There's a Meat Shortage. Here are Five Tips for Going Meat-Free

North Americans' meat-eating habit is contributing to the obesity crisis as well as climate change

Thanks to the coronavirus, there is now extra incentive to go meat-free. 

The pandemic has brought with it a meat shortage after some major meat processing plants paused operations due to the spread of COVID-19 among their workers. As a result, beef production last week was down almost 25 percent from the previous year, according to the USDA.

This might sound like bad news, but North Americans already eat six times the recommended amount of red meat, according to a 2019 report by the EAT-Lancet Commission. Consuming so many animals is contributing to the obesity crisis as well as climate change.

If you want to make some changes to your food habits but don’t know where to start, here are some tips for trying a vegetarian or vegan diet:

  • Start simple: Swap meat-free foods into your current meal plans. For example, you can trade a meat burger for a bean burger.
  • Plan your meals in advance: A simple meal plan can keep you on track. If you know what your next meal will be, you’re less likely to fall back to your previous habits.
  • Try high-protein substitutes: Some good options for high protein foods include lentils, chickpeas and tofu. Seasoning them to your taste is key.
  • Explore new menus: The online recipe world is full of vegetarian and vegan options. You might find cuisines you didn’t know you liked.
  • Forgive yourself: Beating yourself up can lead you to eventually abandon your efforts altogether. It’s ok to ease into a new diet rather than going cold-turkey. Scientists say if more of us were “flexitarians” who simply consumed less animals, it would make a big difference.

Scientists commissioned by the United Nations have recommended we reduce our meat intake for the sake of our planet and to avoid global food shortages in the future. Raising livestock for consumption produces the greenhouse gas methane, drives deforestation and causes water pollution. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that transitioning the world to a plant-based diet could reduce carbon emissions by up to 8 gigatons annually by 2050. That reduction in CO2 is more than the 5.3 gigatons the U.S. emitted in 2018.

For now, the current shortage may steer Americans away from meat by driving up prices. The question is whether this short-term crisis will convince more Americans to make long-term changes to their diets.