There are at least four reasons people are trying to cut down on meat: their health, the environment and the treatment of animals and workers. Not everyone gets a pang in their heart when they see how today's factory farms treat "animal units," but no one today actually thinks meat is good for you. The best that cancer and heart groups will say about meat is it is not too harmful if you seriously limit portions.
Yet, to produce a less-than-healthful food product, an industry is tolerated that contributes to global warming, water pollution and fish kills, appalling and often underreported worker abuse and animal abuse and even harm to the economy. It is no secret the U.S. government enables low meat prices to help the meat sector while telling us to abstain from meat and dumping meat on the poor. During the recession of 2009, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture rolled out a "Meat the Need" plan to dump what it called the "oversupply" of meat on SNAP recipients. Nice. The government also helps private ranchers with our tax dollars by killing birds, foxes, coyotes and other wildlife that "threaten" the cattle industry.
Now, a new community group is hoping to unite all the people who for economic, ethical, health and environmental reasons want to cut down on meat under the umbrella term "reducetarian." Reducetarianism is "an identity, community, and movement. It is composed of individuals who are committed to eating less meat--red meat, poultry, seafood, and the flesh of any other animal," says the website. "The concept is appealing because not everyone is able or willing to completely eliminate meat from their diet."
In a thought-provoking TED lecture 25-year-old reducetarian movement co-founder Brian Kateman addresses the gulf that happens when two people meet for lunch and one is vegan--it "changes their perception of each other forever," he notes. Even if the non-vegan luncher is "semi-vegetarian," "mostly vegetarian" or "flexitarian," there is often a "pulse of discomfort" says Kateman and the terms become a "boxing match for moral superiority." Yet, by the new movement's definitions, both lunchers are reducetarians.
"Identifiers such as semi-vegetarian and flexitarian sound weak and inconsistent and describe individuals who primarily eat fruits and vegetables with the occasional inclusion of meat," Kateman told me in an email. Reducetarians, on the other hand, view each meal as a choice and the movement "encourages people to gradually eat less meat with respect to their own diet."
Since its launch, Reducetarianism has received support from Steven Pinker, Peter Singer, Dan Gilbert, Michael Pollan, Maria Elia, the celebrity chef and author and many other well-known figures.
"I love meat. I love big juicy steaks, crispy fried chicken, and soft tender pork. But you know what else I love? Rich creamy eggplant, crunchy sweet snap peas, and buttery, salty potatoes. Also seitan. Have you had it? It totally crushes tofu," says Dan Pashman, host of The Sporkful food podcast and author of Eat More Better: How To Make Every Bite More Delicious on the Reducetarianism website.
In a phone interview I asked Kateman why the sad and gory factory farming Web photos make some people renounce meat but leave others unmoved. The photos can be persuasive, he told me, but meat eating is very entrenched in our culture. People can also find cutting down on meat "impractical" because they lack access to healthy foods or they lack knowledge about better eating. Also, he said in his TED lecture, the commitment to cutting down on meat can waver as people have "carnivore" moments or smell bacon frying.