prepared whole-grain pie crusts, thawed
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large soup pot, heat the water or oil over medium heat. Stir in the onions and garlic, and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for another 3 minutes. Add the milk, flour, nutritional yeast, salt, thyme, and cayenne, and mix until thoroughly combined. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Place the vegetable mixture in a large bowl and stir in frozen vegetables and chickpeas. Stir in black pepper, taste, and adjust seasonings, as desired. Spoon the filling into the bottom pie crust. Cover the filling with the top pie crust, cut away the excess crust, and crimp the edges of the crusts together to seal. Make three small slits in the top center. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until crust turns golden brown. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. The pot pie can be stored in the freezer in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Makes 6-8 servings.

Savory Vegetable Quiche

[caption id="attachment_179009" align="aligncenter" width="706"]

Savory vegetable quiche from Tracye McQuirter's book Ageless Vegan.
Kate Lewis[/caption] Ingredients: Crust: 1 (9-inch) whole grain piecrust Filling:

  • 1 block firm tofu, drained and pressed (see directions)
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small leeks or 1 large leek, thinly sliced, white part only (about 1 cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 medium zucchinis or 2 large zucchinis, thinly sliced, about 1/8-inch thick
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, loosely packed

Directions: Crust: Preheat oven to 375°F. Thaw piecrust for 10 minutes. Place the crust in the oven for 10 minutes and then set aside. Filling: Squeeze the excess water out of the tofu by pressing it in a towel. Place the tofu, nutritional yeast, oregano, and salt in a food processor and process until smooth. Vegetables: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the leeks and garlic, and sauté until the leeks are translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring often. Add zucchini, salt, and cayenne, stirring often until the zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes, and then remove from heat. Place zucchini mixture in a large bowl and stir in the spinach, basil, and tofu mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired. Spoon the filling into the piecrust, smooth out with the back of a spoon. Bake until firm, about 35 minutes, then let sit for at least 10 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 6-8 servings.

The podcast version of this episode was produced by  Clare Marie Schneider. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us at  LifeKit@npr.org . For more Life Kit,  subscribe to our newsletter .